Council Hopeful National Budget Will Further Promote & Protect Interests of Consumers

With the 2017-2018 National Budget announcement date nearing, the Council is hoping that the government will again consider the concerns of Fijian consumers in its budget priorities.

We have seen from the past budget announcement that the Government always delivered a balanced budget where consumer needs were considered among st other priorities.

We hope this year’s budget announcement will once again focus on high cost of living to bring relief to the consumers.

According to the report by Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF), the inflation rate was 6.8% in January, 5.5% in February and 5.6% in March caused by several factors. However, the inflation rate for May is 2.5% as reported by RBF.

Bad business practices that rip off consumers are rife across sectors and jeopardise household finances.

More needs to be done to intervene in markets to ensure that any reduction in duties, tax or VAT are passed on to consumers.

This year the Council has requested the Government to expand the powers of the Real Estate Licensing Board beyond its current function of licensing the real estate agents.

The Council has reason to believe that certain players in the industry manipulate prices of properties and even do not disclose the prices of properties put on sale.

In one of its study on real estate practices, the Council noted that quite a considerable number of properties out in the market did not have a stated price.

Real Estate Agents are either asking for price offers or calling for auctions. In other cases, properties are simply advertised with no disclosure of price or price range.

How can consumers make an offer when they don’t even know the price of the property sold in that suburb, to make a reasonable offer?

It is also a concern that properties are put on auctions but there is no disclosure on date and time for these auctions. There is lack of transparency in the manner the auctions are conducted.

Such practices are pushing the price and it contributes to making housing even more out of the reach of ordinary Fijians.

Furthermore, in attempts to prevent price exploitation, the price or price range of properties on sale needs to be made available to public. If an auction is called for, than the property must be registered and monitored by the Real Estate Licensing Board (REALB).

The Council is requesting for policy change where REALB registers all properties listed by the agents and also records the actual price the property was sold in different suburbs or regions that can be made available online to the public. Such information will assist consumers to make offers.

At the request of kidney patients, the Council’s suggestion is to increase the price of sugar and salt by 5 cents per kilogram to generate revenue that can go towards subsidising the cost of dialysis.

Statistics on kidney disease show an alarming 1 in every 4 deaths in Fiji attributed to kidney diseases.

The fact that 600 people suffer from or deemed vulnerable to the disease is even more worrying. However, the major concern for the Council is the exorbitant high costs of dialysis treatment.

A patient in Viti Levu needs a minimum of $39,000 a year to survive whereas a patient in Vanua Levu needs $23,400. With the national average income (per capita) at around $18,000, it is almost impossible for the average person to fork out such amounts to survive.

For any kidney patient or their family, it is financially crippling to fork out such a large sum of money just to be in good health every week.

The Council in its attempt to promote healthy living requests the government to increase duty on ‘unhealthy ‘food options while placing certain ‘healthy’ food options under price control.

Presently, the healthy food options such as parboiled rice, brown rice, chakki atta and whole meal bread are more expensive and not under price control while the unhealthy food options such as white flour, white rice and white bread are cheaper and placed under price control.

Placing healthier food options under price control will allow consumers to have access to healthier choices at an affordable price which can assist in combating NCDs.

The Council is hopeful that like in the previous years, the 2017 – 2018 National Budget further promotes and protects the interests of consumers.