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Fiji govt unveils $US1.78 billion Covid-19 Budget

Saturday 17 July 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Fiji govt unveils $US1.78 billion Covid-19 Budget
Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Photo: Supplied

Fiji's National Budget worth $US1.78 billion announced on Friday night is designed with three objectives, all of it linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aimed at protecting Fijians from the coronavirus, supporting individuals and businesses and 'future proofing Fiji,' the government relies on loans to make up almost 45 percent of the funds it needs to run the country into 2022.

In his address to Parliament, Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said the aim is to protect Fijians from the escalating Covid-19 crisis.

His comments come amid record daily case numbers and deaths reported by the health ministry - over 11,000 positive people are in isolation with more than 80 deaths confirmed in this latest outbreak that began in April.

Sayed-Khaiyum said there was nothing ordinary about this Budget.

"There is nothing ordinary about our lives at this moment. Never has a person's well being and the health of our economy be more intertwined. And so this will not be an ordinary budget," he said.

"We are still deep in the world's worst economic crisis in a century. This pandemic has stolen jobs and precious life. It has kept families apart, in times of celebration and sadness.

"It has crippled industries built through strong vision and years of steady investment. The arrival of the more virulent variants has sent its devastating toll to painful, new heights."

Funded by government revenue of $US1 billion of which about $US220 million is expected to come from direct taxes.

Sayed-Khaiyum said indirect taxes should bring in another $US530 million, the deficit of $US770 million from local and overseas loans.

The government's vaccination rollout campaign took centre stage as it built incentives for Fijians to get immunized through various measures to achieve a goal of immunising 80 percent of the 587,651 adults in the country by 31 October.

Asserting the safety of vaccines, Sayed-Khaiyum said they were key to reopening Fiji's economy at full capacity.

He said the government would hasten its goal of vaccinating every eligible Fijian because it "is the most essential element to protecting ourselves and pave the way to a sustainable and Covid-safe economy, and way of life."

The Budget, due for review in six months, includes government-funded benefits to those who take the vaccines as well as obligations to those who receive government allowances and scholarships.

"The government will not sit idly by and wait for fate to control our destiny. We have a vision through decisive action and leadership. We will see that vision come true, come what may."

"We expect to have at least 80 percent of the 587,651 Fijians who make up our target population fully vaccinated by 31 October this year. In other words, 470,121 adults. In a night full of numbers, this is the most important metric, I will mention."

Budget was designed to quell increasing anti-government sentiment says opposition.

But Shadow Minister for the Economy and leader of the opposition National Federation Party, Biman Prasad, does not believe that the government can realise its revenue plans.

Professor Prasad, an economist, said the Budget was designed to quell increasing anti-government sentiment.

Fijians are expected to go to the polls in next year's General Election.

"There are lots of promises of 'we will pay for this, and we will pay for that' but just like in the past, the reality of the matter is that these schemes never work.

"It's a budget based on assumptions that will, like other budgets, result in hopelessness and despair."

Professor Prasad called it a 'bogus budget' that was overly optimistic, but which avoided acknowledging the reality of the Covid crisis in the country.

He said government reliance on its ability to collect $US1bn in revenue was worrying and "it did not take into account the exponential rise in Covid cases.

"In short, it is a really good budget because the minister and his government realised that people are angry and anxious. People know that this government has failed in dealing effectively with the Covid crisis.

"He is also signalling deep cuts to government spending if we don't get there, and telling us 'It will be people's fault', Professor Prasad said.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced on Friday that 391,363 (66.7 percent) of the target population of about 600,000 have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

It also said 77,610 Fijians (13.2 percent) have got both jabs.

Fiji's Covid-19 test positivity is 19.2 percent, almost four times more than the World Health Organisation (WHO) threshold which is five percent.

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