Fiji Time: 6:20 PM on Monday 24 November

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Living up to expectations

Fred Wesley
Monday, November 24, 2014

For whatever it's worth, the 2015 Budget has lived up to expectations. And when matters that are close to the heart of people are raised, a number of issues will sit at the top of the list.

The 2015 Fiji Budget delivered by Finance Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was the first for the newly elected Government and it is obvious it has kept to its election manifesto promises.

From the outset there are no major surprises, but it seems a number of sectors have being given greater attention such as agriculture, education and health.

For starters, the budget allows us to expect better health services.

The Health Ministry was allocated $269.7million.

And Health Minister Jone Usamate says he will be able to work with that. He highlighted the importance of service delivery and what he terms "significant expansion in terms of the number of doctors, number of nurses and the allied workers".

The State says the $269.7m was allocated to improve access, affordability and the quality of health service delivery.

It was an increase of $47.3m in allocation from the 2014 Budget. According to the budget, next year, 441 new positions have been created with an additional budgetary allocation of $10.8m — aimed at addressing the shortage of doctors, nurses and allied health workers and the doctor/nurse to patient ratio.

Government has also allocated $8.0m to provide free medicine to all Fijians with an annual income of below $20,000 — this will also include medicines for non-communicable diseases. The target is to "achieve an acceptable doctor to patient ratio by 2020".

It is obviously great news for the health sector, and that translates to great news for members of the public.

In education, parents and guardians will no doubt be rubbing their hands in glee at the announcement that the State has increased the education budget to $556m.

It is supposed to provide better learning standards and improved student outcomes.

The education budget has taken 17 per cent of the whole budget and sees the continuation of free education program at primary and secondary schools level with an increased budget of $66.4m.

The increase, according to the Government, will cater for the 3 per cent increase in student enrolments.

Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy said with the ministry already conducting reforms, the announcement of new teacher positions for 142 primary schools and 206 high schools was good news and would ease the teacher to student ratio.

Education is critical for the development of our nation. It makes sense then that special emphasis is placed on it. The onus then shifts to parents and guardians to ensure children are motivated to do well in school. It will mean instilling in our children an appreciation of the value of a good education.

However, it will also be in the best interest of the nation that any nagging questions on the budget are put to rest. Given that it has also attracted negative responses, the next important step now is implementation.

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