"Millions" for tourism industry queried
Member of Parliament for Salega East, Olo Fiti Vaai, has drilled holes in the Government's commitment to the tourism industry, questioning the use of "millions" it had apparently planned to help the struggling industry.
Olo raised questions in Parliament on Monday, when the Minister of Tourism, Sala Fata Pinati, addressed the House, as Government Ministers continue to respond to questions raised about the 2020/2021 Budget.
Olo wanted details of the Government's support for hotels and beach fale operators whom he said are desperate. He said the industry is in dire straits with hundreds of employment opportunities already lost.
In response, Minister Sala said it is the responsibility of everyone, including the business community and villages, to help the industry.
He said this is why businesses should not put all their eggs in one basket.
“The Government should not have to give you money to operate your business," Sala said, "that is your own responsibility, to help yourself."
The Minister assured he has done everything to help members of the industry, including crying before a Cabinet meeting, to seek assistance for hoteliers who could not pay their loans. Sala imitated in Parliament how he cried in front of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and other Cabinet Ministers.
Earlier on, Sala noted that the revenue from the tourism industry has dropped significantly from $514 million in 2018 – 2019 to a shocking $375 million from 2019 to March 2020.
But Olo intervened, saying it is clear from the Minister's tone that the Government will not help the industry.
“I’m quite shocked about the Minister’s remarks," Olo said. "Where are the millions included in the budget to help develop the hotels and beach fale? That is the responsibility of the Minister, to develop the industry. We are trying to feed the baby but hearing the Minister he has abandoned it…”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa interjected, saying the Minister had made it clear that business owners have an obligation to maintain their operations and not depend on Government aid.
He reminded that the Government has allocated a second stimulus package worth $83 million for businesses and staff affected.
“The issue raised makes it sound like there is no assistance in the budget [for tourism],” said the Prime Minister.
“There is assistance for electricity bills amongst other schemes to help those affected and the Minister of Finance should be acknowledged for the stimulus package…”
Tuilaepa reiterated that businesses should be implementing incentives to help their business survive during these difficult times and not just depend on Government help.
He said Beach fale operators and hotels should drop the cost of accommodation to attract people to utilise their services. He added that they should look at introducing cheap packages to catch the attention of consumers.
Tuilaepa said this is why tourism in Fiji and the Cook Islands are blooming.
He said the trick is attract people to the tourism properties and then recover the costs by getting them to pay for beverages and food.
“It's being done now but we no longer have any tourists,” he said.
“But we now have locals filling up the hotels over the weekend. I had asked one of the hotels what they were doing now, they said they have dropped the cost from $280 to $250 [a room]. I said them to drop it to $100 tala and then they will have our own people coming in to stay in for the night or two.”
Other assistances from Government to tourism industry is tax credit, he added. The tax credit scheme allows hoteliers not to pay taxes but invest in other hotel developments.
Tuilaepa explained that a total of $142 million tax credit has been given to the hoteliers and only $75 million of it has been used for further development in the industry. He asked where the remaining $67 million has gone.
“It means that the hoteliers used the $67 million on other developments and are now asking for more [assistance] to fill this,” said the Prime Minister. “I’m explaining this in detail because it is often forgotten the assistance from Government to push for the developments.
“That is the other reason why we got an aircraft, although it's broke but the developments is to help small businesses that rely on these developments and in turn benefit farmers, shop keepers, fishermen and others…”