Fiji mulls new policies to boost economic development

Venkat Raman

Auckland, May 11, 2019

Minister Premila Kumar with (from left) Shaheen Ali, Zarak Khan, Indra Sirigiri and Daniel Stow in Suva, Fiji on May 6, 2019 (INL Picture)

Creation of special Economic Zones, improved incentives for Foreign Direct Investors (FDI) and local investors, Policies and Programmes based on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) including better housing and infrastructure are among the challenges confronting the Government of Fiji as it moves to fulfil its election promises.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama led his FijiFirst Party to form the second four-year term government following the general election held on November 14, 2018. Although with a reduced majority (the Party lost five seats to its main rival SODELPA), Mr Bainimarama has a comfortable majority (27 seats out of 51 seats) to successfully implement programmes to accelerate economic development.

Political stability and a dynamic government are the two major attributes of Fiji and Mr Bainimarama has chosen Ministers who share his ambition and vision.

Among them is Premila Kumar, who, as the Minister of Industry, Trade, Tourism MITT), Local Government, Housing and Community Development, brings substantial experience and expertise in diverse professional areas.

Top Priorities

“Our Government is addressing many issues on priority and Housing and exploring new areas of investment to accelerate development. We are committed to more jobs for our people and engage more effectively with our own investors and businesses,” she said, speaking to Indian Newslink during a formal meeting at her office in Suva on Monday, May 6, 2019.

Among those present at the meeting were Shaheen Ali, Permanent Secretary to the MITT, Zarak Khan, Consul General and Trade Commissioner (ANZ) and Daniel Stow, Manager, Trade & Investment (Australia), both based in Sydney. Indra Sirigiri, Chairman & Managing Director, Link2 Group and Uma Venkatram, Financial Controller & Correspondent of this newspaper.

A strong advocate of closer cooperation with the country’s highly successful private sector, Ms Kumar met all principle businesses and key players in the Fijian economy since she joined the government as a Minister in November 2018.

“We see the private sector as the engine of economic development and as such we are keen to ensure their participation in every aspect of the Fijian economy. A new Industrial and Investment Policy is being developed to tap the available resources and foster economic growth. We see effective PPPs as a significant way forward,” she said.

Digitalisation and BPO

The Fijian government has embarked on a major digitalisation drive, keen to bring e-commerce and online platform as a way of conducting business and promoting inter-department and intrapersonal communications. The country has a well-educated (with 96% literacy rate) and young population (more than 33% of its people are less than 14 years old and about 65% are in the 15-64 age group) and hence is increasingly becoming an important centre for BPO, including Call Centres, Back-Office Support and other activities.

Improving Healthcare

Improving Healthcare is a major concern for the Fijian government and Ms Kumar said that it is being treated as an industry, attracting all incentives for investment.

Mr Ali agreed, saying that Healthcare as an industry would accrue several advantages to investors as well as the people.

“Among the positive effects of such a move would be establishment of good hospitals attracting qualified doctors and nurses and a strong pharmaceutical sector. There will also be more people keen to live and work here,” he said.

World Bank Funding

On April 26, 2019, the World Bank announced additional funding of US$ 21 million to Fiji, enabling the government to finance some of its development projects.

For the first time, Fiji has access to funding through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s arm for supporting the world’s most in-need countries, including funding for key regional projects and to support the country in the event of a crisis.

Fiji has been reclassified as a country eligible for funding from both IDA and the World Bank’s International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), with preferential access to funds from IDA on the most concessional terms, as well as World Bank Group IBRD support on ‘most favourable terms’, notably 0% interest, ten years grace and 40 years maturity.

ADB Meetings successful

The meetings of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held last fortnight proved that Fiji has become a major destination for international conferences. More than 3200 persons, including the Board of Governors of the Bank, top officials, ministers and public servants from Japan and other Asian countries attended the three-day event held at the Fiji Sheraton Resort Hotel.

“It was a proud moment for us. Apart from meeting many challenges such as security and logistics, we were able to showcase the unique hospitality and the welcoming nature of our Fiji people to visitors from far and near,” Ms Kumar said.

She said that her government also utilised the opportunity to engage with the ADB more thoroughly and constructively and discuss with the top officials developing financial markets, information on the economy of the Pacific Island Countries and other matters of concern. Climate Change was obviously a major issue that concerned ADB, she said.

There were two major outcomes of the ADB meetings held in Suva – a US$ 5 billion investment by ADB to improve the Ocean Health in the region and the announcement by ADB to issue Fiji Dollar-linked bonds offshore.

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