Labour Senator Atu Emberson-Bain says government’s market driven policies have reduced close to 50% of Fiji’s population to living around or below the poverty line.
And 47% of the nation’s workers were earning wages below the poverty line.
“Even with a home grown “Blueprint” masquerading as affirmative action on behalf of the indigenous Fijians, the benefits of government’s policies are being enjoyed largely by the elite of our society, including the indigenous elite,” she charged.
“Very few crumbs have fallen from the table for the economically disadvantaged and the poor, including the indigenous poor,” she said speaking in the upper House during the 2005 Budget debate.
Senator Bain blames government’s tax reforms, the increase in VAT by 25% from 10% to 12.5%, the re-imposition of VAT on basic food items as well as the 5% increase on a wide range of 510 food and everyday consumer items as the main contributing factor.
Government’s decision to withdraw COLA payments in favour of productivity pay would further increase the numbers of the poor in the country, she said.
“COLA is one of the most basic mechanisms for protecting worker incomes… it ensures the real value, or the purchasing power of wages, is not eroded by price inflation.
“Removing COLA and linking wage movements solely to productivity or performance is tantamount to approving a wage cut for workers every time the cost of living goes up,” she said.
Bad governance, she said, had crept into every nook and cranny of government institutions:
“It had compromised the independence and integrity of the legislature, the judiciary and public service and generally revealed an administration hell-bent on inflicting policies that are discriminatory and anti-poor.”
As examples, Senator Bain referred to the way government associated with and protected persons with complicity in the 2000 coup, the fact that a growing number of government ministers, coalition partners and other senior public office holders were being charged, convicted and imprisoned for their unlawful activities and their refusal to resign once under criminal investigation.
They were being allowed to hold their positions even after they were charged and convicted; taxpayers funds were being abused pay salaries to politicians in jail and the release of the convicted vice president Jope Seniloli after serving less than three months of a four-year jail term.