Editorial comment – Focus on national budget

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama meets with Tui Magodro Ratu Simione Vutevute after the opening of Ba Provincial Council meeting at Viseisei village in Lautoka yesterday June 27, 2018. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

THE announcement of the 2018/2019 National Budget is attracting a lot of attention. Issues have been raised by political parties offering their views on their expectations tonight and of what the budget could possibly focus on. Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama hinted that we can expect a budget that would build on what Government had created for the Fijian people to prosper. Mr Bainimarama, while addressing chiefs from Ba at Vuda yesterday, said the iTaukei community had benefitted from his government. He spoke about building on opportunities to prosper and continuing the infrastructure development that had transformed “our nation’s prospects”. Understandably, views differ on industries that need an injection and the issue of growth in others. In 2016, key factors that did raise interest included the rise in the salaries of special police constables and doctors and the emphasis on recruitment of nurses. There was the injection of $448.5 million to the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, up by 3.78 per cent. Last year, the State wanted the budget to touch the people, from the youth to the pensioners. Of particular interest again was the massive increase in the budget for the education sector. Increased salaries for teachers, allocations for the Tertiary Education Loan Scheme and the recruitment of more teachers were areas the allocation for education obviously targeted. The sector was given the biggest share of the budget, a staggering $964.4m of which $490.1m went to the Ministry of Education. That rode on the back of the State’s commitment to improve the education system. It consolidated the position the State took in 2015 when it pumped in $556m in its very first budget since elections in 2014. It will be interesting to see whether that continues tonight. There was interest last year on the tax thresh-hold which was raised from $15,000 to $30,000, a factor that attracted attention. When matters close to the heart of people are discussed, a number of issues will sit at the top of the list. All speculations will be put to rest though when Economy Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum addresses the nation tonight. Without a doubt, there will be keen interest on such things as the price of basic food items and wages and salaries for instance. There are other issues close to the heart such as housing and general cost of living. People want to be able to afford food, housing, health care, education and pay their utility bills. We have reported on various issues faced by people across the country. The State has been proactive in terms of education and infrastructure development. The minimum wage has been discussed at length, and issues such as assistance for people to rebuild their homes in the wake of natural disasters. Tonight’s national budget will definitely be watched with keen interest.

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