HIGH food prices and issues revolving around the rising cost of living — such as unemployment, low wages and poverty — have been cited as major problems for people living in the Western Division.
And while the Bainimarama government's free tuition and bus fare for school children was given the thumbs up across all communities and age groups, a survey by The Fiji Times West Bureau found that food prices ranked the number one concern.
Saddled with the upward spiral of food prices, respondents from Rakiraki to Sigatoka are feeling the pinch at the supermarkets and are calculating whether there is any real savings from government's education initiatives. If the pitch is right, the battle at the polls may end up being on who the voter believes can best implement and enforce the most effective price controls on basic food items.
The survey found that while young people were happy with the education initiatives — and the opportunity to vote — they wanted improvements to the system.
Also, there exists a youth population who are disappointed with the prevalence of unemployment.
Among workers and the older generation, there is concern about the retirement age and problems facing the elderly. While the Social Welfare payouts to senior citizens were lauded, those receiving the money don't think it is enough to cope with the costs of every day living.
In the sugarcane belt, talks echoed the same theme. Farmers were happy with government's support in providing grants for new cane planting and the promise of more than $80 per tonne in cane payment this season — but they also spoke frankly about the headache of dealing with the high costs of staying in the business. They will be on the lookout for who will best serve their interests and this includes land security issues.
Generally, rural dwellers are happy with the current government's attempts to improve road, water and electricity in isolated and remote areas but there exists frustrated communities who are without proper roads and piped water supply — and yet were located close to towns or the main highway.
The survey teams also came across many who were guarded in their response.
Then there were those who expressed the need for an honest government and others who wished to hear from leaders, other than those in government, to allow them to decide on which party or politician to support. With elections just 73 days away it will be interesting to see how perceptions of the Western Division's most pressing issues will factor in the ultimate outcome of the September 17 election.