As 2005 draws to a close, it is only appropriate that we as a nation take stock of our achievements and failures.
To be honest, one has to admit that for us the year ends on a negative note – except for our Rugby Sevens team reclaiming the world championships in Hong Kong, there has been little to make us proud.
On the political front, uncertainties and tensions continue as the standoff between the security forces and government takes centre stage once again. The government’s determination to push through the highly controversial Amnesty Bill has created deep divisions within the nation, and leaves behind indelible impressions of an administration that backs lawless elements in society.
Meanwhile, pressing national problems remain unresolved as the Prime Minister plods on in a dictatorial fashion, imposing his will on the nation – shunning dialogue and accommodation with the Opposition on major issues. As a result, government suffered embarrassing defeats when it tried to arbitrarily push through legislation on amendments to the Constitution and on land leases.
The year saw the economy slide to its lowest peace-time levels, plunging from a projected growth of 3.5% to an estimated 1.5%, as key exports continued to decline. Sugar production was at its lowest at 289,000 tonnes, compared to 315,000 tonnes last year. Garment exports faced its worst year since 2000, falling to a record low of $189 million in the 12 months to June 2005, compared to $230 million for the same period in 2004.
The national debt burden soared to critical levels as government failed to control expenditure, widening the Budget deficit to unhealthy levels. The Fiji dollar remained depressed against the currencies of our major trading partners.
A troubled economy led to mounting social distress as poverty levels rose 4% compared to the previous year, adding to the suffering and hardship of the poor and the underprivileged.
The year was characterized by high unemployment levels, rising cost-of-living, rural degradation and mushrooming squatter settlements as more people moved to the towns and cities in a desperate search for jobs and better lifestyles.
In truth, 2005 was a dismal year – there was nothing that the SDL government can proudly take credit for. Even its affirmative action policies came under increasing fire as Fijians angrily decried the corruption and favouritism that marked the exploitation of fisheries and forestry resources with benefits accruing to just a small coterie of government supporters.
Depressed provinces like Tailevu, Naitasiri, Namosi, Serua and the North remained neglected in the absence of any specific programmes to boost agricultural activity or encourage income enhancing projects in these regions.
The only bright spot on the horizon is tourism but its overall benefits are largely confined to the West. Much more needs to be done to encourage local operators to invest in resorts in other parts of Fiji.
The year ahead, poses to be equally difficult and challenging with the economy expected to slide even further creating more joblessness and uncertainties.
However, 2006 also holds promise of a new dawn and a change for the better as the nation gears up for the next general elections. Much of the ills of 2005 and the years before can be attributed to bad governance by an incompetent and corrupt government bent on pursuing self-interest and a narrow political agenda.
Our people must think hard and decide whether they want more of what they have been getting for the past five years or whether they want to make a change for a better future for themselves.
The 2006 general elections will give us a chance to remove a government which has failed to deliver and replace it with a caring government sensitive to the needs of the people and one that will endeavour to move us from poverty to prosperity.
Let 2006 be the dawn of a promising new beginning for us all.
God Bless Fiji.