Early Debt Repayment Heralds New Beginning for Fiji Pine: Bainimarama

In a clear sign of the remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Fiji Pine, the state-owned enterprise has paid off a loan it recently secured from Government to clear a 28 year debt.

Just three months ago, Fiji Pine borrowed $2.4-million dollars from Government to finally settle a loan it obtained from the European Investment Bank in 1985.

Its recent financial performance has been such that the Executive Chairman of Fiji Pine, Faiz Khan, was today able to hand the money back when he presented a cheque for $2.4-million to the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Prime Minister commended Fiji Pine for the prompt repayment. “ I can’t recall another occasion when a state-owned enterprise has paid off an outstanding amount to Government so quickly. It’s a great credit to the Board, management and workers and a clear sign of the success of our reform program at Fiji Pine”, he said.

For his part, Mr Khan thanked the Prime Minister for the Government’s support, describing the repayment as a significant milestone “ Because of this assistance, we have been able to clear a debt that has been on our books for almost three decades. It marks a new beginning for Fiji Pine in that we can now put our focus firmly on the future growth of our businesses”, he said.

Mr Khan said Fiji Pine had long been burdened by past failures but was gradually turning its fortunes around and guaranteeing a sustainable future for the enterprise and its workers.

“We made record profits in 2011. And while we have endured an unprecedented slump in the wood chip market over the past 18 months, our marketing strategies will ensure more stable demand for our products into the future”, he said.

Mr Khan said Fiji Pine had transformed its operations at the Wairiki chip mill in Bua and had tackled the corruption, mismanagement and outmoded work practices that were holding it back.

“We have also revamped our nurseries and our planting programs. However, we are still a long way from where we want to be in terms of upgrading the capital we have in our forests, factories and workforce. Fiji Pine Limited, the holding company, had accumulated losses of around $130-million in its books as at December 2010. It is logic and common sense that a business cannot continue like this and will be doomed to fail if not corrected”, the Executive Chairman added.

Mr Khan said debt clearance remained a big priority for Fiji Pine but the Group’s debt burden had now been brought under control. “In the past two-and-half years, the Fiji Pine Group has serviced $25.3 million in debt and reduced our principal by $17.6-million. We still have $55.5m debt left in our books but we are now in a reasonably comfortable financial position where the debts are serviceable from our operations”, he said.

Mr Khan paid tribute to Fiji Pine’s workforce and said they could be proud of their own role in turning around the company’s fortunes. “For too long, we neglected our human assets. We are nothing without our workers and a large part of the credit belongs to them. So as well as providing them with new uniforms, we are currently spending $350,000 on new canteens to provide them with subsidized meals and improving their general work environment with new toilets and shower facilities. This is one of the most exciting priorities on our list of current work”, he said.

Fiji Pine workers were also singled out for praise by the Attorney General and Minister for Public Enterprises, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who said they had worked hard with the Board and  management to achieve  “an outstanding result”.

“What we are seeing is proof that our public enterprises can thrive if employees, management and Government work together cooperatively for the common good. This is all good news for those dependent on the industry and for the Fijian economy as a whole”, he said.