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Chaudhry Blasts Qarase's Fiji Budget

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CHAUDHRY BLASTS QARASE'S FIJI BUDGET

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): Former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has strongly condemned the 2002 budget presented by Laisenia Qarase's Government yesterday, warning Fiji could be heading for bankruptcy, the Sun reports.

The deposed prime minister described the F$1.25 billion budget delivered by Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola as "flat, unrealistic and spelling serious trouble for the country".

Chaudhry said there was a clear indication the Qarase Government was living beyond its means with a net deficit of $243 million (six percent of the gross domestic product), which was more than three times as high as the 1.9 percent deficit in the Labour-led People's Coalition Government.

And University of the South Pacific economist Dr Mahendra Reddy told the Sun some of the key principles for an effective stimulus for revival of the economy, battered since last year's attempted coup by failed businessman George Speight, had been violated.

He said any stimulus measure should be fair to all in the society, regardless of race or religion.

"While poverty and social problems exist in both the two major ethnic groups, budgetary allocations tend to favour ethic Fijians," Dr Reddy said.

A figure of $28 million was provided for affirmative action programmes for indigenous Fijians while negligible amounts were provided for Indo-Fijian or minority communities.

Chaudhry stressed the Government's expenditure next year would need to be sustained by huge borrowings. To finance its spending, it would need to borrow $339 million of which $300 million would be sourced locally and $39 million from abroad.

Chaudhry said there were signs that the Qarase Government was heading for bankruptcy as, since the coup, the gross budget deficit had escalated from $190 million to $235 million and an alarming $339 million was projected for next year.

He said Government's real financial position was likely to be even worse, with an expected revenue of $1 billion highly inflated and "unlikely to be realised".

On the military's budget, Chaudhry said this had been substantially understated at $63 million.

He said the actual military expenditure last year had risen to $76 million and it further escalated to $88 million, with a total strength of the force increased from 3420 to 5130 troops.

"We are now told that the military expenditure will be contained at $63 million with a reduction of 1534 in strength. This seems unlikely and unrealistic," he said.

On the sugar industry, he said Government was quiet on how it intended to assist this "fast collapsing industry, the demise of which will see thousands enter the poverty gap".

"Given the crisis in the sugar industry, the Fiji Labour Party was expecting a clear statement on the issue," he said.

Chaudhry said concessions granted in the budget were mainly for the rich as no relief was provided to bring down the cost of living and there was nothing for low-income earners struggling to make ends meet.

"The Government has failed to assure almost half the population that they will have equal opportunity in the land of their birth."

He said the $10 million Fijian Trust Fund only benefited a small group of elite Fijians under the guise of assisting the indigenous people.

He said this was a failed policy, which in the past 31 years had done nothing to improve the lot of the ordinary Fijian.

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