Eight months before Fiji goes to the polls, the Fijian Government has set aside FJ$15 million (US$8 million) for the preparation of the September polls.
This is in addition to the offer of K$25 million (US$9.6 million) already committed by Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama announcing the country’s 2014 national spending said the balance of funds needed for next year’s election budget will come from development partners “who will be making specific pledges for material support, based on Fiji’s needs assessment survey.”
Currently, six elections experts from the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are working with the Fijian Elections Office to finalise planning for all aspects related to the 2014 election. The experts are assisting in the identification of polling stations, drafting the rules and regulations that will guide the electoral process, and establishing a free, fair and transparent system for the hiring and training of qualified election staff.
“We have engaged with these experts because we want the 2014 elections to be conducted on best international practices and with full knowledge of the anomalies of previous elections, said Bainimarama.
He again assured the nation and the international community that next year’s polls would be the first time that ‘every Fijian will be given one vote of equal value.’
“No longer will we be divided by ethnicity and forced to queue in different lines at the polling stations. No longer will politicians be able to rely upon pre-determined ethnic voting blocs to win their seats. And most importantly, no longer will political leaders be able to gain election by appealing to narrow interests or the prejudices of one group or another.”
“Political parties will have to be of national stature and develop manifestos that appeal to as wide a base as possible – to men and women, rural and urban residents, young and old, said the Prime Minister.
Close to 540,000 Fijians have now registered to vote under a system of electronic voter registration that has been praised by international experts for its ability to help eliminate fraud.
Registration of overseas voters began last month in New Zealand. This exercise will move next to Australia and to other international locations during 2014.
In addition to the allocation for national elections, FJD$7 million (US$3.8 million) has been set aside for the first sitting of the elected Parliament, including operational costs and upgrades to the Parliamentary complex.
“This funding will go towards staff salaries and the refurbishment of the parliamentary chambers. We are currently finalising a UNDP needs assessment for our Parliament.”
On Fiji’s standing in the world, PM Bainimarama said it has never been stronger.
He said Fiji has cemented its position as an independent, sovereign nation able to speak with its own voice within the international community. This year, Fiji chaired the Group of 77 plus China at the United Nations, the International Sugar Council, as well as ACP trade talks with the European Union.
“We recently turned over the chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and have been the driving force behind the implementation of the MSG Trade Agreement, as well as negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU.
“In August, Fiji hosted the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). This new regional body will work to develop realistic solutions to the challenges of sustainable development in the Pacific.
“But unlike other regional groups, the PIDF gives representatives from civil society a seat at the table. We believe that by including the full diversity of perspective, expertise, and opinion, we will have the best chance of arriving at practical solutions.”
As part of its commitment to PIDF, an allocation of FJ$1.5 million (US$814,000) has been made for the new Secretariat to be staffed by representatives of government, civil society groups and business from the PIDF region.
To expand Fiji’s outreach to the international community, a new embassy will be established in Geneva, yet another sign of Fiji’s growing international standing. A sum of $2.5 million has been made available for this.
For 2014, the estimated expenditure is FJ$2.8 billion (US$1.52 billion) with estimated revenue of FJ$2.7 billion (US$1.46 billion) – providing a deficit budget of FJ$1.61 billion (US$874.39 million) next year representing 1.9 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.