Knut “Doing Enough About Poverty”

The UNDP Resident Coordinator Knut Ostby has urged Government to “review its response to the (poverty) problem, saying government has not done enough.  

“There have been attempts in Fiji for various social welfare schemes, programs, assistance to elderly destitute and disabled but so far this has not been enough,” he told Radio Australia. “In fact poverty has increased in Fiji from about 25% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008.”   No government has ever "done enough", and many lack the money to do more. I do not see the point or purpose of his reported remarks.
 
Leaving aside the comparability of the  statistics, what does this statement made to Radio Australia do to help the Fiji situation?   Shouldn’t he be offering the expertise of the UNDP and talking to the Fiji Government with ideas on what more can be done, rather than talking to the foreign media that is only interested in a disparaging story?   What does it actually say? Shouldn’t he have been better briefed on what Government is doing before he spoke, or better still have referred Radio Australia to the Minister most responsible?

Inevitably, the Minister responded to what essentially were uninformed remarks by someone who should have known better.  Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Jiko Luveni, spelt out some of the work being done on poverty alleviation, which includes self-help training, empowerment and income generation programmes, $25million  for the Food Voucher scheme, and a further F$40-50million for the Ministry’ s other poverty work. 

Many other poverty-related activities have been covered in this blog: the women’s centres, handicraft and sewing, gifts of sewing machines, the sharing of land rent money, food security initiatives, the land bank, rural roads and bridges, free and subsidized bus fares, free school textbooks, the cap on school fees, work towards minimum wages, moves towards affordable housing, the exemption of basic food items from VAT,   price controls imposed by the Commerce Commission, the monitoring of prices by the Consumer Council.  The list goes on.  

The Minister is correct is saying, "The impact of our work won't be immediate but it will for sure be seen in a few years to come."  She doubted that Fiji (or other developing countries)  would meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty by the year 2015 due partly to the impact of the Global Recession, “but we will try our best to reach it."

This government, under the most difficult conditions, is doing more about poverty than any previous government.  What else should it be doing,  Mr Ostby — and how will UNDP help? And, Radio Australia, next time you have questions on poverty in Fiji, why don’t you ask the Minister — or read this blog!  When you have questions about some internal Australian matter do you ask the UN rep in Canberra?


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