Amid criticism from indigenous Fijians on the handling by the Frank Bainimarama Government of Fijian Holdings Ltd (FHL), an investment company established by a previous government for the sole benefit of the indigenous community, trading of its shares on the country’s share trading facility went through the roof to set an all-time record of over a million shares traded in one month.
At the close of trading on 31 January, a monthly total of 1.22 million FHL shares valued at F$984,136 (US$465,416) had changed hands in January alone – unprecedented in a market that has often struggled with liquidity.
While the market has been quiet on what might have prompted this trading spree, it is understood that a share split carried out on FHL in mid-December had freed things up a little for shareholders, who are now happy to part with a portion of their holding.
FHL, which listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange (SPSE) in 1997, is a “restricted” security on SPSE, with shares only available to indigenous Fijians who are registered in the Vola Ni Kawa Bula (VKB) or native registry.
Since 1997, FHL had listed only its A-Class shares (a total of 10,464,650) while 20 million unlisted B-Class shares were held in trust for the 14 I-Fiji provinces by the I-taukei or Fijian Affairs Board (10 million) and the I-taukei Trust Fund Board (10 million).
The two institutions look after the development interests of the indigenous population and come under the Ministry of I-Taukei Affairs, which is headed by Prime Minister Bainimarama.
Following the company’s AGM in November last year, FHL announced the listing of B-Class shares on SPSE to be followed by a 1:10 share split.
The two events were completed by 9 January, following a week-long voluntary suspension and when FHL resumed trading on that day, it had over 304 million listed shares, with trading opening at 85 cents a share.
Since then, interest in FHL shares had spiked as shown by trading statistics available on SPSE.
As an institution set up to encourage indigenous participation in business and commerce, FHL has become a successful investment institution and a major player in Fiji’s economy and reported an after tax profit of F$35 million (US$16.55m) last year, up from F$31 million (US$14.66m) in 2017.
Its total dividend payout for 2018 prior to share split was 24.4 cents per share (US 11.5cents).
FHL has been the subject of interest on social media, with SODELPA MP Niko Nawaikula criticising what he said were government appointees to the company board, with a recent appointment being that of PM Bainimarama’s daughter Litiana Loabuka as a director representing A-Class shareholders.
“FHL was set up by the Rabuka Government as a fully native owned company in response to their lack of business acumen, lack of business skill and lack of participation in the business field. It has become very successful over the years,” Nawaikula wrote on his protest post on Facebook.
“But like all native institutions and control and management of native land and resources, it has been taken over and nationalised by the Fiji First Government. Accordingly, all individuals you see in this picture (photo by Fiji Times of FHL directors handing over a F$6m (US$2.84m) cheque to government’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum for the purchase of Government Printer and stationery supplies) are from government and government appointees without authority of the owners of this company. They do so in direct breach of the right of native owners to manage their financial institutions, to be consulted and to give prior consent.”
Questions sent to FHL and the SPSE were not answered by press time.