With the cost of living likely to be an important influence on how people vote in September, I thought it would be useful to put some of Fiji's costs in perspective by drawing comparisons with New Zealand costs.
An overall comparison, of course, would show NZ to have a much higher standard of living than Fiji. Its average disposable wage after tax, for example, is over five times higher, and its pensions and social welfare system is more highly developed. NZ's minimum wage is over NZ$15 an hour and Fiji's a mere F$2. There can be no doubt that poverty, however defined, is far more extensive than in NZ. Fiji is not a "First World" country.
But none of these things are in dispute in Fiji's election campaign. What is in dispute, if the SODELPA campaign is anything to go by, is the "unreasonable" price of food items and, by implication, Government's assumed mismanagement of the economy.
Official figures suggest a 60% increase in Fiji food price since 2006, at least partly caused by the 20% devaluation of the Fiji dollar. Mick Beddoes says food prices have risen by over 80% during the same period. I have no way to determine which estimate is correct, but world food prices have have not been stationary since 2006. I put the question of the increase in NZ food prices to the most shrewd supermarket shopper I know, my wife. Her off-the-cuff answer was 40% and much more for some items.
Now for the comparison: the food prices graph shows a mix of prices, but of the ten items listed only two were dearer in Fiji. I would put this down to the higher cost of imports, the economy's smaller scale, restrictions on the powers of the Consumer Council,, and most of all to the lack of competition compared with New Zealand. Others may see the sinister hand of an ineffective government but if this were the case, New Zealand, with its generally higher prices, must have an even more ineffective government,
I also compared the costs of rent for one- and three-bedroom dwellings, electricity, water and garbage collection, presuming the Fiji figures do not include informal housing, which would show Fiji costs even lower. The Fiji and NZ Monthly Charges graph (Figure 2) shows the results. In all cases, the NZ household pays more.
So there you have it. Some facts to weigh against the political arguments. Happy voting. -- Croz