Analysis

Nemani Delaibatiki: Kumar Spends 1st 12 Months Streamlining Policies, Systems

Easy to do business and making municipalities more efficient are two of her top priorities. Her multiple portfolios comprising Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development keep her busy.
19 Nov 2019 11:02
Nemani Delaibatiki: Kumar Spends 1st 12 Months Streamlining Policies, Systems
Premila Kumar

Analysis:

When Premila Kumar was appointed a minister for multiple portfolios after winning her seat in Parliament in the 2018 election, some wondered whether she would be able to cope.

She was new to politics. Many knew her only as of the former Chief executive officer of the Consumer Council of Fiji.

It was a huge leap from the council to cabinet let alone the multiple portfolios – and these are big responsibilities.

A professional

Many might have not known that, according to her professional records, she has had a diverse professional life. This experience has shaped her perspective and commitment to empower and protect ordinary Fijians. Given the fact that she had no political experience prior to the 2018 election, Ms Kumar has done extremely well. While it is difficult to quantify everything, she has achieved in 12 months it is fair to say that she has been working hard to streamline the existing systems, processes and structures with her portfolios.

It means knocking back some of the bureaucratic red tapes that is a hindrance to investment and doing business generally.

Ease of doing business

In September, Ms Kumar was in New Zealand meeting with her counterpart David Parker. Ms Kumar expressed her desire that Fiji be like NZ when it comes to ease of doing business.

She said: “Currently, New Zealand is leading the world when it comes to ease of doing business and this is an area we can learn from New Zealand. New Zealand is one of Fiji’s largest trade and investment partners and the two countries work closely together in areas of mutual interest.”

PACER Plus

She has been talking to Fiji’s other trading partners including Australia.

On Australia and New Zealand, one of her big challenges is the continuing talks on the PACER Plus (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations).

Fiji wants an agreement that is fair to all not favouring only Australia and New Zealand. Ms Kumar has been pushing for more Fijian exports to New Zealand.

Experience

You get to understand Ms Kumar’s scope of experience from the different careers she has had before entering politics, which have stood her in good stead in her current role as a minister with multiple portfolios covering industry, trade, tourism local government, housing and community development.

Her personal records show that she started her career as a biology and chemistry teacher. She obtained her Master of Science degree in the area of Trade and Environment (with Distinction) from the Netherlands. She also has a Bachelor of Science degree (First Division) from India, Post Graduate Diploma in Biology and Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of the South Pacific.

She quickly rose through the ranks of the education sector before transitioning to policy, serving as a Government environmental advocate, and later, she became an investment manager at the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Bureau (now Investment Fiji).

Consumer Council of Fiji

She then moved on to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Consumer Council of Fiji, a leadership role that she held for over 12 years –– earning her the reputation of a staunch consumer advocate throughout Fiji and the Pacific.

Ms Kumar transformed the council into a high-profile powerhouse for consumer rights. She quickly became known for boldly and directly taking on challenges on behalf of Fijian families, and effectively fighting for meaningful change by lobbying Government to break up business practices that she uncovered to be unethical and lacking transparency. Notably, she led recent groundbreaking campaigns on accident compensation, restaurant grading, and affordable housing and medication, to name just a few.

Minister Kumar

As a minister, she is now implementing this mission, which is consistent with Governments policies now to lead and institute policy reform from the front lines. Today, her work continues to be rooted by her mantra: “I am not against business, but against bad business.”

As the head of the newly-realigned Ministry of Housing and Community Development, Ms Kumar has been working to leverage her extensive experience with landlord-tenant issues as a powerful proponent of affordable housing throughout Fiji, particularly in the nation’s quickly-growing urban and peri-urban areas.

Her background in environmentalism and sustainable development is progressing Government’s mission to make Fijian communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate.

Within the Ministry of Local Government, Ms Kumar is working to replicate the newfound transparency and accountability she brought to Fiji’s businesses in the nation’s many municipalities, pressing for a CEO-mentality from community leaders that will ensure every dollar of taxpayer money is both prudently allocated and accounted for.

Her recent move to eliminate illegal roadside stalls for vendors is part of her move to clean up local governments and their activities.

We can expect that in the next 12 months; we will start to see the fruition of some of her efforts.

Feedbacknemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj




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