Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Launch of FRCA’s Gold Card Services

Cabinet Ministers;

Members of the FRCA Board;

Distinguished Guests;

Government Officials,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

As your Minister for Finance and Prime Minister, it is indeed my pleasure to be here this morning to launch the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority Gold Card Premium Services as well as its revamped website.

In my 2012 National Budget Address, I directed the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA) to develop a program to provide expedited services and reward businesses and  individuals who have a consistent history of paying their Customs Duties and Taxes fully and on time. The result is Gold Card Premium Services and a web site that is more functional, informative, and user-friendly.

My Government is making great progress in delivering on our promises to ease administrative burdens on taxpayers.

Let’s face it: Most people don’t like to pay taxes. But we all recognize—or we all should recognize—that paying taxes is a civic duty. Taxes are contributions to the common good and the common wealth of the nation. We form governments to do the things that we cannot do as individuals or voluntary associations. And taxes are the way we get those things done. Without them, we can’t secure the nation, fight crime, educate our children, ensure public health, or create proper infrastructure for commerce.

Unfortunately, there have always been a group of people in Fiji who try to avoid paying taxes, sometimes through cheating and corruption.

These people take all the advantages that the Government provides without paying their fair share. They live off the labour, honesty, and civic-mindedness of people who pay their taxes honestly.

My Government is committed to making sure that everyone pays their fair share. But beyond going after the tax cheats and rooting out the corruption, we believe Government should recognise the good citizens who do their civic duty and pay their taxes honestly and on time. That’s what the Gold Card Premium program intends to do.

Government also has a duty in this regard: To make sure that taxes are fair and reasonable, to ensure that taxes do not take money that is  better used for private investment and job creation, and to ensure that taxes pay for things that Government is best placed to provide and are not used to displace private-sector activity.

Most of all, Government must never assume that it has an inherent right to a certain portion of the fruits of the people’s labour. When you give your money to the Government in the form of taxes, you empower the Government to make certain choices for you. Taxpayers do that willingly as long as Government is prudent in its spending.

When Government begins to feel entitled to more and more of your earnings, then it begins to take your freedom.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Government believes that taxes are your willing contribution for the common good. We will never abuse that contribution.

Fiji survived the 2007 – 2009 Worldwide Financial Meltdown, and it survived because we carefully crafted our National Fiscal Policies and Strategies to stabilise Fiji’s vulnerable economy and solidify our revenue base.

In the 2012 Budget we made historic reductions to all tax rates, including both corporate and personal income tax rates. The reduction in personal tax rates redirected $53.1 million into the pockets of taxpaying Fijians.

We have reduced tax rates for 99 per cent of the individual taxpaying population, and we have also reduced customs-duty rates on items our economy needs in order to grow.

The reduction of the corporate tax rate from 28 per cent to 20 per cent basically means that businesses in Fiji have more money to reinvest in plant, equipment, and hiring. With the lowest corporate tax rates in the Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand, there is no excuse not to pay your taxes.

So my Government has done its part to ensure that the tax contributions of Fijians are reasonable. We have acted with prudence, sensitivity, and good economic sense. Too much taxation can strangle an economy by taking too much money out of productive hands. Money that is invested in business produces jobs and growth, which produces revenue for the work of Government.

Government also is responsible for providing timely and accurate information, for responding promptly to taxpayers’ questions and appeals, and to make it easy for people to comply with the law. The new web site is a partial fulfilment of that responsibility.

Gold Card Premium Services are part of our bigger plan to recognise and reward people who have paid taxes and duties honestly and on time.

These people and institutions are helping to build this nation by stepping up to help pay for better roads, hospitals, and schools; to help keep us safe; and to help lift our fellow Fijians out of poverty.

I have also directed the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA) to take their services closer to the people, which will improve compliance by making it easier for citizens to understand their obligations and pay their taxes.

In the coming weeks, FRCA’s Sigatoka and Rakiraki branches will be officially opened. I am also pleased to note that limited operations are already being carried out in both towns.

For the last year, the Customer Service Centre in Suva is served full-time by very senior customs and tax executives. This is to ensure that all customs and tax matters are resolved on timely basis.

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2013 highlighted Fiji as one of the countries that made paying taxes easier and lowered tax burdens.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have made it easy for everyone to do your civic duty. And we expect every citizen to stand and be counted, to make their contribution to this nation by paying their taxes fully and on time. It’s easy; just obey the law.

Later this week, I will be announcing the 2013 National Budget. This will give all citizens the chance to judge whether we are good stewards of their tax dollars. I believe you will see that your tax contributions are well spent. You will see that the people are receiving good value when they entrust their hard-earned tax dollars to the Government.

As I have stated before, if everyone in Fiji paid their taxes and complied with our customs and tax laws, we could have a budget surplus and still provide more services. That is what we are striving for through more aggressive tax collection.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Government is listening to you. We are changing our processes to empower Fijians and modernise our economy. We will beat the odds because we are Fijians, we are Fiji. We are resilient.

With those words, I am proud to launch the Gold Card Premium Services and the revamped FRCA website.

Vinaka Vakalevu – thank you.