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The 2011 Budget Oscars: burdening future generations (2010) (blogs)

18/03/2012

Another year, another illegal Acting Minister of Finance presenting Budget Estimates for 2011 stating “As approved by the Fiji Government”.

Without a Parliament, this is now the only reporting exercise to the Fiji taxpayers, who will fork out $1746 millions to fund Bainimarama’s plans for 2011.

As always, the media and taxpayers only think about the little bits taken from them in taxes, and the little bits given here and there in benefits, and strange reversals in economic policies such as protectionism.

They can rarely look at the long-term Big Picture that Annual Budgets add up to (and it does not help that articles like this can never get past the censors in local media).

Unfortunately also, regardless of the alleged principles of accountability preached  by the Charter, this Military Government will not release the Auditor General’s Reports on how our tax money was spent in the past, or those Reports explaining why $300 millions more of our tax money will be pumped into propping up the Fiji Sugar Corporation; or the Reports on the hundreds of millions lost at Natadola and Momi due to this Military Government’s actions.

Not that any one from the business community and the accounting and auditing firms would be asking such pesky questions of this Military Government.

Neither would they be asking the Acting Finance Minister (Mr  Aiyaz Khaiyum) to explain why his extravagant claims about the macro objectives of the Bainimarama Government, is totally contradicted by the numbers given in his own 2011 Budget Supplement.

If the 2011 Budget Supplement numbers are correct, then the following will be the Record Card for the Bainimarama Government over the last four years.

The Bainimarama Record Card

   Judge this Military Government by its own key macro-economic targets, stated clearly in their 2011 Budget Supplement (paragraph 3.3, page 18):

*       Raising investment levels to 25 percent of GDP. (FAIL)

*          Growing the economy by 5 percent annually; (FAIL)

*          Reducing the rate of poverty to a negligible level; (FAIL)

*          Reducing fiscal deficits; (FAIL) (opposite being done)

*          Reducing Government debt; (FAIL) (opposite being done)

*          Maintaining inflation at around 2-3 percent on average; (FAIL) (inevitably)

*          Maintaining foreign exchange reserves at 4-5 months of import cover; (C grade)

   Despite having complete control of Fiji for the last four years, the Bainimarama Government has utterly failed to achieve any of their own first six targets.   They are not likely to achieve them either over the next four years.  For some targets, they are blatantly and dangerously doing the opposite.

Investment as % of GDP

   Look at the Graph.  Investment had risen briefly to 25% in 1999, but the 2000 coup by soldiers reversed that trend, with another dive taking place after 2006.  In 2010 it is almost certainly 15% or less.

All the indicators (building permits approved, savings ratios, etc) indicate that this ratio will not rise given that investor confidence is at an all-time low.

 

Most people hardly ever see the statistics behind the Graph 2 on the right – National Savings as % of GDP (estimated by the World Bank, but not by Fiji). National Savings is roughly National Income minus Consumption – Net Outflows.

One can see the decline setting in after 1987, then again after 2000. For the first time in the history of Fiji, this ratio became negative over 2007 and 2008, probably because of capital flight by locals,  foreigners and potential investors, over fear of impending devaluation.  Graph 1 in fact follows the trends shown by Graph 2.

Such capital flights (by foreigners and locals alike) and loss of investor confidence are encouraged by military decrees appropriating assets, military decrees preventing aggrieved persons from taking their cases to court, expulsion of CEOs of large corporations, deportation of newspaper editors, and imposition of draconian media censorship.  In such a climate you are unlikely to see investment rise to 25% of GDP.

It is to be expected that that large corporations will try to avoid taxes by whatever means available (including transfer pricing), while waging strong PR campaigns to win public sympathy.  But the solution for illegal activities must surely be through legal redress.  The solution for more equitable tax payments from a vitally important export company, is surely negotiation in good faith. Not expulsion of CEOs or large, sudden and discriminatory increases in resource taxes.

Negative economic growth

   The 2011 Budget documents confirm what most of us have been fearing- that the growth rate for 2010 is going to be (now estimated to be 0.1%) far below the optimistic rates being projected by the Reserve Bank.

 

Graph 3 shows clearly what has happened since 2006 when Bainimarama took over. The top straight line represents what a modest 2.2% growth would have given us between 2006 and 2010. The black line is what the Bainimarama Government has actually achieved for us: the GDP in 2010 was even lower than in 2006.

 

The ever-widening gap represents a loss in national income of over $1,250 millions in real 2005 terms (and more in current dollars), with a corresponding loss of potential government revenue and expenditure of more than $300 million.

Having lost the tax-payers these huge amounts, the Bainimarama Government pats itself on the back (with the jovial support of business tycoons) for $10 millions given out for food vouchers and $12 millions for bus fare subsidies.

Let us not talk about the impact on poverty, or Father Kevin Barr’s long-postponed Wages Councils Orders following underhand pressures by employers.

Fiscal Deficits and Public Debt: Lies?

   Possibly the biggest and most damaging con-trick that this Military Government is pulling on Fiji’s tax-payers is the continuing claim that it is planning to reduce Fiscal Deficits and the Public Debt.

On the contrary, the numbers in the 2011 Budget Supplement show that fiscal deficits have remained large (ie this Military Government keeps spending more than it receives in revenue).  Consequently, the Public Debt has risen from 2006 to 2010 by a massive $515 million.

Worse still, the Budget Supplement numbers clearly show (Table 3.1, page 19) that this Military Government is planning to further increase the public debt between 2010 and 2013 by another $576 million.  That is, by 2013, they will have increased the Public Debt by more than a billion dollars (see Graph 3).

   This is a billion dollars that this illegal and irresponsible Military Government wants to pass on to the future generation, to pay for their mistakes of today.

 

We remember that the Qarase Government also expanded the Public Debt between 2000 and 2006 by more than a billion dollars- some on infrastructure, but the rest to cover their Agricultural Scam, the over-generous vote-buying Public Service salary increases just before the 2006 elections, and also the military over-expenditure (more on this below).

But their saving grace was that the economy was still growing. Under Bainimarama, the economy is not growing.

Another worry for many of us is that the Military Government will even further raid the Fiji National Provident Fund, who is their captive banker and milking cow, with the Board and CEO totally under their control.  Should the Fiji economy not grow and Government not repay its loans, the FNPF will become further insolvent.

Taxpayers of Fiji: note that for next year, the Budget Supplement states that you will be paying $789 million for Debt Service– this is a half of all Government Revenue.

It is no wonder than Education and Health cannot be given the increases that their Ministries need and deserve (however much their Ministers smile on TV and say they will manage).

Put another way, by 2013, each household in Fiji will effectively be struggling to pay for  its $20,000 share of the Public Debt, planned by this Military Government.

So what is the Bainimarama Government’s increase in Public Debt due to?

Monstrous Military Over-expenditure

   It is confirmed now that a large chunk of the increase ($300 million)  is going to pay for the Fiji Sugar Corporation losses and “mill refit” fiasco by Bainimarama’s appointees.

But the most important increases in Public Debt are due to the continuing massive inflation and illegal over-expenditure of the military budget.

With the convenient excuse of an attempted coup (by its own soldiers), the Fiji Military Forces has been illegally over-spending the budget approved by parliament every year since 2000- in millions: 19m, 8m, 20m, 32m, 14m, 24m, 50m (in 2007), 8m, 28m, and 24m (in 2010).

Roughly, between 2000 and 2010, the Military has illegally over-spent by some $225 million– this is as much as the cost of the National Bank of Fiji disaster. All added to Fiji’s Public Debt, to be paid for by the future generations.

But the real change in military expenditure has been worse than that.  Before 2000, the military expenditure was only around $50 million.  It was only following the attempted military coup in 2000 that the Qarase Government increased the military’s budget by another ten to twenty million- to contain the problems of the military’s own making. Hah. Qarase never thought those same guns would be turned on him.

So compared to the pre-2000 military budget of around $50 million, the inflation of military spending between 2000 and 2010 has cost the Fiji tax-payers roughly an extra $450 million. All added to the Public Debt.

If the current trend continues till 2014 (and the 2011 Budget indicates that it will), the Military will have taken another extra $250 millions from the tax-payers and added it to the Public Debt.  Or some $700 millions over and above their normal pre-2000 allocations, between 2000 and 2014.

Add or subtract a few tens of millions here and there, or allow for price changes, the picture will not change.

This $700 million more for unproductive armed soldiers in uniforms periodically conducting coups, means $700 million less for education, health, social welfare, poverty alleviation, and rural development- not to mention the massive  damage done to the economy.

   Given this massive ongoing misallocation of tax-payers’ money, who cares about a few million peanuts of tax-payers’ money that this Bainimarama Government is throwing at Food Vouchers and children’s bus fare subsidies in the 2011 Budget?

Who will pay?

   Most of the Pubic Debt is being passed on to your children.

But there is also the large increase in VAT from 12.5% to 15%., expected to raise $80 millions.  We all know the VAT to be a regressive tax, whose burden falls more heavily on the low and middle income people who usually spend a  higher proportion of their incomes.

Which is why even Father Barr, a once avid supporter of the Bainimarama Government is now complaining about the increase in VAT, as he also complains about the failure of the Military Government to implement his Wages Councils.

This illegal Military Government is also planning to sell off public assets like FEA, to try to stop the Fiscal Deficits exploding further.

Just as the SVT Government’s then Minister of Finance Jim Ah Koy disastrously did with the creation and sale of ATH shares in 1998, this Military Government will also thereby convert a public monopoly into a private monopoly, which will rip off even more, the helpless consumers, despite the best efforts of the bumbling Commerce Commission.

The IMF Excuse

   How odd that this Military Government chooses to justify their VAT increase and sale of public assets by referring to IMF Mission advice.  This Military Government will also use the IMF excuse when they start sacking more public sector employees (in addition to all those over 55 laid off recently).

But the Military Government ignores that they could not fulfill the complete set of IMF requirements for a Standby Arrangement.

We in Fiji should also understand that the experience of the developing world is that the unaccountable, non-transparent, ever-changing IMF missionaries couldn’t give tuppence for the lives of the ordinary people they trifle with.

There is no public indication that the IMF recommended that Fiji’s military expenditure must be significantly reduced to pre-2006 levels if the Fiscal Deficits and Public Debt are to be reduced to sustainable levels; nor that any burden of adjustment should be shared by the upper income brackets as well through the income tax, and not just through a VAT increase which will hurt the poorest more.

The IMF’s key concerns have always been about facilitating and strengthening the private sector, if necessary by privatising and downsizing public corporations.  For the amoral IMF missionaries, a dictatorial Military Government provides a grand opportunity to bring about changes not easily possible through elected accountable governments.

We should remember also that an “IMF Mission to Fiji” is a “not to be missed opportunity” for a bloated 8-person team to have a lovely few days in a tropical paradise, away from freezing Washington or far more unpleasant African banana republics which usually receive IMF attention.

 

Inflation and Cost of Living

   This Military Government’s claim that they will contain inflation, is equally hollow.  Fiji’s inflation is largely imported, totally beyond the control of the Government or the Commerce Commission.

Indeed, the recent Reserve Bank devaluation of the Fiji dollar boosted inflation beyond the alleged 3% target, while the planned 20% increase in VAT will add even more.

The cost of living for everyone will go up, regardless of the sporadic and generally futile Commerce Commission price controls on a limited number of items (not sold by a certain tycoon).

Father Barr’s poorest workers are certainly not going to get timely Cost of Living adjustments through the Wages Council.

And the FNPF and other savings of the ordinary people will keep going down the drain, continuously eroded by the inflation, while unable to grow because of the continuing economic stagnation and lack of employment creation.

So taxpayers and coup collaborators need to honestly ask themselves: who have really profited from the 2000 and 2006 military coups?

Benefits for the Military

   It is ironic that there is such hatred on the blog sites directed against Aiyaz Khaiyum who is strangely accused of implementing some kind of Taliban “Sunset Clause” on the Fijian race, and of manipulating a pliant Bainimarama.   This frequently racist blogging took another turn with Khaiyum’s presentation of the budget, on behalf of an absent sick Bainimarama.

Of course, Khaiyum invites such criticism with his egotistical “in-your-face” daily prominence in the media, his obvious enjoyment of power and authority over so many powerful ministries, and the steady stream of salusalus and adulation from the pliant business community (as long as their business interests are served, who cares if the rest of the country goes down the drain?).

But let us face it:  Khaiyum (like Parmesh Chand and Jonhn Samy) is merely in the service of Bainimarama and the Fiji Military Council, very smoothly and suavely doing their dirty work.  Indeed his performance on TV is a “revelation of sorts” even to those of us who shared a cell with him protesting the Rabuka coups  more than twenty years ago.

Of course, Khaiyum and his coup collaborating cobbers from NZ may be enjoying considerable financial benefits themselves, as others have in the past, and gone today.

But, in dollar terms, the biggest ongoing 2000 and 2006 coup beneficiaries of tax-payers funds, have been Bainimarama and his senior military officers, some of the former FMF Commanders, and the military rank and file, who have followed Bainimarama blindly into treason against a lawfully elected Government.

Note that 99 per cent of the bigger FMF beneficiaries are indigenous Fijians, who I suspect are quietly chuckling around their grog-bowl that Khaiyum (and other prominent Indo-Fijians) are egotistically taking the limelight, and the flak from the bloggers.

I suspect that when the tide turns, the Bainimarama camp and the numerous quiet indigenous Fijian coup collaborators, will blame the Indians for “misleading and manipulating Bainimarama and the Military Council”;  present a tabua or two;  perform a matanigasau or two; and the vanua will come together again, all forgiven.

Who knows where the Indo-Fijian, the Part-European and European coup collaborators will then go to.  Someone can ask them.

Epilogue for 2011 Budget Oscars

   It is their personal tragedy, that all these officers and soldiers of the Fiji Military Forces, aided by the current and former Army Commanders, have now wrecked their own reputations, professionalism and marketability in the world of peace-keeping and security provision.

But the greater ongoing tragedy for Fiji, so clearly shown by this 2011 Budget, is that this Military Government and the coup collaborators are imposing a massive Public Debt burden that Fiji’s future generations will struggle to pay, undermining their standards of living for more than a decade.

Look at what is happening today to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, where Public Debt ran out of control, aided by the Global Financial Crisis.

Khaiyum may deserve an Oscar for his acting ability in presenting in the 2011 Budget, mouthing the Bainimarama Government’s Roadmap and macro objectives, fully understanding that none of them are being met, or are even likely to be met, while blatantly lying about reducing Fiscal Deficits and the Public Debt.

But supporting Oscars should also go to Fiji’s business community- the tycoons, the partners and principals of the accounting firms, and the numerous collaborating Flotsam and Jetsam from abroad, for merrily playing along and even praising this dangerous 2011 Budget (the images on Fiji One are revealing).

Unfortunately, the economic and social disaster that this Military Government is visiting on Fiji through the 2011 Budget is not in the “make-believe” world of Hollywood Oscars, also seen so often on our TV screens.

Fiji’s young workers and children will learn that harsh message one day, when the Public Debt chickens come home to roost.

Is there anyone in the Fiji Civil Service who can explain all this to the Bainimarama Government before further damage is done?

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