The sudden concern Mick Beddoes and Laisenia Qarase are now trying to show for the poor is sheer hypocrisy, says Mahendra Chaudhry, Minister of Finance, National Planning, Sugar Industry and Public Utilities.
“A man who raised VAT twice in his six year term in office, to 12.5% in 2003 and 15% in Budget 2007, cannot have any real sympathy for the plight of the poor.
“And where was Mick Beddoes’ conscience and concern for the poor when he voted in Parliament in support of this 15% VAT imposition on our people?” Mr Chaudhry asked.
It is time these two gentlemen stopped playing politics with the emotions of ordinary people and started taking a serious look at their own record and failings as leaders when they were in office.
“Apart from the increase in VAT to 15%, the Qarase government had systematically increased import duty on a wide range of food and everyday consumer items in its six years in office, imposing untold hardship on the poor.
“One of his first acts when taking office illegally in 2000 was to reimpose VAT on staple food items that had been removed by my government in 1999.
“How can such a person be credited with any genuine concerns for the poor?” Mr Chaudhry asked.
Mr Qarase must also be held answerable for his government’s serious neglect of agricultural development to the point where Fiji is today forced to import food items it was once virtually self-sufficient in.
The Interim Government has assured the people of Fiji that it is monitoring the current situation closely and will take measures, as necessary, to prevent undue hardship to the poor, Mr Chaudhry said.
“Our sympathy for the plight of the under privileged in our society has been amply demonstrated in the past 16 months. The interim government has taken several compassionate measures since taking office, including removing duty from basic food items, to provide some relief to the poor.
“There is no quick-fix solution to this global food crisis. Fiji has to adopt long term strategies to boost agricultural production and to grow its own food, as far as possible.
“This is why I am urging people who have access to land to grow vegetables and root crops in their own backyards. Government has also provided very attractive incentives for those interested in investing in commercial agriculture.
“People like Beddoes and Qarase should stop exploiting this critical situation to promote their own political agendas,” Mr Chaudhry said.