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Bain­i­marama: I am con­vinced that the big­gest break­through achieved by any Gov­ern­ment in Fi­jian his­tory was the free school­ing we in­tro­duced three years ago, that has fi­nally opened up a world of op­por­tu­nity for even the most dis­ad­van­taged child in Fiji.

The fol­low­ing is the speech by Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama at the open­ing of the new of­fice of the Fiji Rev­enue and Cus­toms Au­thor­ity in Ba yes­ter­day.

N a Marama Na Tui Ba, The Act­ing CEO of the Fiji Rev­enue and Cus­toms Au­thor­ity, Dis­tin­guished Guests, My Fel­low Fi­jians,

Bula vinaka and a very good af­ter­noon to you all. As you all know, last night my Gov­ern­ment laid out its spend­ing pri­or­i­ties for the com­ing year in the na­tional Bud­get de­liv­ered by the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral and Min­is­ter for Fi­nance. Many of you will have seen his speech on tele­vi­sion. And I’m de­lighted, the day af­ter, to be here in Ba to re­in­force some of the key themes of the Bud­get. And to open the new lo­cal of­fice of FRCA – the agency of Gov­ern­ment that raises the rev­enue we need, in the form of taxes, to pay for the Bud­get pro­vi­sions.

Im­por­tance of tax obli­ga­tions

I want to re­mind the Fi­jian peo­ple to­day why it is so im­por­tant to meet your tax obli­ga­tions. But be­fore I do, I want to draw na­tional at­ten­tion to a num­ber of as­pects of the Bud­get that I think are es­pe­cially im­por­tant.

The most press­ing pri­or­ity, of course, is to step up our pro­gramme to re­build Fiji stronger and bet­ter af­ter the wide­spread de­struc­tion caused by Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Win­ston just over four months ago, in­clud­ing here in Ba.

A to­tal of $207.9-mil­lion has been al­lo­cated in the Bud­get for cy­clone re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion works. And we are strength­en­ing our part­ner­ship with the Fiji In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neers to make sure that any re­build­ing is done to higher stan­dards that give us the best pos­si­ble chance of weath­er­ing fu­ture cy­clones.

Aside from the Win­ston re­build­ing ef­fort, there are a cou­ple of other ar­eas I par­tic­u­larly want to high­light – the ini­tia­tives in the Bud­get to cre­ate jobs for our young peo­ple and jobs for the dis­abled.

Em­power our young peo­ple

We must do ev­ery­thing we can as a na­tion to em­power our young peo­ple and give them the op­por­tu­nity to carve out sus­tain­able and sat­is­fy­ing liveli­hoods. Youth un­em­ploy­ment is one of the na­tion’s great­est chal­lenges. And to ad­dress it, this Gov­ern­ment has em­barked on a holis­tic and com­pre­hen­sive ef­fort over the past few years to im­prove the job prospects of our young peo­ple. I am con­vinced that the big­gest break­through achieved by any Gov­ern­ment in Fi­jian his­tory was the free school­ing we in­tro­duced three years ago, that has fi­nally opened up a world of op­por­tu­nity for even the most dis­ad­van­taged child in Fiji. Cou­pled with our schol­ar­ships and ter­tiary loans, we are giv­ing Fi­jian young peo­ple un­prece­dented ac­cess not only to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion in our pri­mary schools and high schools but ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion at our uni­ver­si­ties and tech­ni­cal col­leges. But this ed­u­ca­tion rev­o­lu­tion also needs to be ac­com­pa­nied by mea­sures to pro­vide our young peo­ple with bet­ter em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties once they have gained the skills that many more of them are now be­ing taught.

Pri­vate sec­tor in­cen­tives to hire young peo­ple

In the 2016-2017 Bud­get, we have un­veiled a bold plan to give the pri­vate sec­tor in­cen­tives to hire young peo­ple, ei­ther to teach them skills or give them jobs. We have in­creased the ex­ist­ing tax de­duc­tion to com­pa­nies that give peo­ple jobs for the first time from 150 per cent to 200 per cent. And we are also of­fer­ing a 200 per cent tax de­duc­tion on wages paid for the first six months to stu­dents who are on job place­ment to sat­isfy grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments. In ad­di­tion, a 200 per cent tax de­duc­tion will ap­ply to stu­dents en­gaged for up to three months in a year in an em­ploy­ment re­lated to their field of study. Em­ploy­ers will now be able to claim 150 per cent tax de­duc­tion, should they pay for their em­ploy­ees to pur­sue fur­ther stud­ies. My fel­low Fi­jians, th­ese are bold and in­no­va­tive mea­sures that will en­cour­age em­ploy­ers to hire more peo­ple, in par­tic­u­lar the young, as our econ­omy en­ters the long­est run­ning pe­riod of eco­nomic growth in our en­tire his­tory. We are build­ing a part­ner­ship be­tween Gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor to cre­ate jobs. Pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ers with the in­cen­tive to hire more young peo­ple. And this means that the prospects for young Fi­jians to­day are bet­ter than at any other time in our na­tion’s de­vel­op­ment.

Fo­cus­ing on needs of dis­ad­van­taged, in­clud­ing dis­abled Fi­jians

We have also demon­strated in this Bud­get that we are acutely fo­cused on the needs of the dis­ad­van­taged, in­clud­ing dis­abled Fi­jians. I have re­peat­edly said that this Gov­ern­ment is de­ter­mined to leave no-one be­hind. We are tak­ing every­one on our jour­ney for­ward as a na­tion. And that is why we have made such an ef­fort in this Bud­get to max­imise the em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties of the dis­abled. To give them ful­fill­ing lives and a stake in the na­tional econ­omy. I am es­pe­cially proud of the bud­get pro­vi­sion that pro­vides a 300 per cent tax de­duc­tion to any em­ployer who hires a dis­abled per­son for the first three years of their em­ploy­ment. This should open up all sorts of op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­abled peo­ple to ob­tain work. I urge em­ploy­ers to fully em­brace this new era of in­clu­sion and em­pow­er­ment. And for dis­abled peo­ple to seize the ini­tia­tive know­ing your Gov­ern­ment is with you all the way. Please re­mem­ber that the em­ploy­ers are to pay the ap­pli­ca­ble min­i­mum salary for each cat­e­gory of work. We all need to do a lot more to put our­selves in the place of Fi­jians with spe­cial needs, whether it is the chal­lenge of be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against by taxi com­pa­nies or ma­noeu­vring a wheel­chair over a rough sur­face or up some stairs. Among other things, we are pri­ori­tis­ing the first two rows of seats on all pub­lic buses for the dis­abled peo­ple. But as well as our for­mal as­sis­tance in the Bud­get, I urge ev­ery Fi­jian to think more about the needs of the dis­abled and do what we can to as­sist them. To show them we care.

A Bud­get that em­pow­ers peo­ple

My fel­low Fi­jians, last night’s Bud­get was a Bud­get for ev­ery Fi­jian. A Bud­get that lays the foun­da­tion for the re­build­ing of Fiji af­ter Cy­clone Win­ston to a much higher stan­dard. A Bud­get that em­pow­ers our peo­ple and de­liv­ers what they most need. A Bud­get that builds on the progress we have achieved as a na­tion un­der my Gov­ern­ment over the past decade. And a Bud­get that sets up Fiji for an even bet­ter and more pros­per­ous fu­ture.

Yet hav­ing said that, I also want to re­mind ev­ery Fi­jian who is el­i­gi­ble to pay tax, of this obli­ga­tion. You must pull your weight and pay the taxes in or­der for the Gov­ern­ment to pro­vide new ini­tia­tives and other ser­vices that ev­ery Fi­jian has come to ex­pect. We have one of the low­est tax regimes in the re­gion, in­deed the world. A 20 per cent flat rate for every­one ex­cept high-in­come earn­ers. We also have some of the most at­trac­tive cor­po­rate tax rates in the re­gion and the world. So there is no rea­son for any Fi­jian not to pay what they le­git­i­mately owe in tax. Be­cause the Gov­ern­ment takes a much smaller pro­por­tion of peo­ple’s earn­ings than many other coun­tries, in­clud­ing our larger neigh­bours, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Tax eva­sion de­prives Gov­ern­ment of the abil­ity to serve so­ci­ety

Ev­ery Fi­jian who tries to evade tax or fal­si­fies their in­come to pay less tax than they should, is de­priv­ing the Gov­ern­ment of our abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices and es­pe­cially to those who need them most - the less for­tu­nate and more vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our so­ci­ety. Tax eva­sion is a crime – a crime just as se­ri­ous as steal­ing from your em­ployer or break­ing into some­one’s home. Tax evaders are es­sen­tially rob­bing their fel­low Fi­jians of what they are en­ti­tled to re­ceive. And we treat this steal­ing with the pun­ish­ment it de­serves by im­pos­ing se­vere penal­ties on those who do so, in­clud­ing jail terms.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s been a cul­ture in Fiji over the years of some peo­ple think­ing that it’s clever to beat the tax­man. Peo­ple have boasted about evad­ing tax as if it is some­thing to be proud of. But it’s all part of a cul­ture of dis­hon­esty in Fiji that isn’t smart at all. In fact, it’s a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment that is hold­ing Fiji back.

Pay the tax you owe

So my mes­sage to in­di­vid­u­als and to com­pa­nies is very sim­ple: Pay the tax you owe and pay it on time. It is your civic duty - your pa­tri­otic duty. And it is in your in­ter­est to do so be­cause this money pro­vides ev­ery Fi­jian with those things we’ve come to ex­pect in any Bud­get. Proper roads and other pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture. Proper and im­proved ac­cess to health care and ed­u­ca­tion. Hos­pi­tals. Schools. Uni­ver­si­ties. Tech­ni­cal col­leges. All those things the Fi­jiFirst Gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing for our cit­i­zens to pros­per. For Fiji to pros­per. Open­ing this FRCA of­fice in Ba will strengthen our com­pli­ance regime and en­able us to crack down harder on tax evaders. We will be keep­ing a spe­cial eye on com­pa­nies that fail to pass on duty or VAT re­duc­tions. And at the same time, we will also be mak­ing it eas­ier for FRCA cus­tomers to gain bet­ter ac­cess to its ser­vices as part of our wider cam­paign to bring Gov­ern­ment closer to the peo­ple. No longer do the peo­ple of Tavua and Ba have to travel long dis­tances to ei­ther Lau­toka or Raki­raki to visit a FRCA of­fice. All of its ser­vices are right here. And we have em­barked on a pro­gramme of cul­ture change in FRCA to make it more ef­fi­cient and ser­vice ori­en­tated. To re­duce the amount of red tape and make the or­gan­i­sa­tion more user friendly.

My fel­low Fi­jians, I urge you all to read the Bud­get speech and to learn as much as you can about the bud­get process. Be­cause it will give you a much bet­ter idea of how our coun­try works and where we are head­ing. It’s won­der­ful to be back in Ba and thank you for your usual warm wel­come. I look for­ward to meet­ing as many of you as pos­si­ble. And I now have great plea­sure in for­mally open­ing the FRCA of­fice in Ba.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Gov­ern­ment takes a much smaller pro­por­tion of peo­ple’s earn­ings than many other coun­tries, in­clud­ing our larger neigh­bours, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Voreqe Bain­i­marama Prime Min­is­ter

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