The Fiji Times have a feature article today (author not named) with some stats on the year 2008 - about sugar, tourism, employment etc. I do not know what the writer means about 'poverty line' - is that per person, or per household, but no way could an ordinary family find $600 or more a week for their needs! In Fiji a labourer might get about $100 per week. Subsistence farming/fishing/gardening of course complicates the statistics.
Bleak start to new year
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
THE year began with many promises from the interim administration; rescued state finances, decline in imports, increased employment, new investment and more transparency.
There was much hope in the air, as there was little else the people could do but hope that their best interests were being served by those who elected themselves into power.
But as the months went by, the rhetoric citizens were forced to endure persisted without much change in their circumstances.
Granted several investment-friendly policies were introduced, like more efficient processing procedures and better data bases, but in the end the positive difference this made to the economy proved almost negligible as the main industries fell behind in achieving their targets.
Wet weather, and mill and fertiliser problems have largely plagued the industry aside from the continued departure of sugar cane farmers. While the Fiji Sugar Corporation sealed a $1billion deal for the supply of raw sugar at a preferential price to the European Union market over the next seven years, the industry is danger of failing to fulfill its contract. Fiji is contracted to supply 300,000 tonnes of sugar per annum to its traditional EU market buyer, Tate & Lyle. Planned infrastructure reforms also encountered several hitches, one of which was the disenchantment of engineers from India who are instrumental to the reform. Much work lies ahead for the industry for it to be a viable competitor in an increasingly globalised world.
Tourists continue to flock to our shores despite the political upheaval. Neverthelss, the industry is estimated to record a loss of $150m-plus given the fewer visitors, the shorter stays and significantly discounted rates. The government forecasted a 10 per cent growth from last year's performance but the Fiji Visitors Bureau is expecting only half of that.
The bureau is banking on successful marketing of the Destination Fiji to spark a huge turnaround. The interim regime is hopeful for this after allocating $23.5million to FVB, a near 100 per cent increase in allocation from last year's Budget.
Fiji is not immune to the world energy crisis. We remain extremely vulnerable in the absence of well-established energy alternatives. The state is largely focused on bio-fuel from cassava or ethanol but water, farm land and labour could prove to be constraints.
Then there's the concern that bio-fuel from cassava was likely to drive the price of cassava high, depriving poor families that rely on it.
Remittances remain a significant foreign exchange earner for Fiji. Last year $247m was raked in remittances, placing Fiji as one of the top 10 remittance receivers in the Pacific/East Asian block. Remittances this year are suspected to be slightly less, due largely to people resorting to less taxing informal methods. Nevertheless, this source of income remains one of the top foreign exchange earners for Fiji.
Unemployment has not eased, despite the well-meaning National Youth Service Scheme which has taught thousands of youths basic skills in varied industries. In the absence of new large investments and the economic challenges posed by political instability and the world financial crisis, the prospects of this recording significant improvements in this field are bleak.
The curtain is about to fall on 2008 and the nation is still struggling to stand under increased economic pressure, from within and externally. All in all, it does not look very optimistic in light of recent developments.
Based on the Quantitative Analysis of Poverty in Fiji, about half of the populace live under and around the poverty line which is calculated as being $124.60 for rural Fijians, $126.34 for rural Indians, $138.39 for urban Fijians and $149.89 for urban Indians.
If a significant turnaround in the nation's economic status is not realized in the near future, more economic woes are forecasted. It is in light of these realities that the military over expenditure of $50million and the injection of millions more into the National Council of Building a Better Fiji drew widespread criticism.
Overall, the New Year is expected to be a bleak start for many.