Feb 23, 2018 Last Updated 5:27 AM, Feb 19, 2018

Bougainville says no

The Bougainville Autonomous Government has rejected the Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) Panguna mining license bid following divisions among landowners. According to BCL company secretary Mark Hitchcock, the Bougainville Government said “it was a tight split between approval for mining and non-approval for mining and as it was too close, they felt that it might lead to conflict.”

“There are small groups of opposition but there is always mining and those opinions have to be listened to and understood, but as a general rule we see strong support for mining and for Bougainville Copper,” Hitchcock said. The Bougainville Government also recently imposed a moratorium on any company restarting mining at the site. Hitchcock said BCL would continue discussions with the Bougainville Government and wouldn’t abandon plans to restart the mine. He said it was up to the landowners, who have the final and ultimate say on whether they go for mining and who they go mining with.

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Fiji airport disruptions

Nadi, Fiji - Ground-handling of aircraft at Fiji’s largest airport Nadi were disrupted a week before Christmas (and disruptions continued as we went to press) following a dispute between workers and the groundhandling company. National airlines, Fiji Airways had to deploy its own staff to meet and service its fleet of aircraft, including checking in outbound passengers.

Management of Air Services Terminal – the ground handling contractor at Nadi International Airport accused its workers of staging a lightning strike when they walked off their jobs on 16 December, a charge employees rejeted.

They said those who left work were also shareholders of the company and they had gone to attend a shareholding meeting. On their return two hours later, management had locked the main gate to their office and attempted to serve them with suspension letters....

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Fiji’s government of Frank Bainimarama is continuing with its expansionary economic policy in the $3.3 billion (US$1.69 billion) budget for 2015 it handed down in Fiji’s Parliament on November 21st. Its capital budget of U$S687m makes up 41 per cent of the total budget. More roads and bridges will be upgraded or constructed and more people will be connected to the water mains. Investment on infrastructure has been the hallmark of the Bainimarama administration in the past seven years.

This expansionary economic strategy has inflated the country’s debt to record levels. From a debt of little more than US$1.4b when it took over power in 2006, public debt has mushroomed to US$2.086b by 2014. This represents 48.3 per cent of GDP, one of the largest in the region. Comparably, PNG claims a 35.5 per cent ratio and Australia, 16.6 per cent. Heavy spending on capital works should help grow the island economy, the Fijian Government said. It is giving itself a 4 per cent growth rate for 2015, a bit slower though from the 4.2 per cent growth rate estimated for 2014. Total revenue is projected at US$1.58b, with net deficit projected at 2.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. Bulk of the revenue will be generated from indirect taxation with valued added tax expected to raise US$419m, or 68.9 per cent of projected operating revenue.

The country’s foreign reserves is said to be healthy, currently at US$938m, enough to cover 4.6 months of imports. Consumers of alcohol and tobacco will dig deeper into their pockets as import and excise duties on these copped a 10 to 20 per cent increase for the new year. Patrons of nightclubs and large restaurants will also have to pay service turnover tax from 2015. Tax amnesties formed part of Fiji’s national budget targeting undeclared overseas assets as well as repayments of tax liabilities both for individuals and companies. Sale of Airports Fiji Limited will be finalised in the new year as well as the corporatisation of the country’s electricity and seaport utilities.

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By the first quarter of 2015, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) hopes the construction of its new base in Fiji would have started. Green light for this has been granted by the host government, and in keeping with the host of regional organisation arrangements, Fiji will fund the entire project. Cost of the Pacific Village is estimated at US$27.71 million. “Currently our offices in Suva are spread out in 7 different locations,” said Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Director-General of the SPC “Through the Pacific Village, we will all come to one central place, which was something we had been wanting all along.”

The Pacific Village will be built at Nabua, where bulk of SPC’s work in Fiji is located. Artist impressions of the Village show a series of office buildings with a distinct Pacific architecture. Staff at SPC Nabua will have to be relocated to other offices to allow for the demolition of the current buildings, some of which were built for Allied troops in World War II. Additional land will have to be sought from a local secondary school that is neighbour to the SPC Nabua office. 

Also for the new year, Dr Tukuitonga hopes to continue the changes he has started in the workings of the Commission. One of these is moving away from short-term project-funding to longer term programme financing. Australia has already signed into these programme funding, said Dr Tukuitonga and New Zealand and the European Union might do so too in 2015. The SPC is also exploring new funding, including those in the Arab peninsula.

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Coca Cola Amatil reported a 15 per cent decline in profits this year to A$182 million (US$158m)but the figure could have been worse if its outlets in Fiji and Papua New Guinea had not performed exceptionally. Its operations in Australia and New Zealand were challenging “across all channels” in the financial year just past, the CCA group managing director Alison Watkins told media in Melbourne last month.

“The decline was exacerbated by reduced promotional activity to the channel, a decline in sales headcount and reduction in call frequency during 2013-14, which resulted in below required service standards,” she noted. Of the multinational’s PNG operations, Coca Cola noticed “strong growth in volumes and earnings” in all sectors of trading during the year.

While neighbouring Indonesia was plagued by falling currency and a chronic competitive market, PNG managed to power away to high growth with a recent upsurge in investments in the resources sector in 2014. PNG delivered a volume growth of 22.2 per cent during the year. Earnings in Fiji for the country’s rum production and sales of imported Australian soft drink sector increased by 12 per cent during the same period while New Zealand experienced a poor, weather-affected start to the year and as such faced a downturn in trading.

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