Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 05:47 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 05:47 | SYDNEY

Fiji: The economy must salute


Graeme Dobell

11 December 2009 10:51

Fiji's military supremo is getting the hang of this economic game. Just treat the economy the way you would any group of soldiers. Give the economy orders and it should obey.

Consider Frank Bainimarama's commands to Fiji in his budget statement. The economy is going to have to do a lot of saluting to reach the targets the supremo has ordered by 2020:

  1. GDP to be increased two-fold.
  2. Balance of payments current account deficit to be eliminated.
  3. Poverty to be reduced to less than 5 percent of population.
  4. Visitor arrivals to increase to 6 million.
  5. Financial sector to be liberalised so exchange controls can be eliminated.
  6. Fiji to grow its communication services sector by 100 percent.
  7. Fiji to achieve self sufficiency in rice, meat and liquid milk.
  8. Fiji to convert up to 90 percent of all electricity generation from fossil to renewable sources.
  9. Fiji to convert up to 80 percent of all arable land area into productive use.
  10. Fiji to reduce unemployment rate to less than 3 per cent.

How is Fiji to do all this? Well, according to the supremo, the answer is 'discipline, vision, legal changes and modernising'.

So are the economic targets heroic or merely symptomatic of a regime that has trouble coming to grips with the realities of its own society? To take just order number 3, 'cutting the poverty figure to 5 percent'. Given the problems of recent years, Fiji's poverty level is probably much more than 30 percent. Six years ago, the Government itself put the figure at 29 percent.

The ten orders rather ignore the fact that, since Frank's coup in 2006, Fiji's economy has been shrinking. That's right — the man ordering his GDP to jump to it in double time has so far delivered negative growth. The Supremo has been borrowing big overseas and giving quite a bit of what cash there is to the military and the police.

For a check on how Frank's orders line up, consider this analysis from a Fiji economist who points out that GDP is going backwards, overseas investment has halved and the country is actually producing less of its own food. Perhaps that reality does not permeate too deep behind the fence at the military barracks in the hills above Suva where Bainimarama still spends much of his time (and still enjoys playing his video games).

Bainimarama has set quite a relaxed timetable for his promised move back to democracy in 2014. Maybe the supremo is looking beyond 2014 and thinking about what he has to do to ensure that his orders have been carried out by 2020.