Fourteen women from two NGOs dressed in t-shirts inscribed with "C'Mon Fiji. Make budgets public now!" were outside the budget venue to protest as the PM delivered the budget — before they could know its contents. It's not altogether unclear what the message meant but it is clear that they knew they would be detained for assembling without the required permit. It was another protest by these NGOs against the government, the budget only provided the opportunity.
Among other detractor, FLP's Mahendra Chaudhry, clinging ever more tenuously to his image as a politician, said it was "reckless ... vote-buying" and SODELPA's Pio Tabaiwalu said "the budget looks good on paper, but it’s unrealistic".
And Coup4-5, the anti-government blog, wrote: "The regime announced the budget today but are not making documents like the audit review and budget proposals public." Their budget highlights, in this order, were the increase in departure tax, excise duty alcohol and tobacco. And second to bottom an item most people would have put first: "primary and secondary education is now free."
The Fiji Times had a not too dissimilar order. Their heading read, "Alcohol Cigarette Prices Go Up" Education, that had been allocated a massive $541 million or 19% of government spending, ranked 11th of their budget highlights. And on Sunday, another heading: "Budget Draws Mixed Reactions" . The paper reported that some Taveuni Island business people said the amount of money allocated was not sufficient to upgrade their airport. And Macuata Tourism Association president, Paul Jaduram, was quoted as not being happy with the budget allocation for the tourism industry. He thought Government should allocate more to the Northern Division. The Times's "mixed reactions" seemed overstated.
More positive views
A sample of more positive views came from a wide range of people:
- People's Democratic Party spokesman Nirmal Singh: "We commend the Government for an excellent budget".
- Fiji Retailers' Association President Himmet Lodhia: "The boldest budget ever."
- Fiji Public Service Association General Secretary Rajeshwar Singh was happy with the announced public service pay increases, especially the "bigger percentage ... given to our lower paid members" but some will still be living below the poverty line.
- Consumer Council's Premila Kumar: "A winning budget for consumers."
- Minister of Education Filipe Bole: "In my 45 years of service with the Ministry of Education, I have never come across such a huge allocation (F$541 million) targeting all areas of education."
- Sports Commissioner Peter Maizey said he was "delighted. We are going to a new level" and in his capacity as President of the Fiji Chamber of Commerce he said he expected to see "business growth policies continue."
- Fr Kevin Barr of the People's Community Network welcomed "the city-wide squatter upgrading projects."
- Manufacturer and FMF Foods Ltd CEO Ram Bajekar said the "business sector will continue to flourish with the number of incentives provided."
- Fiji Hoteliers and Tourism Association President Dixon Seeto said "the dream of developing the Tavua to Korovou areas in tourism has become a reality."
- Water Authority CEO Opetaia Ravai said he was "delighted."
- A Savasavu spokesman said, "We are overwhelmed with the budget ... it has incorporated some of Savusavu's aspirations... a big thing for a small town like ours."
- Fiji Revenue Customs Authority CEO Jitoko Tikolevu said the "many tax incentives would see shipping companies "rake in the profits" and "think twice ... about leaving uneconomic routes particularly Rotuma and the Lau group."
And these letters to the editor of the Fiji Times:
"I fail to understand the response of the labour leader to the national budget. It seems he is unhappy that he or his government were never able to deliver even 10 per cent of what the current government has done.
"No matter what you say or pick on the fact is people are for the first time witnessing a government which delivers. .... Come on, retire gracefully. People have seen the difference. You had your chance.
"And please stop criticising the Constitution.
"You may call it reckless, vote-buying, wealthy or election budget but really it is the people's budget. This budget is for the futures of our children and the country. Well done Mr Prime Minister.
I thank the Fiji Government for the allocation towards the education sector. Many families will benefit from this and I believe the Bainimarama government is on the right track to governing this nation. A big vinaka vakalevu from the families of Fiji!
Brittany Meryl Verma
In his Budget address the PM said: “For 2014, we estimate total revenue of $2.7bn, and total expenditure of $2.8bn, the estimated net for 2014 is $161.5m or 1.9% of GDP. The provision for operating expenditure is $1.802 billion. $1.13bn is budgeted for capital expenditure. This marks an increase in capital of more than $291m over this year and brings capital expenditure to about 36% of total spending. This means more money for development projects and initiatives, but it also demonstrates how we are giving greater priority to ensuring our nation's long term well being.”