Let's Be Honest: Address by the PM
I announced one of the biggest spending programmes in Fiji’s history. We’re providing more money for families in need, for the elderly, for housing, for education, for our police, our prisons and for access to justice for all.
More money for rural communities, for sport and to teach young people new skills. And we’re also putting more money into the hands of many ordinary Fijians by raising the tax threshold – the point where tax kicks in – to $16-thousand a year.
We’re also cutting the price of electricity by five cents a unit so that families don’t have to be so anxious about their power bills.
WHY ROADS MUSTBE FIXED NOW
But there is one item of spending in the 2013 budget that outstrips all others. And I want to explain to Fijian families why it is necessary and what it will mean for us all.
Every Fijian knows how bad our roads are. It isn’t just the time it takes to get anywhere or the punishment our vehicles are receiving.
The dreadful state of our roads is holding the country back. It is hampering our economic development. They must be fixed.
Successive governments have put this in the “too hard basket”. But my government has decided to act. And act decisively.
We are not going to continue to have road crews filling in pot-holes just to have them reappear again every time it rains. We are not going to have corruption and incompetence blocking our path any longer.
We are going to start from scratch and give the whole country the same standard we are seeing on the Kings Road in northern Viti Levu – an international standard.
Roads that boost both the local economy and the national economy. Roads we can all be proud of.
I signed contracts with three overseas companies – all of them from New Zealand – to upgrade our roads using foreign expertise and local workers. Many of these workers are coming from our Department of National Roads. We are insisting that they train Fijian workers in the latest road building skills so that the work can continue when they eventually leave in five year’s time. It isn’t going to be cheap. This year alone, we are going to spend $422 million resurfacing and fixing our roads. Yes, it’s a lot of money. We’re increasing the deficit from 1.9 per cent to 2.8 per cent. But this is not short-term spending for spending’s sake. It is a massive investment in Fiji’s future. And it will pay dividends in terms of the rest of the economy for years to come. It needs to be done and every Fijian knows it.
It WILL be done because my government is determined to deliver.
THINGS TO BEPROUD OF
As your prime minister, there are many things I am proud of in this budget.
These include our $110-million commitment to provide communities with clean water … the health workers we are putting into rural areas … the access to free legal aid that we are giving many Fijians for the first time … and the pay rises we are giving to low income civil servants. But I’m proudest of all about the investment we are making in our future through our young people.
We have already provided free bus fares so that our children can get to and from school every day. It’s a great pity that some people have abused the system. But for the vast majority of parents, this scheme has been a valuable contribution to making ends meet and it will continue.
EARLY CHILDHOODEDUCATION PLANS
We all know that a child’s education begins well before primary school but when it comes to pre-school education, Fiji has lagged behind many other countries. We are providing more money in this budget to build and upgrade kindergartens in rural areas and are also increasing the salary grant for early childhood teachers.
To help fulfill our vision to be a smarter country, we are giving generous tax concessions to individuals and companies willing to donate new computers to schools. They will get a tax deduction of 150 per cent if they spend between $10,000 and $100,000 on computers for urban schools and 200 per cent if the computers are for rural schools.
FARMING, VOCATIONALEDUCATION THRUST
I am especially proud to be able to provide new scholarships to encourage our young people to become farmers. Fifty Form Six and Form Seven graduates will undertake a 12-month certificate course at the Fiji National University in various farming disciplines.
And at the end of that they be given land and money to buy a house and shed, a tractor and other equipment, plus $2000 to get them started. We are giving these young people a sustainable future while helping to reduce the money Fijians spend on food imports.
Our other big initiative is to spend $5 million in 2013 to provide more than one thousand young people with vocational scholarships to take up specialist trades. At the end of their courses, they’ll become certified plumbers, electricians, mechanics, deckhands and all manner of other trades.
We are not just helping these kids. We are increasing the nation’s skills base. All this is also an investment in the future. These young people carry the hopes of all of us for a smarter, more efficient Fiji.
RESTRUCTURING OUR SOCIAL WELFARE
The other areas I’m especially proud of are the Government’s efforts to relieve poverty and to create equal opportunities for all Fijians.
I reject the claims of some of our critics that we are not doing enough to help the poor. This budget provides for a complete restructuring of the social welfare system in Fiji. The very poor will get the most assistance, which is how it should be. In the past only three per cent of low income families qualified for assistance. Now, ten per cent of families will be covered by our social welfare programme.
We are also continuing the Government policy of writing off loans for people living in public housing. We’re relieving them of the worry of having to pay a debt that they cannot afford. This initiative compliments our decision to forgive the water bills of thousands of Fijian households and institutions.
We’re also providing money to either upgrade squatter settlements or put these people into proper housing. These are all practical measures to assist low-income families.
HARD WORK,NOT HANDOUTS
But I want to stress that this Government believes in hard work, not handouts. We need to create more jobs so that more people get work and provide for themselves and their families.
The global experience shows that you can only do this by creating the conditions for jobs to be created. Government has to provide incentives for people to invest. And so on top of our existing incentives, we are further reducing the corporate tax from 20 per cent to 17 per cent for overseas companies that are prepared to base their headquarters in Fiji. We support business because it is by far the best way to tackle poverty.
STRENGTHENING OUR SECURITY
Guaranteeing the security of every Fijian is my government’s most important responsibility. So we are spending $8 million more than last year on the police and $3 million more on our prisons. There is no excuse for the shortcomings in the system that we have all seen in recent weeks. Finally I want to say something to all of you about what we expect from every Fijian as we move towards a return to democracy. We have tackled the corruption that was destroying our national life. Now, I want everyone to think about what we can all do in our personal lives to build a stronger, fairer nation.
BUILDING A NEWAND BETTER FIJI
The manager of one of our biggest resorts tells me that of all the places he’s worked, Fiji has the highest rate of theft by the staff.
Such a statement shames us all. We need to reaffirm basic standards of honesty, decency and goodness in our homes, schools and workplaces. These standards are not old fashioned. They are timeless and we need to work much harder to uphold them.
Being honest means many things. It means being an honest person and an honest citizen. Our tax rates are among the lowest in the region, lower than Australia and New Zealand. So there is no excuse not to pay your tax.
I’m especially disappointed when I hear about those in the business community not fulfilling their tax obligations or not passing on reductions in duty to their customers. I appeal to everyone:
When you see something you want that isn’t yours, resist the temptation to steal it. Parents, I ask you to set an example for your children that they will eventually pass on to their own kids.
We are building a new Fiji for everyone, a Fiji in which every person is equal. We also want a nation where honesty is valued, where we can leave our doors unlocked again, just like our grandparents did.
And we want a nation in which people are more considerate and caring, where we treat each other more like brothers and sisters in an extended family than strangers.
This is an important part of my vision for the new Fiji and I invite you all to share it.