By Jone Baledrokadroka
When the country’s 2010 economic growth rate is 0.1 percent of GDP, how can you justify giving an additional $8 million to the military? It will now gobble up $101 million or more than 5% of total government expenditure for 2011.
This will now bring military spending to two percent of real GDP for next year, which is the international warning siren for a Third World military regime out of control in peacetime. And believe you me - nothing to show for it this time next year!
Of this $8 million increase, it seems as announced, the Navy gets $6 million. Apparently, $1.5m is a grant to the Fiji Shipping Corporation Limited whilst the Government Shipping Services get $3 million. Both bodies, FSCL and GSS, have been ‘reformed’ and are now under the Navy.
The Navy gets the rest or $1.5 million increase to their $24.2 million budget for 2011. Almost a quarter of the military budget goes to the 250-strong Navy. Bringing FSCL and GSS under the Navy it seems is a clever way of increasing the budget for a fleet of aging patrol boats and a naval base starved of Australian Defence Cooperation Programme funding.
This role expansion is typical of a politicized military. The misconceived idea that military technocrats can salvage an inefficient industry has been long debunked, along with Lenin’s socialism.
Today, it is the idea of private rather than public enterprise that creates efficiencies not to mention the maxim that government should not compete against the private sector. Indeed, the last IMF inspection report called on the regime for such government reforms in reducing the size of government.
Opponents of certain privatizations, however, believe that certain public goods and services should remain primarily in the hands of government in order to ensure that everyone in society has access to them (such as law enforcement, basic health care and basic education.)
But when the country has suffered its worst economic spell as in the last four years, privatization of all other government services such as maritime transportation has to be explored.
The problem is that the regime cannot further reduce the size of government without also justifiably reducing the size of the military. Eighty per cent of the military budget or $3.1 million a fortnight (or $80 million annually) is sunk into the 3277 regular soldiers pay and emoluments.
All this against continual peacekeeping revenue loss when worked out as total cost to government. True, remittances are from British Army soldiers, security guards overseas, caregivers and overseas families etc.
Drastically reducing the military, and indeed the Navy, is the last thing on Bainimarama’s mind at the moment. In fact, he may very well be thinking of other public enterprises to increase military personnel as per his ‘military for life’ concept initially introduced with Telecom’s Telsat project in 2004 and Ports Security Unit in 2007.
As already mentioned, the paradox of Bainimarama’s ‘New Order’ is that he will need to keep purging and rewarding his political base in the military as he rides and feeds a restless tiger. What the nation thinks or says about military accountability, such as the buried regimental funds enquiry, does not matter.