Final week, I mentioned how fiscal consolidation measures corresponding to tax hikes and spending cuts may probably be detrimental to an financial system that’s on a restoration path following a serious financial disaster, and with dynamics corresponding to Fiji’s.
I had said that there are different measures corresponding to broadening the tax base, rising spending effectivity and lowering wasteful subsides that may set us on a sustainable fiscal consolidation journey that may convey fiscal stability within the medium to long run. This week, I’ll discover these additional (albeit not totally).
Within the 2020-21 price range, the federal government introduced a number of measures to stimulate financial exercise, assist tourism and native demand which concerned a major discount in tax revenues.
These included– lowering fiscal and excise duties on over 1600 objects to both 0 per cent or 5 per cent, eradicating service turnover tax (from 6 per cent to 0 per cent), lowering environmental and local weather adaptation levy (ECAL) from 10 per cent to five per cent, lowering excise responsibility on alcohol by 50 per cent, lowering departure tax from $200 to $100 and eradicating stamp duties.
Desk 1 exhibits a comparability of the pre-pandemic (FY2018-19) actuals for these income traces, in opposition to the projected revenue for FY2022-23 to indicate how these reductions affect authorities’s working income (inflation will not be accounted for).
Most of those tax cuts profit the tourism sector and had been aimed toward rising the competitiveness of the sector. It will, nonetheless, be very fascinating to search out out if pricing at our tourism services have certainly change into aggressive as vacationer numbers rebound.
The simplest strategy to tax tourism operators is thru oblique taxes, and, in a rustic the place most operators are international and siphon off income from the financial system, it is sensible to adequately tax tourism transactions to allow authorities to retain and redistributive the nation’s tourism earnings.
The $100 odd million that may be earned by authorities rising incomes taxes or reducing the tax threshold can simply be made up for by means of re-introducing STT and rising the departure tax.
It’s, nonetheless, vital to extend the departure tax by small increments to guard our nationwide airline, which has taken a battering in recent times, as will increase in departure tax have a tendency to harm airways.
As well as, having a number of VAT charges ought to be reconsidered, particularly the zero-rated VAT on primary meals objects. This tax regime might be thought of regressive because it disproportionately advantages the rich.
For instance, throughout a procuring journey, an individual from a low-income family could buy a kilogram of potatoes for $3 and obtain a authorities subsidy of 30 cents on VAT whereas a rich particular person could buy three kilograms of potatoes and profit from a authorities subsidy of 90 cents on VAT.
Such measures supposed to supply aid to low-income households by means of VAT subsidies disproportionately profit the rich, undermining the coverage’s supposed affect. It’s advised that the federal government contemplate a single VAT charge of 10 per cent or 11 per cent (at most), versus a three-tier VAT system.
This won’t solely simplify the tax system however can even scale back the regressive nature of the present system. The federal government ought to give attention to offering focused help to low-income households somewhat than subsidising VAT on primary meals objects.
Such an method will allow the federal government to assist the individuals who want it most whereas sustaining a good tax system.
Due to this fact, I counsel that as an alternative of accelerating direct taxes, which represent solely round 20 per cent of presidency’s complete working income anyway, restoring oblique taxes on tourism associated transactions, and relooking at VAT construction will end in a optimistic affect on authorities’s income, with out inflicting undue hardship to susceptible people and companies.
Along with these, rising tax compliance and bettering tax administration should stay an ongoing aspiration.
While now we have gathered a sizeable public debt, there may be debate about whether or not the productive sectors of our financial system have expanded proportionally.
A key motive for a creating state to ship deficit (expansionary/ stimulus) budgets is to develop its productive capability.
Wasteful expenditure, coupled with populist insurance policies have, nonetheless, had a unfavourable affect on our potential to derive most advantages from the state’s spending in our current previous. It’s obvious that, beneath the earlier administration, a tradition of wasteful expenditure of taxpayer cash was pervasive- from paying exorbitant salaries to executives of statutory entities to awarding tenders for infrastructure initiatives at uncompetitive costs.
As well as, there have been expenditure that might hardly be justified particularly when others which ought to moderately have been greater precedence had been ignored. An instance is the state funding within the media sector.
Sizeable transfers of public cash had been made to entities corresponding to FBC and Walesi which distorted the media market, making it troublesome for personal gamers to pretty compete and develop. Whereas a major proportion of our folks languished in poverty and sufferers in public hospitals lay in atrocious situations, the federal government subsidised dwell TV protection of the FIFA World Cup and different costly occasions, a luxurious that even developed international locations didn’t present their folks.
The centralisation of broadcast capability with Walesi didn’t solely imply that transmission infrastructure developed by means of non-public funding grew to become out of date, nevertheless it additionally elevated the danger of broadcast blackouts throughout cyclones and different pure disasters if Walesi transmitters grew to become dysfunctional.
These pointless expenditures in constructing state-owned broadcast infrastructure, when the non-public sector was completely able to doing so, and in an age the place the way forward for TV and radio is in limbo, are troublesome to justify or clarify.
That being stated, the state has invested closely into this, and the federal government might want to proceed to make transfers to FBC and Walesi, to make sure that the worth of those property will not be eroded. Within the case of FBC, sizeable transfers of public cash are essential to allow it to proceed its mortgage repayments to FDB, till the debt is paid off. These are unproductive expenditures which might be unavoidable resulting from current undertakings.
Nevertheless, they supply good classes for the longer term. The brand new authorities will, subsequently, want to determine excessive requirements of fiscal self-discipline to curtail the tradition of wasteful spending which seems to have taken root.
There was a noticeable improve within the variety of official public ceremonies and abroad journey for presidency ministers and delegations, within the nonetheless nascent reign of the brand new authorities, and if uncontrolled, this will considerably contribute to unproductive operational expenditure.
Expenditure priorities should be set. The withholding of transfers to entities corresponding to FRA, for instance, won’t simply affect negatively on the capex-opex ratio (which has considerably improved in recent times) but additionally trigger large losses by leading to pricey damages to costly infrastructure, which must be borne finally.
Rationalising expenditure, subsequently, to maximise the worth of assets by prioritising spending and minimizing waste, might be obligatory.
The important thing to fiscal consolidation doesn’t simply lie in rising authorities income and bettering authorities expenditure, somewhat it lies in creating the correct situations to maximise financial progress.
From rising confidence of buyers (by avoiding witch-hunts just like the Grace Highway one, for example) to selling inclusive ideologies that make members of the society really feel they belong and are valued as an alternative of looking for refuge in additional inclusive societies elsewhere can be key components to find out Fiji’s progress trajectory, and subsequently our potential to attain fiscal stability.
• NILESH LAL is the chief director of Dialogue Fiji. The views expressed on this article are the creator’s and never essentially shared by this newspaper.