The Consumer Council of Fiji views the 2016-2017 National Budget as forward-looking and welcomes the modest increase in the Councils budgetary allocation in the new financial year.
Last nights national budget announcement brings good news for the consumers as there has been no drastic changes in duties, taxation and VAT. Instead, the ordinary consumers will continue to benefit from the 9% VAT rate, free education, and free bus fare, water and medicine schemes.
The Council also applauds the announcement to have supporting laws for new VAT Monitoring System which will be introduced soon. We also will continue to keep a tab on import duty reductions on certain items to ensure that it is passed on to all Fijians. Our National Consumer Helpline will be launched next month to enable Fijians to report on cases using the toll-free telephone line, where prices have not been adjusted based on duty and VAT reduction, which came into effect early this year.
Since 1 January 2016, the Council has recorded 148 VAT-related queries/complaints and had passed on these cases to Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority (FRCA) for enforcement. Consequently, FRCA collected $700,000 in fines from supermarkets, a cinema company, stores, restaurants and car dealers.
The Council board and staff also welcomes the increase in the Councils budget for this fiscal year. Our budget has almost doubled as announced in the 2016-2017 national budget. This means, we will be able to further stretch our resources and train our staff to increase the Councils visibility in the marketplace. We will continue to empower consumers freely.
Since 2009 to 31 May 2016, the Council has registered 14,825 complaints worth $24.6 million and resolved 10,699 complaints, giving back consumers some $13.3 million. This was achieved through effective mediation conducted by the Council staff over the years, in the midst of a restraint budget.
The Council is hopeful that the merchants/service-providers will uphold good business practice and adjust the prices to match the concessions, import duty reductions announced by the Government. Our doors remain open for the traders/retailers to seek clarification on tax reforms and duty reductions.
Consumers must also play a proactive role in raising alarm when in doubt over price changes.