Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz-Sayed Khaiyum has slammed Neelesh Gounder and Wadan Narsey for comparing Fiji’s economy to the ongoing Sri Lankan economic and debt crisis.
In a statement, the Attorney General says this comparison is like comparing apples and fish.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Gounder’s blatant bias due to his political affiliations with NFP and PAP is clearly demonstrated through his shoddy economic analysis.
Gounder in an interview in the Fiji Times newspaper, had said that the current economic and political crisis in Sri Lanka should be a lesson for Fiji of what bad finance management can do to an economy.
His comments come in the wake of international media reports that Sri Lanka has officially requested the IMF to bail it out of its worst economic crisis in 70 years.
Sayed-Khaiyum says, in fact, Sri Lanka has a lot to learn from how Fiji managed the COVID-19 crisis by borrowing smartly to ensure our debt and balance of payments remain sustainable.
The Attorney General says there are stark differences between the Fijian and Sri Lankan economies, adding that Sri Lanka does not have adequate foreign reserves; it has $7 billion due in external debt repayments and only $2 billion in total foreign exchange.
He says on the other hand, Fiji’s external debt repayments on average are less than $100 million annually and there are over $3 billion available in foreign reserves.
He says this is 30 times more than what’s needed for our external debt repayments.
Sayed-Khaiyum says this is despite the tourism industry being closed for almost two years which used to bring in over $2 billion of foreign exchange to the country annually.
He adds that Fiji has over 10 times more government revenue available to service interest payments.
The Minister for Economy says lenders have stopped loaning to Sri Lanka, but Fiji’s lenders have been lending five times more than what they were lending before and continue to want to lend more.
He says these are all credible lenders, and for them to want to lend more to Fiji means they have full confidence that Fiji will never default on its debt payments.
These lenders include the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Moreover, he says Fiji has secured around $900 million in highly concessional external debt with long maturity terms of 40 years, a 10 year grace period and near-zero interest rates.
Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji’s debt repayment is spread over many years, while Sri Lanka’s bonds had to be paid in a bullet repayment.
The Minister for Economy says Narsey completely ignored the fact that it was the Bainimarama Government that increased the employer contribution rate from eight to 10 percent in 2015.
He says Narsey’s comments also show how detached he seems to be from understanding the severity of the COVID crisis and its impact on business and economic activity, especially on employers, globally and in Fiji.
The Minister for the Economy has called on the two to provide an objective and honest analysis of the Fijian economy.
He says people should not be misled by politically biased academics like Narsey and Gounder and their political masters, whose continuous and blatantly biased analysis continues to discredit their reputation.