Apr 10, 2021 Last Updated 4:12 AM, Apr 8, 2021

Thunderstruck mining company is discussing a joint venture arrangement with a shortlist of companies for its Rama copper and gold prospect. A company statement also says significant work is underway to prepare for a maiden drill at the Liwa Gold prospect.

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Fiji’s Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Faiyaz Koya says the country’s investment reform map is based on three pillars:

  • Alignment of domestic laws and regulations with international best practice
  • Revised role of national IPA (a new Investment Promotion Agency) law that will modernise the role of Investment Fiji, allowing it to develop into a complete IPA, and
  • Ease of doing business: such as the digitalisation and streamlining of approval processes and speeding up administrative procedures and requirements.

He made the comments at a virtual event, the “First Session and High-level segment: The WTO negotiations of an Investment Facilitation Framework for Development: What is at stake for Asian and Pacific economies?” last week.

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Fijian cybersecurity professionals from private financial institutions, telecom companies, the Reserve Bank of Fiji, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and government ministries have attended a US-government facilitated workshop on the latest trends on North Korea’s offensive hacking techniques.  According to the US, North Korea repeatedly targets Fiji with cyber-attacks to gain access to currency and to launder money in violation of international sanctions.

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FijiCare Insurance made an after-tax profit of $1.6million last year, a decrease of $2.8million over the previous year. Executive Director Avi Raju said: “For FijiCare, the closure of international borders as well as the overall increase in local medical costs has resulted in an escalation of our medical claims. Therefore, we are enthusiastic about the opening of Nasese Private Hospital and potentially other private medical providers, which we expect will increase medical facility options for our policyholders. Additionally, it has been pleasing to note that international travel restrictions for medical treatments are being gradually eased. From November 2020, India has opened its borders for medical evacuations allowing FijiCare policy holders to access overseas medical treatments after seven months of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020.”

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Kontiki Finance Ltd has appointed Chirk Yam as an Independent Director. Yam has 37 years in the Accounting profession, and retired as a Senior Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in December 2015.

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The closure of Fiji’s tourism industry and cessation of production for several weeks last year has seen Paradise Beverages post a $3.9millon loss for 2020. Volumes were also down 14.5% versus the previous year.

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Port Denaru Marina has also posted a net loss of $212, 622 for the six months to 31 January 2021, although it says this was better than budgeted. The marina says it welcomed more than 90 foreign flagged vessels under the Blue Lanes iniative last year, and is preparing to meet more this season.

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Toyota Tsusho (South Sea) Limited has appointed Hendra Joewono to its board, replacing Akio Ogawa. Joewono has held various senior executive positions in the various Toyota Tsusho Corporation group of companies.

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The Fiji National Provident Fund (FNPF)  warns it will act against any employer who falsifies COVID-19 member withdrawals. Acting Chief Executive Officer, Viliame Vodonaivalu said the Fund noticed an increase in the number of Phase 3 applications for the reduced wage rate option that entitles a member to a lump sum payment of $550 or $1,100. “Employers are requested to be honest with the applications. Our verification processes includes checks on members’ contributions and we are able to see if the member’s salary has not changed. This is of great concern, especially if the member is accessing the full government top up subsidy.”  The next payment is scheduled for next week 13 April.

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Fiji Airways is preparing to fly its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft again, after getting the nod from the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji (CAAF).

Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO said: “Everyone at Fiji Airways, including our pilots and technical crew have complete confidence in the safety of the MAX, given the intense scrutiny, thousands of test flights and necessary upgrades made to the aircraft over numerous months. Safety and care for our customers and staff remain our highest and unrelenting priority.”

Viljoen confirmed that the Full Flight Simulator at the Fiji Airways Aviation Academy was already being used to bring its pilots and technical crew up to speed with all the new and additional requirements following the re-certification of the MAX aircraft.

“We will continue to work with our regulators to bring the MAX aircraft into service, albeit for the limited number of freight and repatriation flights we currently operate,” he added.

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Fiji Kava stocks were up 26.9% at one stage yesterday (Wednesday 8) after announcing its noble kava products will soon available at Chemist Warehouse stores. Under this partnership, Fiji Kava's capsules will be available across more than 300 stores across Australia and New Zealand from April and May.

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Quarantine free trouble has begun between Palau and Taiwan with the arrival of Palau’s first inbound tourism flight since March last year.

Palau's President, Surangel Whipps, Jr. returned to Palau from Taiwan on the flight, marking the event with the ceremonial signing of the Palau Pledge: the country's official passport stamp that all visitors must sign on arrival, promising to preserve Palau's environment and respect its culture for the sake of the next generation.

 "I'm very happy this day has finally come,” President Whipps said on arriving home. “This is the first sterile travel corridor in the world between two COVID-free / COVID-safe countries, and I'm very proud of the work Palau and Taiwan have done to get us here. Taiwan is the perfect partner for this safe travel corridor. Not only because of their success in combating COVID-19, but also because Taiwanese travellers treat Palau's people, environment, and culture with respect when they visit. Our two nations trust each other – hence why we are able to have zero-quarantine at both borders."

Palau has recorded no cases of COVID-19, and over 65% of Palau's adult population is now vaccinated against COVID-19.

Meanwhile Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says they are ready to welcome New Zealand visitors from May 1st.

He was in New Zealand last week to meet his counterpart Jacinda Ardern and other key people critical to the travel plan.

“Facilitating travel of New Zealanders to the Cook Islands will be the difference to arresting an exodus of working-age Cook Islanders and their families to New Zealand," Brown said.

PM Brown also said access to grant aid, lower-interest funding and added capital loan funding, "will help to keep Cook Islanders in the Cook Islands rather than adding to the NZ-Cook Islands diaspora."

Meanwhile New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce when quarantine-free travel can resume with Australia this afternoon.

 

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The deadline for digital registration of existing companies, foreign companies and business name holders has been extended to 31 July 2021. The Fiji government says the additional extension has been granted on the basis of the enduring hardship that many businesses have faced due to health restrictions and border closures. Companies and foreign companies will be deregistered and business names ceased if not digitally registered by 31 July 2021.

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Japanese consortium Sevens Pacific Pte Limited will acquire a 44% shareholding in Energy Fiji Limited (EFL). The consortium is owned by Chugoku Electric Power Company (CEPCO) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) . The consortium will acquire 44% of shares in EFL, acquiring 24% from Government and 20% from FNPF. The Fijian Government will continue to remain the major shareholder in EFL, retaining a controlling interest of 51% of the shares in EFL while Fijian account holders with shares in EFL continue to hold 5%.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF) Board has agreed to keep the Overnight Policy Rate at 0.25%. RBF Governor Ariff Ali says “the accommodative monetary policy stance remains appropriate given the subdued domestic economic activity and output remaining well below potential.”

The Bank says lending to the private sector decelerated last month due to lower lending to the private sector. It says the start of vaccinations and “prospects for business conditions, investment, retail sales and employment reflected in the Reserve Bank’s December 2020 Retail Sales and Business Expectations Surveys” point to some optimism over the next 12 months.

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Broadcaster Communications Fiji Limited has announced an after profit tax of $824,394, and 4% financial dividend for the financial year ending December 31, 2020. Chairman William Parkinson said while it was a tough year, he’s proud the company delivered  a final profit, while avoiding pay cuts. The company’s subsidiary, PNG FM recently purchased a block of land, and is working on plans for new studios in Port Moresby.

At Communications Fiji Ltd (CFL) Director Vilash Chand has retired, and Maciu Lumelume has joined the Board, representing significant shareholder, the Unit Trust of Fiji.

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The Bank of the South Pacific is changing its name to BSP Financial Group Limited. The Company says its also progressing with its proposed secondary listing of its ordinary shares on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

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Changing of the guard at two of Fiji’s prominent publicly listed companies.

Sanjay Punja is the new CEO of Atlantic & Pacific Packaging Company, and the new Managing Director of FMF Foods and The Rice Company of Fiji.  Punja was previously CEO of all three companies in the 1990s -2009. His return comes as Ram Bajekal steps down as Managing Director of the companies. Meanwhile Jenny Seeto has been appointed as an Independent Director of the FMF, The Rice Company of Fiji,  and Atlantic and Pacific Packaging Company, and will Chair their Audit and Finance Sub-Committees.

Meanwhile at FMF Foods, Hari Punja has stepped down as Director and Chairman, as “part of succession planning” at the firm.  Ram Bajekal is the new Chair.

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Western division education provider, Free Bird Institute  has announced a net profit of F$710,387 for 2020. Chief Financial Officer, Waisale Iowane said: “Our service fee revenue decreased by 43% with an overall decline in total revenue by 17%, a direct effect of the closure of international borders. We had to act swiftly to ensure that our response was aligned with the continuous changes locally and globally and we ensured that we took the necessary steps which affected our employees progressively. The decisions made were not easy but were necessary due to the uncertainty that was before us.”

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The United States embassy last week convened a virtual conference of more than fifty U.S.-based consulting companies to introduce them to Fiji’s burgeoning export sector.  The conference, “Growing the Fiji Brand:  U.S. Services Needed,” attracted U.S. companies that can assist Fijian companies with business to business matchmaking, distribution, marketing, and biosecurity compliance. 

In 2019,  Fiji exported $246 million worth of goods to the United States.  In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic slowdown, exports to the United States only dipped to $224 million. 

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Savusavu Bay has been approved as Fiji’s second Blue Lanes Yacht Port, joining Port Denarau in Fiji’s west. "The Blue Lanes initiative has given yachters from around the world the chance to join Fijians in COVID-Contained paradise. With more than 330 days since the last local case of the coronavirus in Fiji and more than 100 vessels approved, Fiji's Blue Lanes represent the safest and most sustainable tourism pathway in the world. The yachts docked at our Port Denarau, and those that will berth soon in Savusavu, are testament to our willingness to innovate and our commitment to COVID-safe tourism," said the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, Faiyaz Koya. 

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The art of listening

  • Mar 25, 2021
  • Published in March

At the celebration of Sir Michael Somare’s life at Suva’s Sacred Heart cathedral this month, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong spoke about the willingness to listen as one of the Grand Chief’s defining characteristics. It was a message he repeated a few times; that true leadership is about listening, and that true leaders are servants of their people.

It’s something we’ve been reflecting on this month. Was Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who sat in the front pew of the Cathedral as the Archbishop delivered his message, listening to the will of the people when he stopped public consultations on Fiji’s  controversial police bill? The draft bill was fiercely criticised by the opposition, community groups and the media for a number of its provisions which were seen as unconstitutional, and for the severity of the penalties it proposed. The PM could not have failed to hear the uproar. In stopping the consultations he claimed the draft bill didn’t represent government policy, and hadn’t been endorsed by cabinet or the Solicitor General’s office. He indicated he had heard the public’s concern when he stated: “We cannot preserve public safety in the 21st Century through backwards steps that erode public trust in the Fijian Police Force.”

Fijians are due to go to the polls next year, which hopefully bodes for active listening on the part of all political aspirants. In Samoa, elections are just weeks away and candidates from the governing and ascendant parties are arrayed across the nation, listening and responding to the concerns of their constituents- except where they have been banned from villages and campaigning. A close listen of the chat on social media suggests concerns over legislative changes in Samoa have not gone away for Samoans online, although we’ll have to wait to see if this is reflected at the ballot box.

Meanwhile in our update on agriculture in this issue, we cite a regional report about COVID and Agriculture called Pacific farmers have their say. Based on surveys completed by regional farmers organisations and containing a list of recommendations about how to move from the usual rhetoric about the importance of agriculture to Pacific people and our economies, there’s some important messages in there if we not only listen, but act now, while our border are still largely closed and there is time.

Finally in PNG, there is some belated listening happening to medical professionals who have been warning for some time that COVID transmissions were likely to spiral out of control, and hospitals and the health system was going to be unable to cope. A small number of vaccines finally landed in PNG this week.  But it is a fraction of what’s needed, and it is well after vaccine programmes are well underway in many other parts of the world, including its neighbours. For months our leaders have been calling for vaccine equity so that we aren’t left behind. When will the world not just hear us, but do something about bridging the gap?

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Farewell to the Chief

  • Mar 25, 2021
  • Published in March

After three weeks of mourning, Papua New Guinea’ founding father, Sir Michael Somare, was laid to rest at Kreer Heights in Wewak, East Sepik Province on March 16.

In Port Moresby, a national Haus Krai saw thousands of people pay their respects to Sir Michael and present their condolences to the Somare family. Sir Michael then made his final journey home, after a brief mishap when his casket had to be transported in an Australian air force plane, following protests from Papua New Guineans over the perceived disrespect shown to him when it appeared Sir Michael’s body was to travel in the cargo hold.

His state funeral bought Port Moresby and many other parts of PNG to a standstill, and Sir Michael was mourned across the region.

In her eulogy at a memorial service in Suva, Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor remembered that Sir Michael “belonged to a generation of Pacific Leaders…who were tasked with pursuing self-determination and independence. They faced, head-on, the challenges of nation building and balanced the sensitivities of the western ideals of democracy and good governance with our traditional and cultural values and ethos.”

“At a time such as this, where Pacific regionalism is at its most fragile, Sir Michael's legacy reminds us of the practice of regional solidarity and cooperation where personal relations at the political level such as that enjoyed by the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Sir Michael, are paramount to fostering understanding and the pursuit of regional unity.

“Regionalism and regional cooperation is only as strong as the unity of its political leadership – this I fervently believe. Sir Michael constantly reminded all of the need to guard our unity as one regional family closely.”

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