2012 BUDGET16/09/2016 10:20
With the announcement of 2012 budget to be made in couple of weeks time, the Council urges the Government to consider the high cost of living because of high inflation rate.
Since the Council’s last Budget submission in 2010, the situation for consumers have worsened with increases in the prices of basic food and non-food items triggered by external factors. The VAT increase of 2.5%, the Fiji Electricity Authority’s tariff alignments of 2010, and April 2011 (for Commercial/Industrial customers) has further contributed to the situation.
The challenge is not just one of balancing expenditure cut against tax revenue but 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.
Some of the requests made to the Government on behalf of the consumers as part of Council’s 2012 budget submission include:
- Government should reduce the tax payable amount on chargeable income to allow consumers to cope with the increased cost of living. For instance those in the $15000 - $15600 income bracket are taxed at 25% of any excess income over $15000. The tax payable percentage should at least be reduced by 2% to ease the burden on this group. Reductions should also be made for those in higher income brackets.
- Increase duty on unhealthy food items and oil to reduce government expenditure on health bills
- Remove VAT on electricity bill for those consumers using less than 250 KWH per month.
- Better monitoring system including hefty penalties on businesses that do not reduce prices of products where duty has been removed or reduced. Prices continue to be high for handsets despite reduction of duty on smartphones from 32 per cent to 5 per cent in 2011 Budget. A good example of the high prices is a Nokia E71 smart phone that one mobile company is advertising on its website for $F1499. The model was released around June 2008, more than 3 years ago. In the US, the price ranges from $US240 to $US280. In current Fiji dollars and taking into account cartage and other costs, it should retail at around $F600 - $700, about 60 per cent cheaper than the going price here. Similar price differences exist for most other phones.
- Create an Accident Compensation Commission that could deal with various types of accidents, including motor vehicle accidents and accidents at work places.
- Review the Compulsory Third Party Insurance legislation so that the victims of motor vehicle accidents are adequately and fairly protected not become State’s or families burden.
Some of the Council’s major achievements from January to October 2011 include:
- The Council launched a new Debt management and consumer credit advisory unit that provides free service to consumers who are financially troubled.
- Better outreach to the public through our mobile units and awareness programs
- An average of 168 complaints were registered with the Council per month exceeding 2000 cases so far
- Recovered $1.3m for consumers through mediation from $3.3 million dollars worth of complaints registered at the Council
- Embarked on consumer awareness programme on Consumer Credit Act in particular mortgagee sale, home loan and hire purchase
- Removal of “goods once sold cannot be returned” from retail stores
- Attended 730 consumers inquiries received by phone, mail, fax and e-mail mainly on tenancy, electronic goods, mobile services, groceries, FEA bills etc;
- 128 traders /service providers rectified the problems/issues raised arising from 301 traders visited across various retail sectors. Issues included expiry dates, improper food labeling, damaged food and non-food items.
- 68 comprehensive investigations were undertaken which was complaint driven
Difficulties faced by the Council to achieve its goals:
Limited financial resources
Laxities on the part of the consumers as majority are not vigilant and asserting their rights.
Lack of cooperation from business houses
Intense lobbying by business as compared to consumers
Expectations for next year
Should we receive appropriate grant the Council will be able to look at sectors such as spare parts, sale of 22 ct gold jewellery, and other technical areas
Provide debt management and consumer credit advisory services in western and northern division
Higher level of compliance through improved legislation that will protect consumers
We expect better service delivery from public transport sector
The Council has requested an additional funding of $200,000 to better empower consumers. Upon approval, the Council will continue to hammer the issues that need attention and work towards its vision of building a conscious and assertive consumer movement in Fiji.