CAPTION: FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry in this file photo.
Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry has presented a staggering distortion of the facts when discussing the Bainimarama Government’s reforms of Fiji’s social welfare programs.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation said that the Bainimarama Government is currently carrying out major reforms of Fiji’s social welfare programs that will actually increase coverage of Fiji’s poor population from 3 per cent under the previous system, to 10 per cent under the new system.
“That Mr Chaudhry would play on the fears of those Fijians who depend on Fiji’s social welfare schemes for political gain is both irresponsible and unbecoming of a public figure,” the Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni said. “His statements are misleading and inaccurate.”
“The new system is designed to create the maximum effect with our limited resources. We will target our available resources at those Fijians who need it the most. This will allow Fiji’s social welfare system to better and more widely cover those who meet the criteria and will minimize abuse and fraud. This will lead to a net increase in coverage, not a decrease as Mr Chaudhry has wrongfully suggested.”
The Ministry said that there are two new schemes – the Poverty Benefit Scheme and the Social Pension Scheme.
The Poverty Benefit Scheme replaces the Family Assistance Program and Social Pension Scheme will assist the senior citizens-70 years and over with no income support or access to superannuation funds like FNPF pension, Aftercare Fund or Ex-servicemen or Government pension and Poverty Benefit Scheme.
Minister Luveni said the 19,000 recipients currently assisted under the Family Assistance Program are to be recertified under the new Poverty Benefit Scheme, and not terminated as stated by Mr Chaudhry.
“During the recertification process, those whose economic conditions have improved over the years and are now capable of financially supporting their families, will be graduated from the program, so that this assistance can be reprogrammed for those who need it most.”
“Of course, another important facet of this reform is working to eliminate fraud so that we really make sure the people receiving assistance are the people who need assistance. In other words, to stop people cheating the system,” the Minister said.
The Ministry added that for the first time in Fiji’s history, the Draft Constitution includes socio-economic rights, including the right to a just minimum wage, the right to economic participation, and the right to social welfare schemes.
SOCIAL WELFARE REFORMS
The Poverty Benefit Scheme, with a total budget of $22.6 million in 2013, will assist up to 13,000 households with a maximum payment of $150 per month. Part of this amount consists of a $30 food voucher.
Under the Family Assistance Program, assistance was limited to three categories: the elderly over the age of 65 years, the chronically ill and the disabled.
The Poverty Benefit Scheme eliminates these so-called vulnerability “categories” as a filter for eligibility and allows benefits to be directed at the most needy households.
Now, the ministry will use a questionnaire developed to international standards to assess eligibility for the new program.
The metrics used in this questionnaire are based on variables like property ownership (houses, land), assets and household items. Currently, welfare officers are doing home assessments and using the new questionnaire for the recertification process.
Part of the Poverty Benefit Scheme includes something called the Welfare Graduation Scheme. When assistance is given to a family, the head of the family signs a contract to actively look for income-generating and vocational-training opportunities.
The Bainimarama Government has also established Fiji’s first ever Social Pension Scheme, which will benefit more than 9,000 people who are 70 years and over. Those who are eligible will receive a $30 a month pension.
The Social Pension Scheme – which will cost $3.2 million in 2013 – will enable a significant number of Fiji’s elderly population, who were previously receiving no form of financial support, to live out the remainder of their lives with dignity and respect.
To be eligible, an individual must not currently have access to any superannuation or other means of income.
Fijians will also continue to benefit from existing poverty alleviation programs.
One is the Care and Protection Program, which benefits children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This allowance can be accessed by children up to 18 years, particularly those who come from a single parent family, have a parent in prison, or have foster parents and guardians. The allowance is designed to ensure that the welfare and education of children in underprivileged households isn’t compromised.
Another is the subsidised bus fare program, which the Bainimarama Government introduced to help ordinary Fijians make ends meet by providing free or subsidised bus fare to school children, the elderly and the disabled.
The Bainimarama Government has also been providing free text books to school children to help poor families with the cost of education.