November 24, 2017
Suva, Fiji – The UN based Better than Cash Alliance (BTCA) are in the Pacific this week to advocate government ministries in Fiji and the Solomon Islands to transition from cash to digital payments to advance financial inclusion and promote responsible digital finance.
Both governments are signatories to the alliance and have committed to elevate digital transactions in Fiji, to 85 percent by 2020 and in the Solomon Islands to 80 percent by 2020.
The workshops that were held in both countries were initiated by the UNDP/UNCDF managed Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) that works across six countries in the region – Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu
Participants were introduced to the steps taken by countries around the world that have made the shift to digital payments and how to overcome some of the initial challenges that may be faced in the transition period.
Fiji’s Ministry of Social Welfare also made a presentation on how in 2011 in collaboration with PFIP, the Ministry introduced a ground-breaking platform for social welfare payments, marking a shift from voucher-based payments to electronic transfer to a bank account, benefiting close to 23,000 recipients. The transition to digital transfers ensured that funds reached recipients in a more timely and cost-effective manner and provided recipients with a secure place to save. This initiative was the first Government-to-Person (G2P) electronic payment initiative in the Pacific.
In opening the workshop in Fiji, Fiji’s Head of Treasury Pankaj Singh said currently, a total of 70 percent of the Fijian Governments payments are channeled electronically.
He said that Fiji’s transformation to digital payments were gaining momentum and listed various government initiatives such as; social welfare payments, introduction of e-card for ‘Help for Homes’ (purchase of hardware to rebuild homes after cyclone Winston), refund of taxes of the Fiji Revenue & Customs Services and payment of lease money from i-Taukei Trust Board directly into bank accounts.
“The Ministry of Economy is taking the lead role in terms of ensuring Fiji’s BTCA targets are achieved within the set timeframe. All Government Ministries / Departments, statutory bodies and state-owned entities have a pivotal role in this “journey”. This will not only enhance the service delivery and inclusivity but would prove to be more cost effective and enhance the transparency,” he said.
He shared with participants learnings from a recent peer to peer learning visit by Fiji and the Solomon Islands to Rwanda which was funded by BTCA. The Rwandan Government shared how they had sought the help of the private sector and experts with digital experience to help them develop their payments ecosystem.
He also called on the ministries present to accelerate their efforts to ensure that targets are met.
In the Solomon Islands, Anna O’Keefe, Project Lead at the Inland Revenue Department said the IRD was on a
journey to modernise its internal systems to make it easier for taxpayers including individuals, small and medium businesses to make payments digitally, the project being grant funded by PFIP.
“As long as customers have an internet connection, they can submit their tax returns from anywhere in the country, at any time of the day,” she said.
She added that the modernized system means increased security and ease of payments.
She highlighted that some of the key challenges faced on the modernization journey was the additional support costs incurred, for instance, upgrades the IRD website. She also said that changing the mindset of customers is also a hurdle to overcome.
“It’s not easy to change, especially in this ecosystem where our customers are cash poor, but not time poor. It’s hard to change user lifetime habits,” she said.
PFIP Government-to-Persons Specialist Abigail Chang said that the feedback and participation of both Government’s Ministries has been very encouraging and shows their commitment to achieve targets by 2020.
“We are encouraged that through the interactive workshop and from the discussions this week that Government Ministries and Statutory organisations have identified a number of possible projects. We are also proud to announce our partnerships with IRD will go live on 1st December 2017, enabling the private sector (as the first group to be onboarded) to submit tax returns and payments using electronic channels,” she said.
PFIP is a Pacific-wide programme helping low-income households gain access to financial services and financial education. It is jointly administered by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and receives funding from the Australian Government, the European Union and the New Zealand Government.
PFIP aims to add one million Pacific Islanders to the formal financial sector by 2019 by supporting policy and regulatory initiatives, funding innovation with financial services and delivery channels, disseminating market information, and empowering consumers.
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