Mar 18, 2019 Last Updated 1:19 AM, Mar 18, 2019

Fiji ’s industrial relations mechanisms have come under the spotlight yet again in a new International Labour Organisation report.

The Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, released in February addresses several issues that Fiji unions have raised with the ILO.

On the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, the report notes submissions from the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) dated from October 2017 and August 2018.

“The Government has not engaged in good faith to amend the legislation (Employment Relations Act 2016) to bring it into conformity with the Convention, and…the ERAB (Employment Relations Advisory Board) has not held meetings as agreed and has now been shut down without any review of the legislation or legislative amendment,” the ILO report notes.

FTUC’s submissions to the ILO also note restrictions placed on unions to organise demonstrations and hold meetings, and state that resolving disputes has become difficult, if not impossible.

“The Committee notes with concern the allegations of the FTUC that the Government has systematically dismantled tripartism by removing and/or replacing the tripartite representation on a number of bodies (including the ERAB, the Fiji National Provident Fund, the Fiji National University’s Training and Productivity Authority of Fiji, the Air Terminal Service and the Wages Councils) with its own nominees,” the ILO report. The ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations is urging the Fiji Government to take all necessary measures, including the reconvening of the Employment Relations Advisory Board.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress had also raised concerns with the ILO on prohibitions to organise meetings and rallies. “The Committee notes the FTUC’s allegations that permission for union meetings and public gatherings continues to be arbitrarily refused. It once again requests the Government to take the necessary measures to bring section 8 into line with the Convention by fully repealing or amending this provision

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FIJI’S Catholic Church will consider the closure of its schools and public protests if it cannot successfully resolve an impasse with the Ministry of Education over the appointment of school heads.

But any form of civil disobedience will be the final option for consideration only if three other proposals fail. Archbishop of Suva Dr Peter Loy Chong and church leaders met Education Permanent Secretary Alison Burchell early this month following the appointment of non-Catholics to head key church schools.

After raising objections publicly, Archbishop Chong proposed that meeting in an effort to find compromise.

After some heated discussions and the refusal of the Education Ministry to agree to common grounds, the Archbishop of Suva issued a statement where he asked for support and prayers “in this process of continued discernment.”

“Since there were strong reactions in social and mainstream media to the sudden appointments of non-Catholic principals to Catholic schools, particularly to Xavier College and St. Thomas’ High School, Archbishop Chong wrote a letter to the Minister for Education, Hon. Rosy Akbar, requesting that the two Monfort Brothers remain in their positions.

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A win for Fiji Times

Fiji’s High Court in a landmark decision last month cleared the Fiji Times of sedition charges and declared its three newspaper executives free men.

The fourth accused, a letter writer to the newspaper’s Fijian language weekly, Nai Lalakai was also acquitted.

Although the office of Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions wasted no time in announcing it was appealing, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe’s 27-page judgement does offers some clarity on what constitutes sedition and what does not.

He had relied on a 1992 Fiji Court of Appeal case between the state v Mua, at which the presiding judge panels of Fiji Court of Appeal President, Mr Justice Michael Helsham, Sir Moti Tikaram, and Mr Justice Gordon Ward elaborated on what sedition is.

“The purpose of the offence is to prevent any unlawful attacks on the tranquillity of the State but it is not intended to prevent legitimate political comment. Deeply held political convictions frequently provoke strong emotions but there is authority to show that even strong or intemperate words or actions may not demonstrate a seditious intention if done with the purpose of expressing legitimate disagreement with the government of the day in terms of paragraphs (a)-(d),” Judge Rajasinghe quoted from the Fiji Court of Appeal judgement.

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Power Sale Blackout

Critics decry ‘secrecy’ in sale of Fiji’s power utility

Why the rush and secrecy behind the sale of Fiji’s power utility?

This is the question on the lips of some commentators including politicians in Fiji as its government shuffles the papers to sell off 49 per cent of the currently 100 per cent state-owned Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) now renamed Energy Fiji Ltd (EFL).

“There is a lot of confusion and a lack of clarity on the position of government with regard to the corporatisation or privatisation of FEA due to the lack of consultation with all relevant stakeholders including the landowners (resource owners),” said former Prime Minister now leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Sitiveni Rabuka in a statement last month.

“Whilst I support the corporatisation and privatisation of government statutory bodies to become more efficient, effective and become self-financing in their respective operation, we must ensure that the process adopted is transparent and dialogue and consultation with all stakeholdPower Sale Blackout Critics decry ‘secrecy’ in sale of Fiji’s power utility By Dionisia Tabureguci ers undertaken to minimise any risk or future ramification on government’s overall budget. At the same time, the reform must be relevant and practical to meet the needs of the people rather than become an additional burden to government and result in higher costs to consumers. We must also be practical in the sequencing and timing of the corporatisation process,” he added.

The recently corporatised entity has been the subject of ongoing concerns among political parties and civil society groups who are not satisfied with the way it is being put to the market.

They believe crucial information that should be shared with the public have been intentionally withheld, needlessly creating a foggy picture of the divestment exercise.

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Fiji’s going Green on Bonds

In October last year, Fiji made a historic series of firsts in the international financial markets. It became the first emerging economy, first Commonwealth economy and the first economy in the southern hemisphere to issue a sovereign green bond in a bid to raise F$100 million to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. The offer received ‘overwhelming support’ from domestic and international investors and uptake was described as “unprecedented.” By the time it was listed on the London Stock Exchange in April, more countries had joined the green bond party with issuance of their own for all sorts of climate mitigation and green-related reasons. In Fiji’s case, the government was assisted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), IFC’s sister organisation the World Bank and the government of Australia. From the World Bank, Senior Finance Sector Specialist Aaron Levine worked closely with Team Fiji, to put the bond offering together and take it to market. Islands Business (IB) spoke to Levine and IFC’s Country Manager, Australia, New Zealand, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, Thomas Jacobs about this much talked about event:

IB: How exactly did IFC assist Fiji in the green bond exercise?

Jacobs: The IFC has been working with Fiji Government with the support of the government of Australia in-depth for the past year on a partnership programme. What we’re trying to do is pull more private sector investments and long term investments into the country. Climate change is central to our programme and I think this specific project came out from a conversation between the central bank governor and IFC resident representative Deva De Silva on trying to come up with ideas on how IFC/World Bank can help Fiji channel finance from international and from local financial capacities to green bonds, in part as part of government’s programme as president of COP 23. Aaron will explain more the technical side.

Levine: This was the first time that any emerging economy issued a sovereign green b o n d b u t green bonds have been issued by organisations for several years now. IFC is one of the pioneer issuers. So we have expertise in the process of issuing. We helped (Fiji) establish a Green Bond steering committee that was chaired by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF). We helped develop a Green Bond Policy Framework. We helped identify the kinds of projects that might be eligible for the proceeds of the Green Bond. And we help them through that process of issuing right up through to the point where they get listed on the London Stock Exchange. And we provided a technical analysis on the merits of that. Right now, we’re helping them with monitoring how the money is being spent and issuing reports. So every year, they’ll issue a report on how the money is being spent and eventually what impact the green bond project have had.

IB: How do you identify ‘eligible projects’?

Levine: There’s an international set of principle called the Green Bond Principle that provide guidance on what categories of projects might be eligible and then that would match with Fiji’s priorities and needs under the government budget and so a list of projects have been identified by government. So, a good amount of time is needed to ensure that the money raised is actually matched towards projects that are actively being pursued.

IB: Fiji has traditionally issued Fiji-denominated bonds in the local market. Why go offshore now?

Levine: There’s a bigger picture here that you have to consider and that is that Fiji is the COP23 president. They’ve just got this unique role where they’re able to show global leadership on the climate front. And by listing on the London Stock Exchange, they’re showing the world that even small island nations like Fiji can be a player on the global financial stage.

IB: And do they get attention?

Levine: Oh yes they do. The response globally has been huge. I was at a London Green Bond conference featuring financiers and investors from all over the world and it (Fiji’s Green Bond) was particularly showcased at that conference. They won a Green Bond Pioneer Award

Jacobs: It really puts Fiji on the map in front of international investors’ eyes, who may not have known about Fiji, didn’t know how forward-thinking Fiji can be and now they have the opportunity, if they’re based in London, Europe or anywhere, if they want to take Fiji risk, if they want to invest in Fiji, they can go to the London stock market and buy directly. Of course at the moment, they’re doing that as an indirect investment but once they learn about Fiji, then maybe they’ll be inclined to actually come in in the form of foreign direct investment. So it really puts Fiji on the map in a way that wasn’t possible before this green bond, in international investors’ eyes.

IB: You were talking about monitoring – what does that involve?

Levine: IFC has been providing advice for Fiji on how they will implement monitoring and reporting. It’s the responsibility of the issuer. What they do is they agree that an external auditor will come in and check that the funds raised is used for the green purposes and then over time, start to take measures on what impacts those projects have had on the environment.

IB: Have you had any interest from other Pacific Island countries?

Levine: We have had interest from the North and the South Pacific. We wrote a guide to sovereign green bond issuance and that’s been distributed globally and in response to requests, further information have been provided, copied to that guide and we stand ready to provide support to any future transaction in green bonds.

IB: Any other general comments?

Levine: I want to acknowledge the leadership that the Government of Fiji has shown in this process and the support of the IFC/World Bank Group and the Government of Australia in helping us to do this and we see this as both the Fiji Government and Government of Australia are key partners and the IFC/WB just support the government and the private sector. It bodes very well for cooperation going forward to be able to find a robust programme of support to the private sector and of course a series of interventions in tourism, gender and special economic zones, investment, policy plus their own investment programmes so we think Fiji has done a fantastic job with this green bond.

Jacobs: Another crucial part of the equation here is that this green bond is part of the domestic capital markets development programme that IFC has initiated in Fiji to build up the long term financial capacity of the domestic capital markets, which really would be underpinned by these type of structures. So by doing this first bond together, we’ll be able to understand how that process works, so that when other investors, local investors primarily, want to raise long term funding from the capital markets, you have the processes, the legal and regulatory environment, you have the computer systems, the market knowledge to make these things happen and you’ll be able to build – not just to issue them but also the liquidity, to be able to buy and sell, and that would make the market much more attractive both to local and international investors who want to have that liquidity and who want to know that the system is safe and up to international standards.

IB: When does the money come in?

Levine: It’s coming in throughout the year and it’s being spent through the budget as we speak.

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