From L-R: Professor Rajesh Chandra Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Ms Marjorie Andrew, Mr Michel Kerf and Ms Emele Duituturaga at the public seminar.
The Government of Fiji has instituted a number of policies to address income inequality in the country, a public seminar on Income Inequality heard in Suva on 6 April, 2017.
Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Fiji’s Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Public Enterprises, Civil Service and Communications made the comment during a panel discussion at The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Japan-Pacific ICT Centre at its Laucala campus.
The audience at the public seminar listening attentively at USP Laucala campus.
He noted that a decrease in the Gini coefficient, a widely measured tool for measuring income inequality, “showed a declining trend in Fiji from 0.43 in 2008 and 2009 to 0.36 which is actually a significant improvement with income levels rising for those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale”.
“In fact when this report came out, it showed that Fiji was one of the seven countries in the Asia Pacific region where income inequality levels had dropped,” he noted.
Hon Sayed-Khaiyum also mentioned the newly launched Human Development Report which showed that Fiji’s rankings had improved and the latest Household and Income Expenditure survey which revealed that extreme poverty levels in Fiji has dropped to below 30 per cent.
“It is actually 28 per cent now which is a huge improvement but it does not mean that we cannot improve even further,” he said.
On how development partners can effectively support national efforts in reducing income inequality, Hon Sayed-Khaiyum suggested that they work in partnership with Governments so that their respective work can complement each other.
Mr Michel Kerf, Country Director for Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea & Pacific Islands, World Bank Group spoke on the great financial crisis and how it affected Pacific Island Countires (PICs).
He said when the currency of some countries lost their value, it was a disadvantage for PICs as it made all imports, on which they are heavily dependent, more expensive.
“PICs are dependent on very few areas of economic activity to generate growth, one of which is tourism, which declined drastically during the aftermath of the crisis so the revenues that could be earned from such sources were affected,” Mr Kerf explained.
In addition to this, he stated that overseas opportunities for work or permanent migration, was reduced as those countries were also affected by the financial crisis. He added that the crisis coincided with a period in which the price of oil and food peaked and this severely affected PICs, which are net importers of these.
Furthermore, he mentioned that countries that built physical buffers were better able to protect their citizens than those who had not and the prudent use of funds helped to sustain some PICs.
In terms of contingency plans to minimise the impact of natural disasters on low-income earners including marginalised and vulnerable groups, Ms Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director, Pacific Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) said a vulnerability assessment must be taken since the poor and vulnerable always bear the brunt of natural disasters.
She stated there should be climate-proofing of buildings such as schools and village and community halls including the expansion of financial inclusion programmes for citizens and the responsibility should lie squarely with the Government.
Ms Marjorie Andrew, Deputy Director, Institute of National Affairs (INA), Papua New Guinea suggested ways to boost health service delivery so that when a natural disaster occurs, people can receive medical attention immediately.
She also highlighted the need for a national framework for agriculture insurance so that people can receive some form of financial assistance to replant their damaged crops. This she said, is something that PNG could look at.
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