There’s a world of difference between $3.9 million and $20 million – the gap between the Elections Office budget submission and its eventual allocation for 2009. But then there’s also a world of difference between having an election and not having one. And while the interim government can always come back for more through a supplementary budget, its intention is now crystal clear. It does not plan to hold elections in 2009. This has major implications for our already struggling economy. The 2009 budget makes much of the need for investment and in fact many its prominent features are aimed to be investor friendly. But even those inducements will not make people comfortable with investing their money in a state with an unpredictable future. And that is Fiji’s harsh reality. It is governed by a military regime which says it intends to return to parliamentary democracy but won’t say when. Nothing can be better calculated to create uncertainty in the minds of investors. Uncertainty is investment’s greatest enemy and even the inducements on offer are unlikely to overcome it in any significant sense. And just as the 2008 “Budget of Hope” brought us little of that precious commodity, the 2009 Budget of Investment is in grave danger of leading to yet more belt tightening. Serious and reputable investors who think long term – the kind we so desperately need – will want to see solutions to our present problems and a high degree of certainty that the goal posts will not be shifted when an elected government is in power. We still say “when” an elected government returns because we have the interim government’s solemn promise that this will happen. But investors as well as the people of Fiji want to know when it will take place. They also want to be sure that the law in the form of the constitution will be respected and they will be well aware that the People’s Charter is in many ways quite incompatible with the constitution. All potential investors will also be aware of Fiji’s isolation within the Pacific Forum and the attitude of most of the developed world. And, they will ask themselves, in the wake of so many broken promises, can they be certain that these latest pledges will be delivered? The degree of uncertainty is probably too high for serious investors – particularly those from overseas. This can only be resolved by a return to democratic rule. And if as we are told the People’s Charter is so popular with the people, why are its proponents so afraid of putting it to the test? Let’s have an election. Supporters of the charter can quite easily form political parties or groupings and put their case to the people in the only reliable way – that is by a secret vote. If what we are told of the charter’s reception is accurate they will win hands down. Then with a legitimate mandate from the people they will be able to implement the charter without argument. So what are they afraid of?
Little shown to lure investors – Sun Editorial 26/11/08