Monday, June 02, 2008

Poverty rises 16pc

Poverty rises 16pc, Qarase claims
Monday, June 02, 2008

FIJI'S poverty level has risen by 16 per cent in the past 18 months, says ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

His comment follows revelations the Social Welfare Department's family assistance scheme can only cater for a tenth of the estimated 284,798 people living in absolute poverty.

Mr Qarase said the poverty level would not be at an alarming 50 per cent of the population if the coup cycle had not started in 1987.

However, his Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party would not reveal how it proposed to curb the poverty figures until its manifesto is released for the next general election.

Mr Qarase said the national poverty level was worse than it was before the military coup in December 2006.

"In my time, it stood at around 34 per cent," he said. Mr Qarase said interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry had said in his 2008 Budget address the poverty level had increased to as much as 50 per cent of the population.

"It's a very serious situation taking into account the prices of food and fuel have gone up," he said.

Mr Qarase said the interim regime must review its 2008 Budget if its intentions to help the poor were genuine.

"We are dealing with the livelihood of so many people here," Mr Qarase said.

He said his government had many programs to help the poor.

"We had many income-generating programs such as the agriculture development scheme where we provided instruments and tools for those below subsistence level to make something out of farming." Mr Qarase said rural development projects such as piped water, supply of electricity, proper drainage and the construction of community halls — were introduced to ease the load on poor families during his term in office.

"We had a micro-finance project which took off in our time and I see the interim regime is using that now," he said.

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