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Government is making life harder for the poor: Chaudhry

The poor must brace for even more hardship as Minister for Social Protection Lynda Tubuya slashes people from the State’s Bus Fare Assistance scheme in a move to clamp down on abuse, she claims.


She also intends to remove 500 recipients from the Social Welfare program this year and put them on job placement. Additionally, she wants an expiry date to recipients of the poverty benefit scheme because she claims it is “only there to absorb temporary shocks”.


“The Minister should know better. The Welfare scheme is not just there to ‘absorb temporary shocks’. This is all a deliberate attempt to systematically cut back on the State’s Social Protection program,” says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.


“The moves outlined by the Minister are highly insensitive considering that the paltry $15-$25 per person increase in the Social Welfare pay out is hardly adequate to compensate for the huge increase in cost of living due to the 15% VAT.  


“This government is simply making life more and more difficult for our poor and low income families,” Mr Chaudhry said.  


First VAT was increased to 15%, putting prices of goods and services up by 6%. Then the promised increase in minimum wage was shelved, pay increases for teachers and other civil servants were deferred while FNPF pensioners plight was forgotten, and so goes on the list of unkept promises.


From 1 January this year, poor parents will be paying even more for their children to enjoy sweet biscuits, ice cream, imported fruit juices, chocolates, peanuts and other snacks as excise tax and customs duty go up for both domestic and imported products.


“Will school bus fares be the next target on the pretext of removing abuse?” questioned Mr Chaudhry.    

Labour has repeatedly warned that the policies of the Coalition were widening the gulf between the rich and the poor in Fiji.


While the poor and their children are being penalised through higher taxes and the removal of social protection, the Ministers themselves are lining up their pockets and the well-off are getting huge tax reliefs and concessions.  


A highly profitable foreign-company, Fiji Water, gets a 7-year tax holiday;  the wealthy in our country earning over $270,000 a year have their Social Responsibility Tax scrapped and the top personal tax rate reduced from 44c to 39c in the dollar.


Nor it seems is national debt and austerity measures an issue when it comes to Ministers and MPs pays:


·       Over a whole year they spent huge sums on frequent overseas junkets at excessive travel allowances

·       they awarded themselves $10,000 a year tax-free salary hike and tried to hide it from the public

·       Surreptitiously gave each political party in Parliament an annual grant of $325,000 for four years – no justification given for it

·       They hold meetings and seminars in the week-ends at expensive hotels at tax payers’ expense.  


“On what basis is this government holding the poor accountable when they themselves are abusing the system?


“I am appalled at the total lack of sensitivity to the plight of the poor that is coming through in government’s policies,” said Mr Chaudhry.


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