Opinion

SPEECH: 54TH AGM Of The Fiji Commerce And Employers Federation Dinner

The newly elected president,  Mr Himen Chandra The immediate past president, Mr Howard Politini Board Members of the Fiji Commerce and  Employers Federation Speakers, both international and local members, distinguished
05 Oct 2015 16:11
SPEECH: 54TH AGM Of The Fiji Commerce And Employers Federation Dinner
Newly appointed Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation Board president Himen Chandra (third from left), FCEF chief executive officer Nesbitt Hazelman (fifth from left), board member Eremasi Tamanisau (right) with guests at the Top Executives Conference at the Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa last Saturday night Photo: DEPTFO News

The newly elected president,  Mr Himen Chandra

The immediate past president, Mr Howard Politini

Board Members of the Fiji Commerce and  Employers Federation

Speakers, both international and local members, distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

 

Good evening, ni sa bulavinaka, salaam alaykum, namaste.

 

Congratulations on yet another very successful Top Executives Conference and the conclusion of the 54th AGM.

The 2015 Conference with the theme “Growth and Development, Partnership for Prosperity captures the upbeat mood of our country and acknowledges the importance of partnerships within the private sector, with Government and with the community at large.

In the recent years, Fiji prioritised the creation of an enabling environment for inclusive economic development. Government, for instance, made unprecedented capital investments to upgrade public utilities such as roads, water, sewerage, and public transportation.

It is also investing heavily in health and in human resources development and social initiatives such as free education, reforming the education policies and providing scholarships for tertiary studies. Government has and will continue to invest in legislative reforms to remove archaic and redundant laws and to implement legislation that help to facilitate economic growth.

Importantly, Government has always acknowledged the central role of the private sector as the engine of growth. This is not only reflected in the way Government facilitates the needs of the business community, but also in Government’s annual budgetary preparations.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji reported in June 2015 that investment activity is expected to be around 26 per cent of GDP. This will be the third consecutive year that investment levels will be above 25 per cent of GDP. Inflation has also slowed to 0.8 per cent from 2.4 per cent in March 2015. If this outcome is taken as an indicator, it could mean that Fiji is beginning to realize real improvements to livelihoods through the partnership between the private sector and Government.

 

Fiji needs a sustained economic growth of five percent to be able to create more jobs. It goes without saying that the private sector will continue to play a major role in this area.

 

Private sector

On this note, I encourage the private sector to also strengthen its partnership with Government in implementing social policy initiatives for the benefit of the marginalised communities and to promote their participation in business.

We have so far seen good examples with the empowerment of more women to actively participate in business. This was done through the co-operation of the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation with the Ministry of Women, Poverty and Social Welfare.

Two years ago, I launched the Women Entrepreneurs and Business Council within the ambits of the Federation. The WEBC advocates for and helps to develop women entrepreneurs in Fiji’s formal and informal sectors.

I had the pleasure last year of launching its Strategic Plan, which will take them through to 2016. I am happy to hear that the WEBC has this week launched its advocacy strategy pamphlet. Importantly, I am told that membership has grown exponentially as marginalised women find their niche within the council. Congratulations ladies for a job well done.

Fiji’s youth

I would like to encourage the Federation to also consider investing in Fiji’s young people. In the same way that you established the WEBC to promote the involvement of women in business, you could also establish a “Youth Entrepreneurs Council” to mentor and develop the entrepreneurial spirit of our youth.

Youth unemployment is hovering around eight to nine per cent. The private sector and Government needs to work together to create more employment opportunities for our young people.

We need to develop evidence-based and high impact policies and practical programme interventions that will ensure jobs and improvements in livelihood.

Ladies and gentlemen, approximately 400,000 of our population are economically active.

The formal workforce consists of approximately 130,000. Your contribution to generate more new jobs and self-employment can essentially be made in two ways:

Firstly, you need to continue the momentum by being creative, proactive, innovative, prompt, consistent and most importantly, customer oriented. You are experts in many of these traits. You are therefore in a position to provide good technical and professional advice on improving our entrepreneurship education programmes. These include the Know About Business (KAB) and Start Your Own Business (SYOB) programmes currently being delivered in 24 high schools and all TVET schools, respectively. In the long run, the net effect of these programmes will instill important business skills in young people while they are still in school, and which they can also use in other aspects of their lives. You will also help to create an entrepreneurial society.

Secondly, your existence and survival also means that you have overcome the barriers of starting a business. You are therefore in a good position to support entrepreneurship start-up programmes for out-of-school youths who are serious about venturing into self-employment.

These include entrepreneurial training, business mentoring, providing business development services and advocating for policy and legislative amendments to ease the financial and regulatory provisions for the entry of youths into business.

Among other benefits, this will also make entrepreneurship attractive and a real employment option for young people.

 

Government’s commitment

Government recognises the importance of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Sector or MSMES – given its potential contribution to employment creation for both rural and urban population, income generation and poverty alleviation.

This year, Government introduced an initiative through the small and micro business grant programme. This involves providing direct assistance of up to $1,000 to a qualified micro or small business entrepreneur to either start a business or expand their business.

The underlying concept is about igniting an enterprise culture in Fiji – to encourage more Fijians to open or grow their businesses. This sort of initiatives are important for the future of our nation as we can have a large segment of society who are not just merely seeking jobs, but are actually creating jobs for themselves and for others.

The present contribution of the small and micro business sector to our economy is 12 per cent or $800-million a year.

The day on which the Constitution came into force should be remembered and celebrated. We can increase this if we can better equip existing businesses and encourage other Fijians to start their own businesses. We are in fact helping them to help themselves. And in doing so, we are helping our economy to grow and to equitably spread our wealth.

I am informed that more than 2,000 small and micro entrepreneurs have so far benefited from this initiative, and it is estimated – based on an average recipient having five other members in their household – that more than 10,000 Fijians have been assisted either directly or indirectly.

We also acknowledge the support of the Government of India for its pledge to provide a $4.7million grant for this initiative. This will go towards helping the 7,661 successful applicants under the scheme. Government intends to continue this programme. Growing the economy and embedding investor confidence must be every single leader’s objective.

Both Government and the private sector must take a national approach to this.

We have had sustained and unprecedented economic growth rates in excess of 4 per cent for over 3 years. Our economy recorded a 5.3 per cent increase in growth in 2014.

Investment – particularly domestic investment – is booming. Construction is up, tourism is on the rise.

We have a healthy surplus in foreign exchange reserves, and job openings have increased substantially. This shows that Fijians are confident.

The private sector’s involvement in boosting international trade is of the utmost importance to Fiji’s economy.

Government will build on existing advantages in geographic location, regional transportation linkages and its proven credentials as a manufacturing hub supplying regional and international markets.

To ensure this, Government this year launched the Fijian Trade Policy Framework – a 10 year plan that represents our shared interest towards the common goal of improving our trade performance and enhancing Fiji’s position as the hub of the pacific.

As our nation capitalises on this upward trajectory, we must ensure that our economic growth is holistic, integrated, inclusive and – above all – sustainable.

In this regards, Fiji has developed its own green growth framework — a master plan that links economic growth and environmental protection and one that builds an economy that grows in a more intelligent way and nurtures the interests of all our citizens.

No project will proceed if it is not sustainable or if it jeopardises our natural resources in any way. We hold our resources in trust for future generations, and we will not squander them for short-term economic gain.

There is no doubt Government’s policies and initiatives and economic reforms are paying dividends. But we cannot rest on this. We must take it to the next step. It requires focus and hard work from everyone.

It requires a commitment to this national goal from your organisation, in fact from all of us.

 

Economic growth

Economic growth is a means to improving lives for all. It means prosperity for all and it means a brighter future for all Fijians.

All the great countries that we benchmark against have invested large amounts of monies into their physical and social infrastructure.

Allow me to speak briefly on an aspect of industrial relations, which I believe is a corner stone to your daily activities.

As the Federation, you represent the interests of business in so far as how you relate to labour and social policy at the national and international levels.

You play a crucial role in shaping a supportive environment for competitive, sustainable enterprises, which are essential for economic and social development.

You also provide services that improve and guide the individual performance of enterprises including promoting employee management cooperation, linking the wages to productivity, and the development of entrepreneurship in the small and medium industries.

As an employers’ organisations, you also play a critical role in any social dialogue process and you must also help to ensure that national social and economic objectives are properly and effectively formulated.

A case in point is the pivotal role you played in engaging with the International Labour Organisation and your tripartite members in assisting Fiji in avoiding a “Commission of Enquiry” in early March.

I trust that you will continue to engage with all social partners and that you will deliver a Joint Tripartite Report to the ILO before the governing body meets in November.

Strengthening tripartite and bipartite workplace relations are strategies that you can use within the tripartite mechanism to strengthen the capacities within your tripartite constituents, in particular workers’ and employers’ organisations, to engage in, and promote, the use of social dialogue to address workplace, as well as local and national socio-economic, concerns.

I applaud you for your publicly stated objective to continue engaging all the stakeholders.

This is a must in nation-building. AndI encourage you to continue to engage at every opportunity. You can choose to take the more cautious approach, which is used on the rugby field… Touch pause and engage.

But my point here is that we need to continually talk and strive to reach an outcome.

 

Hopes and dreams

Ladies and gentlemen in closing, I would like to add that as top executives in the private sector, you also carry the hopes and dreams of our nation.

You stand at the forefront of the struggles that are immense, challenging and fraught with difficulties.

For this reason, the responsibility you bear goes far beyond what top executives in most countries have to contend with. May you continue to strive for excellence in an environment that is free from corruption where we all – as a nation – emerge as winners.

Finally and on a more pleasant note I would like to say that after a strenuous exercise of looking for a name for the FEFA Partnership Building Complex, I now have the pleasure in announcing the FEFA partnership new identity ( pause new name flashed up on the screen)     “The Employers Hub”.

I wish the Federation well and every success in the years to come. My hearty congratulations once again to the new President and Board Members inducted at the AGM earlier today.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, sukria, bahoot dhanyavaad.

 




Fiji Sun Instagram
Fiji Plus
Subscribe-to-Newspaper