Grim picture of real poverty in Fiji

  • 10th July 2018
  • 2018
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An average national figure distorts the true and grim picture of real poverty in Fiji. There is gross regional disparity in rates of poverty: Mahendra Chaudhry

As a responsible political party, the Fiji Labour Party does not manipulate
or concoct facts or figures, says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

Figures that we quote in our statements are carefully extracted from official government statistics, surveys and statements or are compiled from UN agencies like UNESCAP or international financial organisations such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Mr Chaudhry was responding to a claim from Prime Minister Bainimarama in his Budget address in Parliament on Monday that FLP and NFP had joined the SODELPA “chorus of lies as they all are guilty of manipulating facts to mislead you to think that the poverty rate in Fiji stands at around 50 per cent.

“In saying this, the Prime Minister himself is guilty of manipulation and distortion of facts,” said Mr Chaudhry.

When it comes to poverty, citing an average national figure like 28% distorts the real picture of poverty in Fiji. But for the record, our leading poverty analysts give no credibility to this figure produced by the World Bank following an analysis of the 2013/2014  Household Income and Expenditure survey as details of the survey data have deliberately been withheld from the public. We ask why, if the government has nothing to hide?

Compare this with the UNESCAP Economic and Social Survey of Asia/Pacific 2014 report which found that 35% of Fiji’s population lived in poverty and another 35% lived on the brink of poverty. All these statistics, including the figure quoted by the  PM, are based on 2014 surveys and do not take into account the gross impact of the imposition of VAT on basic food items by the government in 2016 and other increases in cost of living since 2016.

The World Bank figure is certainly discredited when one considers that the Basic Needs Poverty Line (BNPL) used to determine the 28% rate was $55.12 per adult per week in urban areas and $49.50 for rural areas. This would have been grossly inadequate to meet the basic needs of an adult in urban areas in 2013/14 and would be even more grossly inadequate in today’s terms. The BNPL in 2014 was determined at $180 per week and is currently based at $203 per week.

But as stated earlier, an average national figure distorts the true and grim picture of real poverty in Fiji. There is gross regional disparity in rates of poverty. The UNDP Country Partnership Strategy report for 2014-2018 found that the poorest sector in Fiji was the North with an average figure of 45% living below the poverty line. The North recorded the highest rate of urban and rural poverty at 38% and 51% respectively.

The report also found high rates of poverty among those who live in informal settlements – 53% in squatter settlements in the North, 47% in the West and 38% in the Central Division.

Disparities were also noted on an ethnic basis: the rate of poverty for the indigenous population stood at 60% while for Fiji-Indians it was 35%.

The UNDP findings are supported by the 2016/17 report from government’s own consultant on the National Minimum Wage, Professor Partha Gangopadhyay. He provides a chilling picture of poverty among the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in Fiji based on questionnaires he circulated.

Professor Gangopadhyay’s study found working poverty among Suva’s informal sector, which comprises the majority of the working population, “disturbingly” high at 53%.

Worse still, he found a high level of food poverty or “significant food deprivation” among this group. The lowest quantile of workers spent a mere $40 a week on food compared to a healthy average requirement of $275.85 per week. Even the second quantile of workers were only able to spend $100 a week – not even 50% of the accepted level.

“Such is the grim picture of real poverty in Fiji. The PM cannot hide it by providing sweeping generalisations or launching accusations in an attempt to detract from the truth,” said Mr Chaudhry.