Justifiable, NGO says regarding vaccination-oriented budget stimulus

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In critiquing the 2021/2022 National Budget, presented in parliament last week, Dialogue Fiji said the Fijian Government’s stance to tie vaccination to benefits is justifiable.

“In the face of the biggest health crisis that we have faced, desperate times call for desperate measures. The common interest, in such circumstances, prevails over personal freedoms and choices,” says Dialogue Fiji Executive Director Nilesh Lal.

He said in imposing vaccination as a mandatory requirement to access benefits offered in the budget, the Fijian Government is encouraging vaccine uptake which not only assists the country manage its COVID-19 crisis and prevent further loss of lives but also is able to open up the economy and generate the revenue needed to fund stimulus offered in the budget, both new and continuing including social welfare benefits, maintaining civil servants’ salaries and wages as well as cash assistance for unemployed individuals.

The Fijian Government has set its sights on fully vaccinating 80% of the target population (80% of 586,651) by 31 October. However, since 1 July, vaccination uptake, particularly in the Central Division where there has been a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, has been slow compared to last month, but the ministry remains hopeful that this will change. With the support of the US Government, the ministry has acquired Moderna vaccine recommended for pregnant women and older people with co-morbid issues. The Moderna vaccine will be rolled out in the Suva-Nausori corridor, beginning tomorrow.

“The next few months require every Fijian to do their part in ending this outbreak so that economic activity can return to former levels. Otherwise, painful budget cuts and other austerity measures will become unavoidable.”

Meanwhile, in lauding the “creative” manner that the government has taken to encourage vaccination, Dialogue Fiji also called for caution.

Whilst pleased with the stimulus offered in the budget, new and continuing initiatives, Dialogue Fiji says they need to be sustainable in the long term.

“The $200m unemployment benefit and the additional 200m soft loan facility for businesses will boost spending immediately and this is needed in the short term,” Lal said. “However, its impact may quickly evaporate once government withdraws support. The announcement of other stimulus measures, and the continuing of those from the last budget, are also expected to contribute to economic recovery now, but may not be sustainable in the long term.”

Regarding the government’s ability to generate projected revenue of $2.085 billion, Dialogue Fiji draws optimism from its performance in the last financial year during which the Fijian Government collected more revenue than it projected despite the subdued economic activity in the last quarter (April to July 2021).

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