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November 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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Fiji’s consumer watchdog, the Consumer Council in its 2013 budget submission has asked government to appreciate the Fiji dollar by five to ten percent to control inflation.

The Council said since both businesses and consumers now rely more on imported products from manufacturing to retailing, more is paid by both parties due to our weak currency.

Council chief executive, Premila Kumar said it is a fact that even local manufactured goods rely heavily on imported raw materials and equipment.
“Weakened currency assists when we are export dependent, however in Fiji’s situation we are import dependent. Consumers are not the only ones to benefit from a stronger dollar but the government as well when it comes to paying off loans,” she said.

“Despite the 2012 Budget initiatives such as the increase in the income tax threshold from $15,000 to $15,600, reduction in personal tax, reduction of duty for imported fruits and vegetables etc, consumers continue to fork out more due to increase in their cost of living.”
“It is important to note that the 2011 VAT increase of 2.5% and the Fiji Electricity Authority’s (FEA) tariff alignments of 2010 and April 2011 (for Commercial/Industrial customers) has kept the cost of living high for consumers.”

“It must be noted that Fiji Bureau of Statistics and Reserve Bank of Fiji assessment of Fiji’s macroeconomic performance have pointed that consumer spending is one of the drivers of the domestic economic. If consumer spending is an indicator of economic activity and growth, then policies should be geared towards facilitating this.”

The council is also asking government to reduce the tax payable amount on chargeable income to allow consumers to cope with the increased cost of living and wants the tax threshold to be increased to $16,000.

“We are hopeful that the 2013 budget will be as good as 2012 budget which is hailed as one of the best budget Fiji had seen in the recent years,” added Kumar.

The Council’s 2013 budget submission also includes the following:

-Consumers would like to see reduction in duty for tuna and tinned fish which is currently pegged at 27%. The Council received complaints from consumers on the increase in price of tinned fish particularly when the price of fresh fish, chicken, lamb has sky rocketed.

-Review the duty increase on Palm oil implemented in the 2012 Budget since the Council’s survey has found some retailers, importers and wholesalers are labeling palm oil as vegetable oil. The Council is concerned that palm oil is being imported into the country as (re-constituted) vegetable oil and Government is losing out on revenue from the imposed duty.

-Increase duty on energy drinks that are high in caffeine and sugar. Energy drinks often have a deceptive combination of soft drink and pseudo-nutritional supplement that may be susceptible to abuse. The bad side effects and long-term health impact of caffeine is well documented and this ingredient is often the main or active ingredient in energy drinks.

-The Council has continually highlighted the plight of senior citizens – a group of consumers in the ‘vulnerable’ category. While the increase in cost of living puts pressure on ordinary income earners and the public at large, it has more effect on the elderly who naturally incur high costs particularly for their health and medical needs.

-The Council requests VAT waivers to be provided on their electricity and water bills for elderly persons who are no longer in income-generating employment and/or are pensioners and also provide higher tax relief to children or relatives looking after the elderly.

- The revision of the Electricity Act and removal of the FEA’s regulatory authority and absolute powers. Appropriate funding should be allocated in the 2013 Budget for this review. The Council recommends that independent body should be established to oversee the work of the FEA and otherenergy needs of the country. This independent body should take the role of regulatorto address consumer grievances over FEA’s business practices, redress and appropriate compensation for aggrieved customers.

-Impose harsh penalties on businesses that do not reduce prices of products where duty has been removed or reduced.

-The Council urges the Government to bear in mind that the challenge is not just one of balancing expenditure cuts against tax revenue. The Government also has an obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens, by ensuring that any changes in policy or spending must provide relief rather than further hardship for Fiji’s consumers.

-Establish some ground rules or framework to government the holding of security deposits by service providers. Security deposits for all service providers and any business who charges a refundable security deposit should be placed under the purview of an independent central authority or commission (e.g. security deposit commission). The deposits should be invested or utilized in a manner that would bring some returns to consumers.

By Reginald Chandar


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