The electioneering budget of a pathetic leadership.
Too little, too late.
by Honourable Professor Biman Prasad, NFP Leader.
Opinion piece published in the Fiji Times on:
Saturday 26th March 2022
On Thursday night the people of Fiji heard a two hour and ten-minute sermon of the most unreligious kind by the honourable Economy Minister, that made many, including those on the government side, yawn.
Here was a Minister saying the darnedest things thinking his audience on television would clap loudly and cheer at his every announcement. After three years and four months of heaping pain, suffering and misery on the people, the Minister thought he would be given the same awe and respect as Santa Claus. Forget it!
Wanna-be Santa Claus
Santa Claus gives goodies to children year in and year out since time immemorial, travelling alone on his sleigh, ploughing through thick snow, and bringing genuine delight. This wanna-be Santa Claus woke up just before his and that of his party’s political fortunes is about to be judged, and thinks he can bring genuine smiles to the faces of the people with his goodies.
The Minister forgets that for more than 3 years he didn’t give a damn about the cries and pleas for help from the people.
The reality of the matter is that the Economy Minister isn’t Santa Claus. Nor is he a child saying the darnedest things on the famous programme of yesteryears, hosted by radio and television personality Art Linkletter.
On Thursday night what people heard was the handiwork of what can be described as the dumbest copy and paste of NFP’s blueprint of four years ago by this very same Minister who, along with his business cabal had shot down the NFP Blueprint as unsustainable and a recipe for economic ruin.
Such as the reduction of VAT on basic and essential items. We had proposed in 2018 to reduce VAT and lower duty on almost 25 items, including meat products like chicken and lamb.
However, what was announced on Thursday night will do little to alleviate the cost of living or curb inflation. Because these are perilous times for our people who are being choked by the sky-rocketing cost of living.
Lack of transparency and arrogance
The revised budget escaped intense scrutiny because parliamentary Standing Orders were suspended to ensure parliament did not resolve itself into a Committee to scrutinise each of the 50 Heads of the Budget.
This Government is so arrogant that it is ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of the people’s money without letting the representatives of the people look closely at how they are spending it.
And why is that,? Because the Government is afraid. It is afraid that if we had a chance to look at this Budget properly we would have drawn the people’s attention to the failures, the broken promises and the incompetence in their past performance.
What happened was this; The Minister came to Parliament, praised himself for two hours, threw around economic goodies and then rushed away. He does not want to have to listen to scrutiny and criticism. He does not want to hear how things could be done better.
Because he knows things are a mess. The people have told him things are a mess. Even his own shadow would tell him that.
After 15 years, this government has had $50 billion of the people’s money. Think about it. $50 billion. That is how much they have had to spend in 15 years.
And look at the mess we are in. There is no water in the taps. The roads are rutted with potholes. There are plants growing out of the walls of our main hospital but no drugs inside it.
The evidence of their incompetence is everywhere. And everybody knows it except them.
Let us not forget the pathetic leadership of this government during our worst ever health and economic crisis. Hundreds of people died, jobs disappeared, people were forced into sudden poverty by the shop of the pandemic. And where were our Government Ministers? Where were our national leaders?
The Economy Minister thought when he went out on his so-called “Budget consultations” with the people that he would receive the usual silence, if not respect. But this time he heard from them, loud and clear. He even brought himself to the point of apologizing for the services of his government.
It is of course a good thing to apologise when you are wrong and when you have failed to deliver. But of course, these apologies are not sincere. They are made with one eye on the people and one eye on the election.
It saddens me that the people of Fiji suffered such a government and so much financial mismanagement. And now they bear witness to abuse of taxpayers’ money as the Government tries to spray freebies in every direction.
At the same time, I am amused. What are the cornerstones of the Minister’s revised Budget? Zero VAT on basic food and consumer items. A big increase in the minimum wage, to be introduced in stages. These have been National Federation Party policies for years. And the Honourable Minister has ridiculed and criticised these policies for years. Why has it taken him so long to see the light?
And now, he announces that the 20-cent fuel surcharge will be taken away to relieve the burden of costs on the people. This is what NFP called for a year ago. We repeated it 3 months ago. And what did the Minister say then? He puffed himself up with his so-called expertise. He called the idea “stupendously stupid”.
And yet, it is that so-called “stupendously stupid” idea that he is introducing now.
Nothing is more amusing than watching a Government politician throwing overboard all of his cherished principles as he desperately hunts for votes.
On Thursday night the Minister gave a mini-lecture on the policies of the great economist John Maynard Keynes and the need for deficit spending when the economy was low.
But, of course, the Minister, like a C-grade economics student at USP, has not read the whole textbook. He has only read the parts that suit him.
During his life, John Maynard Keynes also had to tell politicians that deficit spending was for the bad times. It was not for all times. It had to be balanced with surpluses in the good times. And that is what this Government has failed to do.
It has borrowed and spent in both good times and bad. It has kept borrowing and spending. That is how it has created its so-called Bainimarama Boom. And that is why debt to GDP will by almost 90% in a few months’ time.
One needn’t look any further than the Asian Development Bank. They did not give him a C grade, they gave him a D grade. In November 2021, the ADB downgraded the Fiji economy in its country classifications. Why? Because it is burdened by debt and will have trouble fighting its way back.
The ADB told us that for a debt management strategy, the Government got a D grade – a fail.
Because there is no strategy. The Government’s economic strategy is very simple – look at the voters and borrow and spend. And when the election is coming, look at the voters and borrow and spend some more.
That is why this country is in the mess it is in.
Who is the fool now?
And what to make of the dramatic flourish that the Minister concluded his budget speech on Thursday night? Only a fool, he said, would oppose zero VAT on basic items. Only a fool would oppose higher minimum wages. Only a fool, he said, would oppose the reduction of the extra tax.
Let’s be very clear. Who is the fool who opposed the NFP manifesto on zero VAT? Who is the fool who told us the minimum wage could not go up? Who is the fool who refused to reduce the fuel surcharge only three months ago?
There is only one set of fools in this nation, and they are the 27 Members of the Fiji First government. And they are still foolish enough to believe that they are good enough to be re-elected.
The Economy Minister must know he has had his time. He is so short of ideas that he is just taking the NFP’s ideas instead. If that is the case, it is time to hand over the reins. If Fiji First wants NFP’s ideas, it is best to just leave them to an NFP Government.
The NFP is happy and relieved for the people of Fiji. Because we all know what is coming.
The people are sick of this Government. They want them out. The people’s time is coming. And this government knows that despite all their smooth talk, all their freebies and all their fake likes, nothing will help them. The people will speak and this government will be sent into the history books.