PARLIAMENTARY BUDGET STATEMENT BY THE MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT, HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, HONOURABLE PREMILA KUMAR ON THE 2021-2022 NATIONAL BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENT
Mr. Speaker Sir Hon. Prime Minister Hon. Leader of Opposition Hon. Ministers Hon. Members of Parliament
1. Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir for giving me the opportunity to speak in favor of the 2021-2022 National Budget.
2. Mr. Speaker Sir, the world, as we know, has been ravaged by the COVID--19 pandemic. Economies world over have suffered and Small Island economies such as ours have not been spared. We have suffered immensely in all aspects of our lives. It is the largest health and economic challenge faced by the nations in living memory.
3. Mr. Speaker Sir, this budget leaves no one behind and provides a comprehensive and effective stimulus to our ailing economy.
4. We need to remember that the speed and extent of transmission of the Delta strain has been unprecedented. The danger of further mutations make the disease even more unpredictable. This has made the budget preparation extremely challenging with high volatility in revenues and uncertain expenditure needs.
5. Recognizing this, the Hon Minister for Economy has prepared a bold, practical and responsive budget that supports our economy, businesses, and households.
6. Mr. Speaker Sir, the 2021-2022 National Budget is based on three objectives: protection from the virus through herd immunity; support for those hardest hit and future-proofing Fiji from future pandemics, effects of climate change and diversification of our economy beyond tourism.
7. Mr. Speaker Sir, the pinnacle of this Budget is the national objective to fully vaccinate our people by 31 October to attain herd immunity. The only way we can reopen our borders, ensure mobility and economic recovery is through mass vaccination of our people. Vaccination will not only save lives but also save our livelihoods. We know from the information released by the Ministry of Health that people have lost their lives mainly because they were not vaccinated or had their first jab. WHO, based on global data, has also stated that nearly all serious cases and death can be prevented if one is fully vaccinated.
8. Science has proven that even the vulnerable, like the sick or the elderly, can be protected through vaccines. What else do we want as a proof for the efficacy of the vaccine?
9. Mr. Speaker Sir, we took the “No Jab No Job” step to protect Fijians from this highly infectious new Delta variant. Fiji has joined 15 other countries that imposed some form of compulsory vaccination for certain groups of people. These countries include Vatican City, Australia, Greece, Italy, France, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, to name a few. Other countries are also contemplating this as well.
10. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Leader of Opposition said: No jab no job policy was unfair to those relying on Government assistance and they are exercising their right not to get vaccinated. What about the rights of our children and teens who are at high risk if we are not vaccinated. Mr Speaker Sir, these assistance depends on the revenue collection which in turn depends on the opening of the economy. And the opening of the economy rests on mass vaccination. So how will the Government assist those who are not assisting in the opening of the economy that generates revenue for assistance?
11. Mr. Speaker Sir, in the weekend, I read an article by the learned Principal of Pacific Theological College, who articulated on vaccination and human rights. He said that human rights must be inclusive and life-affirming. Explaining further he said that human rights came with the responsibility for life for oneself and others or else it was just a platform to promote selfishness and arrogance. He further said that human rights must include the rights of another human being who wants to live but are at high risk.
12. This is the message we have been consistently giving that vaccination is the only way to protect everyone.
13. Mr. Speaker Sir, those who refuse to get vaccinated, will be the cause for extending the pandemic. We certainly do not want a “pandemic of unvaccinated” when masking and social distancing restrictions are lifted for fully vaccinated Fijians.
14. I thank thousands of Fijians who took the jab to assist Fiji can return to some normalcy.
15. Mr. Speaker Sir, the 2021-2022 budget has catered for all citizens. Social welfare payments, utilities (water and electricity), pension payments for elderly, bus fare subsidy, subsidy for kidney dialysis, medical fee payment, waiver of fines, assistance to farmers both planting assistance and guaranteed price for sugar, MSME grants and soft loans with government guarantee, market stall fee waiver, taxi base fee and bus levy waiver, removal of fishing fee and levies, removal of birth certificate, and police report fees, continuation of Toppers, TELS, restoring 1% employer and employee contribution to FNPF and many more, are provided for.
16. It is inevitable the Government has to borrow to finance COVID-19 health and safety programmes, social protection initiatives, and providing boost to our businesses. It has also meant that economic indicators like Foreign Reserves remain healthy, further providing multilateral institutions like IMF, World Bank, ADB as well as other development partner‟s confidence in the Fijian recovery efforts.
17. Mr. Speaker Sir, on one hand the opposition criticises the Government for borrowing, yet in the same breath they want us to give out assistance beyond our sustainable capacity. But this has been their modus operandi - criticise everything – without any option or credible alternatives.
18. Mr. Speaker Sir, I have noticed a peculiar and predictable stance of the opposition members, whenever they are confronted with excellent policies and initiatives from Fiji First Government. They get completely stressed out and they start spreading false information to drive fear in the minds of our most vulnerable. Be it the sugar industry, education sector, informal settlements, vaccines, land issues, economy, printing money or you can‟t vote if not vaccinated, and so forth.
19. Mr. Speaker Sir, the most recent act of misinformation is related to the TLTB Amendment Bill. The opposition acted recklessly to poison the minds of our landowners. The Hon. Minister for Economy had clearly stated from the Legislation that “consent is still required for dealings such as sale, transfer, subleasing, assignment, subletting, building rezoning, etc.” Mr. Speaker Sir, how will this take away the land from the landowners or reduce the value of the land? Like I said, this is an Opposition void of ideas, thus they spread fear, misinformation and lies.
20. Having said that, Mr. Speaker Sir, I thank Hon. Bulitavu for his support to the budget and especially Bill 17. He has shown courage, integrity and rose above race and politics.
21. Mr. Speaker Sir, let me now speak on my two ministries. Despite hard times, the Ministry of Housing and Community Development is allocated a sum of $10.94 million to provide housing support to low and middle-income earners.
22. Mr. Speaker Sir, providing policy direction to the Housing Sector is our key priority. The review of the National Housing Policy funded by the New Zealand Government is in the last phase. The revised National Housing Policy will create an enabling environment for all stakeholders in the housing sector to collectively perform more effectively under improved operational and legal frameworks.
23. Mr. Speaker Sir, numerous other housing programmes and policies are being reviewed. The Assistance for Fire Victims Policy was reviewed and extended to cover all rural and maritime areas from this financial year. A nineteen year old Informal Settlement Lot Allocation Policy is being finalized after a wide public consultation.
24. Mr. Speaker Sir, a sixteen year old Rural Housing Assistance Policy targeted towards assisting our Rural and Maritime areas is also under review for significant improvements. It will cover assistance for construction of cyclone certified safe houses, upgrade of existing homes to meet cyclone standards and also include micro finance and micro insurance assistance. This review is expected to bring a significant shift in rural and maritime housing.
25. Mr. Speaker Sir, cyclones are becoming more fierce and frequent causing extreme hardship when homes are destroyed. Keeping this in mind, the Ministry has developed Category 5 certified two bedroom and three bedroom house plans with complete construction drawings for free with material lists. These plans are endorsed by the Municipal Councils ready for construction thus saving time and money.
26. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Fiji First Government is the first to treat Fijians living in informal settlements with dignity. A number of informal settlements have roads for their vehicles, footpaths and even streetlights to make their quality of life better while waiting for the formalisation of lease after settlement upgrade. Settlers also have access to temporary water and electricity connections.
27. Mr. Speaker Sir, in this financial year, we have completed capital works in three settlements – Ledrusasa, Cuvu and Waidamudamu. Ministry also completed scheme plans, geo-technical reports, EIA consultations and engineering plans for six settlements – Sakoca, Tore, Tavela, Wakanisila, Caubati and Field Four. Topographical Survey and Scheme Plans were completed for further four projects – Nabare, Vunika, Lovu Sea Side and Tauvegavega.
28. To encourage home ownership and to drive economic activities, the first home grant assistance was increased to $30,000 per household for those earning below $50,000. A total of 435 households were assisted under this programme and another 62 households under the first land purchase programme. These applicants secured bank loans in excess of $60million– resulting in almost 10 fold impact on total economic activities in construction and mortgage sectors.
29. Another 190 households are expected to benefit from the first home programme in the new financial year, while up to 100 households will benefit from the first land grant programme.
30. Mr. Speaker Sir, budget allocation for PRB and HART Homes is reduced but this will not affect the tenants. PRB and HART Homes will be using their cash reserves built over time with government assistance. PRB has cash reserve in excess of $8million and HART Homes with over $0.5million.
31. Mr. Speaker Sir, it is also important to note that the allocations for Assistance for Fire Victims, and Assistance for Koroipita Social Housing Programme have been increased in this budget. The allocation for assistance for people with special needs remain unchanged – demonstrating our commitment towards the most vulnerable.
32. Mr. Speaker Sir, moving on to the Ministry of Local Government, $12.7m has been allocated for urban and rural planning, collection of solid wastes and overseeing the planning and development of growth centres into new towns.
33. Mr. Speaker Sir, Municipal Councils, as the administrators of our Towns and Cities, play a critical role in bringing balance to the operations of the municipalities and in maintaining the safety of the public during this pandemic.
34. Since experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Municipal Councils implemented a number of safety measures for all Fijians. Councils supported the Ministry of Health in the awareness programme, decontamination of sites and in the vaccination campaigns. Drive-thru sites were set up for vaccination and swabbing making it safer for the people to stay within their bubbles.
35. Mr. Speaker Sir, the National Fire Authority (NFA) has worked tirelessly to disinfect and decontaminate vehicles and cargo at the borders. In addition, the NFA provides ambulance service to communities in Suva, Nasinu, Nausori, Sigatoka, Ba, Labasa, Rakiraki, Lautoka, Savusavu, Navua, Korolevu and Korovou. This service is a critical need at this point in time. Hence, the funding of $1.64 million will help the continuation of this service.
36. Mr. Speaker Sir, our Market vendors around the country will be assisted with the waiver of stall fees, providing relief to vendors around Fiji. An allocation of $2.6 million will reduce the operational cost and put more money in their pockets.
37. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Ministry also welcomes the waiver of base fees for public service vehicles (PSV), such as taxis, buses and mini-vans. Through this initiative the cost burden has been removed providing much needed relief to the operators.
38. Mr. Speaker Sir, the removal of the “taxi base” system and implementation of “open taxi ranks” will provide all taxi operators equal opportunity to serve the public within their zones.
39. Mr. Speaker Sir, in the new financial year, the Ministry will continue with the preparatory work for key capital projects, such as Rakiraki Bus Station, new markets in Savusavu, Levuka, Dreketi, Lami and Nakasi.
40. Mr. Speaker Sir, critics (Savenaca Narube) have said that the budget doesn’t provide confidence to investors but on the contrary the investors, international economists, banks and our business community have all said that the budget provides confidence to both local and foreign investment. Latest example is the start of the new building project by ASCO Motors in Legalega Nadi.
41. Mr. Speaker Sir, from the start of the second wave, the Department of Town and Country Planning approved 6 major building applications with a total value of $37.1 million dollars. These local investors are: Mangrove Jacks PTE, Rups Investment PTE Limited, Interior Designs PTE Limited, Ganga PTE Limited, Fiji Ports Authority, and Aquarius Tours PTE Limited.
42. Mr. Speaker Sir, as announced by the Hon. Minister for Economy, amendments have been made to the Town Planning General Provisions. These amendments will reduce plot ratios, building setbacks and site utilization. Currently, only 20% of the plot can be developed on unsewered lot.
43. Mr. Speaker Sir, the minimum lot sizes for unsewered Residential B lots will be reduced from 800 square meters to 600 square meters. This will allow for more lots to be created, considering shortage of land in the urban areas.
44. Mr. Speaker Sir, Now let me turn to the comments made by the opposition • The Leader of Opposition said that the economy was declining before COVID. Yes, the economy contracted marginally in 2019. However, the contraction in the economy in 2019 does not mean that the economy would have contracted in 2020. In fact, a positive growth was forecasted for 2020. The Leader of Opposition needs to know that almost every country on the planet recorded negative economic growth in 2020.
• Regarding HEAD 50, it is incorrect to say that the Minister for Economy controls HEAD 50. It’s the Permanent Secretary who is the responsible officer for these appropriations. Let’s not misconstrue the facts.
45. In conclusion Mr. Speaker Sir, I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the families whose loved ones have succumbed to the deadly virus. Our front liners have put in great efforts to ensure our health and safety. They deserve our appreciation for the excellent work they are doing. It is my humble request to Fijians to get vaccinated who have not done so. I also wish speedy recovery to those who are COVID positive.
46. Mr. Speaker Sir, I support the 2021-2022 National Budget. Thank you, Mr. Speaker Sir.