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Analysis: FijiFirst Win Reaffirms Ongoing Reforms, Stability

The outcome of the 2018 Gen­eral Election has reaffirmed that the reforms implement­ed by FijiFirst have positively im­pacted the citizens. The win of Fi­jiFirst assures the citizens and the businesses
30 Nov 2018 10:31
Analysis: FijiFirst Win Reaffirms Ongoing Reforms, Stability
The author says Government’s free education and tertiary loan scheme have increased the participation and success of disadvantaged Fijian students. Photo: Simione Haravanua

The outcome of the 2018 Gen­eral Election has reaffirmed that the reforms implement­ed by FijiFirst have positively im­pacted the citizens. The win of Fi­jiFirst assures the citizens and the businesses that reforms will con­tinue to sustain economic stability. The win was critical for securing economic and social sustainability in Fiji. The election results were highly dependent on the vote of youths of Fiji who have only seen the progress made by the current Government.

Fiji has significantly suffered as a result of political instability in the 1980s and early 2000s. The political instability has impacted economic and social developments. It has been a key impediment to growth, investment, creation of jobs, infra­structural development, and other essential services such as health and education. The past has taught us many lessons. Increased corrup­tion, controversial policies, and lack of timely reforms has impact­ed people at all levels.

Despite a negative campaign by a few opposition parties, FijiFirst has prevailed. Rather than having a mature discussion about future pol­icies and reforms, many political parties only focused on influencing voters using racial tactics.

In fact, the negative campaign using racial tactics has helped the FijiFirst party to secure the votes of those citizens who realised that the opposition does not have much to offer other than a negative cam­paign using racial tactics.

In this article, I would like to outline some of the major policy reform implemented by FijiFirst, which contributed to the win.

The winning policies

These policies and reforms have impacted people at all levels. We now have infrastructure develop­ment (for example road construc­tion) in all parts of Fiji. These were the developments that could have been implemented many years ago by previous governments.

The construction of new roads has improved transportation and has provided many benefits to the local communities. New schools are being built in regions where previously children had to travel long distances to access primary and secondary education. An im­portant innovation is the establish­ment of kindergartens to educate children before they start primary education. The Government has introduced 12 years of free educa­tion to all students. This policy had resulted in a minimum level of edu­cation to all children who could not afford high school education.

The policy has played a key role in school retention, progression and completions. A significant de­velopment is the tertiary educa­tion loan scheme and scholarships. Students from all backgrounds are now able to access university edu­cation. There is no doubt that the loan scheme has increased the par­ticipation and success of disadvan­taged students who are first in the family to access tertiary education. Government policies to fund stu­dent loans have also resulted in the growth of universities in Fiji.

Institutions are now expanding their campuses in various towns where access to tertiary education was limited to local people.

Electricity is now expanding in regions with both wired and so­lar power. Infrastructure devel­opments are also taking place to provide clean water in regions and outer islands, which relied on rivers and wells. We now have dis­ability allowance that is available to people. Social welfare payment is available to people over the age of 65.

More than 140 medications, which cannot be found in government pharmacies, can be received for free in retail pharmacy for people earn­ing below $30,000. While health ser­vices need further improvement, the Government has funded the construction of new hospitals and extension of existing ones. Health centres in regional communities and outer Islands that were closed by previous governments are now being upgraded and reopened.

Boats and vehicles are provided to regional health centres to meet the demands of regional communities who are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

To ensure that vacant land is used, the Government continues to work with landowners and authorities to extend the lease. To ensure that the country is able to produce ag­riculture, food security and live­stock, the Government provides agricultural support with financial incentives to buy farming equip­ment. Small farming assistance of up to $25,000 is provided to boost agriculture and encourage the par­ticipation of people in the best use of natural resources. The Govern­ment is also working closely with the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) to increase the production of sugar.

Sugarcane farming is now ex­panding in regions with no history of cane farming. This is made pos­sible because of the construction of highways that provide ease in the transportation of sugar. Know­ing that the sugar industry is strug­gling to find labourers, the FSC is providing funding for the machin­ery to boost the sugar industry.

Significant reforms have taken place to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public service.

These reforms are not new as gov­ernments in most developing coun­tries expect that taxpayers get high quality and standard of service to its citizens. The policies introduced by the Government are inclusive, socially responsible, and it is mov­ing towards an economic outlook that is stronger in the future.

Many former citizens who have migrated overseas are now invest­ing in Fiji. These are signs of eco­nomic stability and trust that the Government is genuinely commit­ted to boost the economy.

The Government has introduced zero tax for low income earners earning less than $30,000. Doctors, nurses and teachers have received a significant pay rise (ranging from 14 per cent to more than 70 per cent) compared to the trends in many de­veloped countries. While price of groceries is still high, Government introduced VAT free items on es­sential food. VAT is also reduced from 15 to 9 per cent.

The visit by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama in the vari­ous communities has resulted in immediate actions based on issues raised by the people. The economic outlook of the country is positive. The 2018 election outcome is criti­cal in future reforms and I describe this opportunity as the stage 2 transformation of Fiji. The stage 2 transformation would witness innovation, increased investment and better services to the people.

Rising SODELPA support

While FijiFirst can celebrate the win, SODELPA’s result is also posi­tive with the growing number of voters supporting the party. The large number of votes received by Sitiveni Rabuka and some of his members is a testament to the growing support of SODELPA.

The rise of SODELPA under the leadership of Mr Rabuka will grow and FijiFirst will need to examine how its policies and reforms be­yond 2019 can gain support from electorates. While leaders of Fiji­First and SODELPA were in senior military positions in the past, Mr Rabuka was very diplomatic in his campaign leading towards the elec­tions. FijiFirst cannot take it for granted that the next elections will be an easy win because of the rise of SODELPA, National Federation Party (NFP), and other parties who could form alliance.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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