Opposition Whip Krishna Datt questioned government’s claim that poverty levels were at 28% considering that poverty was effectively put at 50% in a report based on 1991 figures.
A number of factors since then had contributed to higher levels of poverty, he said listing them as the introduction of Vat in July 1992, devaluation of the currency, indiscriminate eviction of Indian tenant farmers on expiry of leases, the downturn in the sugar industry and the economic and social hardship brought in by the 2000 coup.
Speaking on the 2006 Budget debate, Datt mentioned that in 2003 the Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation Asenaca Caucau had said poverty levels were at 50%.
The 1996 census report found that 46.8% of those in full time employment earned below the poverty line of whom a massive 70% were women. He also cited figures from the FPSA which in its submission on COLA said 40% of the civil service were paid less than the tax threshold of $8500.
At the same time, a report by Father Kevin Barr and Prof. Vijay Naidu found that 83% of Fiji’s workers were earning wages below the poverty line.
It was therefore obvious that poverty levels were well above the 28% contained in the Finance Minister’s preliminary report.
There had been a notable increase in poverty in the rural areas and it was moe widespread among Indian households at 37.2% compared to 24.5% for Fijian households.
He also ridiculed the Minister Caucau’s claim that many of the beggars were quite rich possessing homes that had been rented out, television sets and so on. Datt asked if the beggars were so rich why and who were they begging for? Was it to collect money for the SDL’s campaign funds for the 2006 general elections?