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Country Faces Bleak Future, Says Chaudhry

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SUVA: Fiji faces a bleak future unless democracy is restored, according to deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the Daily Post reports.

"In short, we will end up becoming another impoverished Third World country," he said in a three-page statement yesterday ahead of the military installed interim government's budget announcement tomorrow.

He said his government's budget for this year was an "expansionary budget with government expenditure at an all time high".

He claimed government revenue had fallen by about F$200 million and he estimated revenue for 2001 at less than 60 per cent of that budgeted this year.

He also claimed tax evasion was now rampant.

"This is cited as one of the reasons behind the coup," said Chaudhry, who signed the statement as the "prime minister, people's coalition government".

"Some of those who were being investigated and under pressure to pay up huge amounts of outstanding taxes are reported to have funded the destabilisation process," he said.

Aid and trade concessions by foreign governments are tied to democracy, adherence to human rights and good governance," Chaudhry said.

He said the nation had been poised for prosperity under the people's coalition until the May 19 coup and resulting unrest.

"The pre-coup economy was booming, having expanded by seven per cent in 1999, reversing two years of contraction in 1997 and 1998.

"In 2000, the economy was expected to grow by six per cent under the people's coalition government."

Employment had been the hardest hit by the political unrest, according to Chaudhry.

"An estimated 18,000 jobs have been lost in both formal and informal sectors. As a result, unemployment level now stands at 20 per cent.

Investment had ceased since May 19, he claimed, and all major private sector statutory bodies and government capital projects had been suspended.

Investment levels in all sectors were rising rapidly before the coup, Chaudhry said.

The construction industry, which was the fastest growing sector under the people's coalition government with hotel projects worth $350 million, was now in trouble.

Chaudhry said his government had achieved savings of $47 million in the first three months of this year.

He expected savings at the end of this year to be around $100 million.

"The elected government had effectively reduced the debt service ratio," he said.

The ousted prime minister said a telling sign that the economy had weakened was the fall of the Fiji dollar against the American dollar, the British sterling and the Japanese yen.

+++niuswire


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