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Fiji's debt level — about $5 billion (US$2.3 billion) by this July — is manageable and reasonable, World Bank resident representative for the South Pacific Lasse Melgaard said.
However, the bank is interested in Fiji's National Development Plan, which it said would be an important document highlighting Fiji's priorities and key areas of focus.
“That also creates continuity even in a time of an election and you still have your country's goals and your targets which you want to meet despite the fact that you are in an election year,” Melgaard said.
Melgaard, who recently arrived in the country to head the bank's new hub for the South Pacific, said Fiji's debt situation was manageable compared with other developed nations.
But he stressed the need to recognise where the borrowed funds were being used.
“I think it is important also to recognise that it's not always a bad thing and it depends on what you're borrowing for and what you are investing in,” he said.
“Obviously if a country had debt levels where we could see there was no way the economy could service it, I think we'll raise alarms or certainly suggest to governments to look at restructuring their debt, but we are nowhere near that in the case of Fiji.”
Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, during several 2017/2018 National Budget consultations, had highlighted that while the country's nominal debt had increased, debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) had decreased.
Meanwhile, one of the goals of the World Bank is to increase incomes in Fiji, its resident representative in the South Pacific Lasse Melgaard says.
“As you know, our main goals are the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030 and also boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 per cent in countries,” he said.
“Fiji does not really have extreme poverty as we see elsewhere in the world but we can certainly improve on incomes in Fiji.”
He said the opening of the World Bank office in Fiji last year was to strengthen the bank's relationship with Fiji and the region.
“What that means is that we will be co-ordinating the work of the World Bank in the South Pacific from here.
“The way we define the South Pacific, at least in this context, is Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati.
“Those different countries are at their different stages of development and so the support the bank gives to them will defer. The kind of sectors also that the bank will work with will differ, depending on the priorities of the respective governments,” Melgaard said.
One of the bank's projects in Fiji is the connection of Vanualevu to a high speed internet cable.
“That's the cable we are actually connecting Samoa to Fiji and then we realised this cable is going to pass Vanua Levu and the opportunity for Fiji to get the island of Vanualevu connected to a high speed internet.
“We do also support a lot of grant support and some of the examples for instance are in the area of renewable energy carbon.”
One of Melgaard's plans was to ensure the World Bank becomes relevant to Fiji through its partnerships.
SOURCE: FIJI TIMES/PACNEWS
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