Almost half of our people are living in poverty. This shocking revelation was made at the recent workshop on poverty alleviation impact assessment conducted by the Poverty Eradication Unit of the government
A 2007 survey had put poverty levels at 32% but a recently concluded Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) revealed that poverty had increased by 13% in the past three years to an alarming level of 45%.
Workshop facilitator Dr Howard White of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation observed that:
• the wealth of the nation was not equitably shared with the grassroots but concentrated among a few
• There was a need to promote programmes which would enable the poor to have equal opportunities to goods and services enjoyed by the wealthy
These are not new observations. We have known all this for a long time. The issue of equitable distribution of national income has not been seriously addressed in the last 25 years by successive governments except for the Labour-led government of 1987 and 1999.
But the tragedy is that on both occasions the government was toppled by coups orchestrated by vested interest groups and executed (1987) or facilitated (2000) by elements in the security forces.
Programmes predicated on hand-outs are not a long term solution to reducing poverty. On the contrary, they can be counter-productive and result in increased dependency on the State.
The truth is that the scourge of poverty cannot be tackled on the back of an ailing and contracting economy. Fiji’s economy has been under-performing for several years now. The last three years 2007-2009 have been years of negative growth and the forecast for this year is that the economy will shrink further.
This is bad news for the poor. It will mean more of our people will enter the poverty trap. The sharp rise in poverty levels in the past 12 months can be attributed to two major factors:
• devaluation of the Fiji dollar by a massive 20% (in real terms by between 25-30% in relation to currencies of our major trading partners) resulting in huge price hikes for imported as well as local goods and services, including food items
• the removal of price control from many basic food and consumer items
Unfortunately, the economy is likely to remain stagnant until political stability and confidence in Fiji’s future return. Meanwhile, we will continue to see more of the same.