PM REINFORCES BUDGET THEMES AT FRCA OFFICE OPENING
A 300 PER CENT TAX BREAK TO ANY EMPLOYER WHO HIRES A DISABLED PERSON FOR THE FIRST THREE YEARS
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