SUNBIZ

Charan Jeath Singh Determined To Grow Labasa Into A Thriving Economy

The North economy had come to a standstill. Shops would close before 5pm and there was almost zero activity at night.
07 Aug 2019 14:33
Charan Jeath Singh Determined To Grow Labasa Into A Thriving Economy
The people of Labasa are fascinated with the escalator at the Gurbachan Singh Mall on August 6, 2019. Photo: Laisa Lui

He is known as the Emperor of Enterprise in the North.

Charan Jeath Singh believes that, as a son of Labasa, he has his obligation towards ensuring that he does his part in growing the once stagnant and declining economy in Labasa.

As a result of that earlier downturn in Labasa, a large amount of qualified young individuals continue to be part of the exodus to either Viti Levu or abroad.

Mr Singh’s latest injection into Labasa is a little over $6.5million – the Gurbachan Singh Mall and the two Life Cinemas.

“This is not a small investment and many people had asked as to why I was doing it in the North, why not in Suva, Lautoka or Nausori,” Mr Singh said.

Foundation

“The foundation of our business was laid by my father, the late Gurbachan Singh. The current location where the cinema and mall complex is where the old wooden supermarket was.”

North economy

The North economy had come to a standstill. Shops would close before 5pm and there was almost zero activity at night.

Things have changed. The mall opens until 9pm daily and the cinemas close around midnight. This has allowed people to be in Labasa until late.

In turn, businesses are also starting to open late as now there is profitability.

Sundays are no longer a scene from an old Western movie.

Mr Singh said this was the type of boost the economy in the North needed.

Work

He added the work on the shopping mall was not complete as there was going to be a gaming centre similar to the one in Suva.

“I have had this vision where I wanted to provide an environment for the people of Labasa that rivalled even the best in Fiji,” he said.

“For many years, our people would go to Suva and other places because there was nothing to be done in the North.

“Things are changing. And I am urging investors to seriously look at investing in Vanua Levu.”

Investment catalyst

According to Mr Singh, the previous ‘Look North Policy’ did not work because it did not address the right issues.

He said what needs to be looked at is factors that affect doing business in the North.

“I feel the biggest thing denting any chances of growth and creation of new industry is freight costs. Perhaps the Government can look at subsidising freight costs to Vanua Levu,” Mr Singh said.

Freight costs

“With freight costs, the cost of doing business is significantly higher than on Viti Levu.

“Why would someone build a factory here when the prices of raw materials are higher and returns far less.

“This is a pressing issue. If this is taken care of and few tax free zones developed, we can have a booming industry in the North with jobs created for many.”

Sugar refinery

Mr Singh is also backing the idea of making a sugar refinery in Labasa.

He said sugar was refined outside of Fiji and then Fijian companies imported it.

“We in Fiji have a large food manufacturing industry which uses refined sugar. Let us refine our own sugar.

“Let us do it in Labasa, because this is the ideal location for it,” he said.

“We can create employment for many and reduce production cost for the local manufacturers.”

Mr Singh’s own business empire is built on the supermarket business but over the years, property investments and into other industries have seen his empire grow.

He now wants that growth to happen in Labasa.

“As a son of Labasa, I believe we can grow, and contribute more to the nation,” he said.

A collector

It is also very hard not to notice the walls of the Gurbachan Singh Mall Complex.

They display hundreds of pictures showing what life in Labasa and Vanua Levu was like after colonisation, pre and post independence.

“I had been collecting these pictures for a long time and I put up a request to my friends and acquaintances on social media if they had historical pictures of Labasa,” he said.

“These pictures show what Labasa and Vanua Levu was and how far we have come from those days.

“I believe that we cannot forget our past or the contribution of our elders.

“I am hoping that the children get to know what Labasa was.”

Mr Singh is hoping that serious thought is given to Labasa and Vanua Levu because he believes opportunities still exist in the North.

Feedback: shalveen.chand@fijisun.com.fj

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