The Peoples’ Coalition Cabinet held its 14th meeting this year.
The decisions made at the meeting of Cabinet include the following:
1.Reinstatement of Elections for the Sugar Cane Growers Council
Cabinet approved the reinstatement of elections for the Sugar Cane Growers Council (Council).
The Council was established under the Sugar Industry Act 1984 with responsibility to protect and promote the interests of registered cane growers.
The Council was dissolved in May 2009 and thereafter, the election of Councillors was discontinued.
Since then, growers are of view that their voices have been diluted and the appointment of Councillors by Government is not democratic. This affected grower prominence and contributions to the industry, hence, the need to reinstate the election of the Council by elections, as provided under the Act.
The Ministry of Sugar Industry (Ministry) will commence with the drafting of the election processes and facilitate appropriate amendments to the Sugar Industry Act 1984 (Cap 206) to effect the changes.
2.Fiji Rural Electrification Fund Support Project
Cabinet has endorsed the Fiji Rural Electrification Fund (FREF) Support Project Initiation Plan with UNDP.
The Fund was formally established by Government in 2017 to provide affordable, reliable, and renewable electricity for rural communities. The Fund is additional to the rural electrification program established in 1993 under a policy approved by Cabinet and funded by a subsidy allocated annually in the National Budget.
The Fund is designed as a ‘special purpose vehicle’ to enable greater public private partnerships to complement the Government’s renewable electrification initiatives delivered through the Department of Energy.
Since 2018, FREF has successfully electrified 47 households on Vio Island off the coast of Lautoka through the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation using a solar mini-grid system.
The micro-grid system uses a centralised mini solar plant to which all houses and public buildings (school and church) are connected using smart meters.
The smart meters enable FREF to remotely monitor the system, receive real-time usage data, run diagnostics and ensure that energy usage does not exceed feasible usage.
The FREF secretariat services and its Trust Fund management which is currently with the Climate Change Division, will be transferred to the Department of Energy.
The transfer would enable faster facilitation of technical work, build capacity for the Department of Energy staff who will be working with UNDP personnel, and help apply risk informed approaches to building rural mini grids.
The FREF Constitution will also be revised to improve coordination with existing rural development and gender empowerment initiatives.
3.Fiji National Education Summit
The 2023 Fiji National Education Summit will be held from 19 – 22 September..
Cabinet was briefed on the preparatory works undertaken for thehosting of the Summit. A series of pre-summit consultations took place with the wider community in the four education divisions representing nine education districts.
These consultations led to the identification of issues raised by stakeholders which will be the core focus of the Summit under key thematic areas.
The key thematic areas to be discussed at the Summit are as follows:
• Curriculum & Sustainable Development and Quality Assurance and Assessment systems;
• Teaching Profession and Leadership;
• Early Childhood Education, Inclusive Education, Access, Equitable, Safe & Healthy Schools;
• Financing of Education and Effective Governance;
• Technical, Vocational Education & Training, Non-formal and Lifelong Learning;
• Digital Learning and Transformation, Information Technology and Cyber Safety; and
• Education Policy, Planning, Research and Data.
Cabinet had earlier agreed that the Summit be held in August.
4.Fiji National Offshore Fishing Crew Policy
Cabinet approved the Fiji National Offshore Fishing Crew Policy.
The Policy is aimed at:
• improving the safety and working conditions for fishers on board Fiji licensed and Fiji flagged offshore fishing vessels;
• increasing local employment opportunities in the fishing industry; and
• a strong and well established, regulated and sustainable industry that will contribute to the social and economic development of Fiji.
The Policy is aimed at ensuring that fishing and related activities not only conform to national labour and crewing legal instruments but also meet international obligations including ILO Conventions and other relevant Treaties that Fiji is a party to, whilst promoting the sustainable development of the industry that supports safe and fair employment.
The Policy does not apply to foreign fishing vessels that are not licensed by Fiji.
The Policy will be implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries.
5.State Lands (Amendment) Bill 2023
Cabinet approved the State Lands (Amendment) Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill proposes to remove amendments made to the State Lands Act 1945 by the State Lands (Budget Amendment) Act 2021 (Act No. of 21 of 2021) and the State Lands (Amendment) Act 2022.
The Bill proposes to reinstate the authority of the Director of Lands as provided for initially under the State Lands Act 1945.
The amendments made by Act 21 of 2021 reduced the authority of the Director by allowing lessees to go directly to banks and lending institutions without obtaining consent from the Director to use a lease as security for borrowing. In addition, the revenue generated from application fee for consent required by the Director decreased drastically.
The amendments made by Act No. 26 of 2022 also undermined the authority of the Director to decide on State lands and its effective administration.
The Bill has been amended following extensive consultationswith stakeholders, and will be tabled in Parliament.
6.Higher Salaries Commission Bill 2023
Cabinet approved the Higher Salaries Commission Bill 2023.
The Bill re-establishes the Higher Salaries Commission.
The Higher Salaries Commission will act as an independent central coordination mechanism for the determination of salaries of top executive positions in government controlled companies, statutory organisations, and authorities.
Cabinet approved the Bill subject to a few amendments to be undertaken by the Office of the Solicitor General before it is tabled in Parliament.
7.Legal Profession and Practice Bill 2023
Cabinet endorsed the Legal Profession and Practice Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill is the outcome of the review of the Legal Practitioners Act 2009.
The Bill proposes to align the regulation of legal services to that of international best practice for the legal profession in Fiji.
8.High Court (Amendment) Bill 2023
Cabinet approved the High Court (Amendment) Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill is the outcome of the review on the establishment of the anti-corruption divisions at the High Court and Magistrates Court, respectively. The Bill proposes to repeal the establishment of special anti-corruption courts.
9.Drainage (Amendment) Bill 2023
Cabinet approved the Drainage (Amendment) Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill re-establishes drainage boards under the Drainage Act 1961.
Drainage boards will ensure that drains in the central, western and northern divisions perform to their design capacity to allow for the free flow of water during peak discharge period.
This will allow for better management and maintenance of current drainage systems, minimise flooding and help safeguard people, property and infrastructure.
The re-establishment of Divisional Drainage Boards is anticipated to improve the timeliness and delivery of services including the maintenance and improvement of drainage areas.
The Drainage (Amendment) Bill 2023 will be tabled in Parliament.
10.Heritage Bill 2023
Cabinet approved the Heritage Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill has been developed to give local application in domestic law to the UNESCO Convention and to provide systematic protection to Fiji’s natural and cultural heritage.
Despite the existence of some laws that protect Fiji’s natural and cultural heritage, there is no law that recognises World Heritage pursuant to the UNESCO Convention. Additionally, there are no laws to protect places that have the potential to be nominated to the World Heritage List.
The Bill aims to provide for:
(i) the recognition and management of places with potential and actual world heritage values,
(ii) establish the Fiji Heritage Council,
(iii) establish the Fiji Heritage Register,
(iv) provide for the management and operating trust funds for places registered under the Fiji Heritage Register and
(v) provide for other matters necessary for the administration of the new legislation.
The Bill will be tabled in Parliament.
11.Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2023 to reinstate retirement age of 60 years for municipal workers
Cabinet approved the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2023 for tabling in Parliament.
The Bill proposes to amend section 35 of the Local Government Act 1972 in relation to the retirement age of officers and servants of municipal councils.
The Bill proposes to amend the retirement age to 60 years by deleting “55” and substituting it with “60” in section 35 of the Act.
The Bill also proposes to amend section 78 of the Local Government Act 1972 to change the form of interest from compound interest on overdue rates to simple interest and for the rate of interest to be prescribed by regulations.
The proposed amendment to Section 78 of the Act will reflect the change from compound to simple interest and overdue rates shall bear interest of 5% instead of 11%. This is to match the interest charged on loans by banks in Fiji.
The rationale for reducing interest rate and to make it simple is for better collection of rates.
At present, a number of Councils are reliant on the National Budget for funding of capital projects, Special Administrator Allowances, and Chief Executive Officer’s salary. It is anticipated that improvement in rate collection will improve revenue collection and eventually reduce dependency on the National Budget.
The Bill will be tabled at the next sitting of Parliament.
12.Aircraft Accident Investigation Report – Robinson 44 Raven Ii Helicopter DQ-HPT
Cabinet approved the release of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Report involving the Robinson 44 Raven II helicopter with registration mark DQ-HPT which had an accident on 2 August 2019.
DQ-HPT crashed near the Western shoreline of Natewa Bay in Vanua Levu on 2 August 2019 while transporting a sick child and the mother from Naitauba Island to Labasa Hospital for surgery. There were no survivors.
On 4 August, 2019, the Minister responsible for Civil Aviation appointed Mr. Andrew McGregor (Investigator-in-charge), the Director of Prosolve Limited, based in New Zealand. Delays were encountered by the Investigator-in-Charge during the course of the investigation due to the pandemic which contributed to the slow progress of the investigation process.
The report and its key recommendations will be made public by the Minister responsible for Civil Aviation.
13.National Art Gallery
Cabinet approved the second development phase for the establishment of St. Stephen’s building as Fiji’s first National Art Gallery
A National Taskforce for the National Art Gallery will be appointed by the Minister for iTaukei Affairs, Culture, Heritage and Arts to oversee the establishment of the National Art Gallery.
$100,000 has been provided in the Ministry’s 2023-2024 approved Budget for this phase of the project.
14.Grant to ICT Business Programme
Cabinet endorsed the Policy Framework for the Grant to the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Business Programme.
In the 2023/2024 National Budget, $1.5 million was allocated to implement the programme called Grant to ICT Business. The intention of the grant is to entice larger Multi-National Enterprises (MNEs) to invest in and set up in Fiji.
The Digital Economy and the potential of digital transformation represent a significant avenue for Fiji’s economic development and fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals.
The proposed tailor–made programme will focus on quality and quantity of talent and developing our young workforce and providing opportunities for employment creation across the board.
A Committee will be established to assess and determine whether an outsourcing business qualifies for the incentive.
The Programme will include MNEs that account for corporate social responsibility (CSR), including environment sustainability.
Applications will be assessed based on significant economic value, expansion of the economic base, diversification, increasing local employment, demonstrating the benefits to the livelihood of the general population and ability to reposition Fiji as the regional hub.
15.Ratification of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies
Cabinet agreed that parliamentary ratification be undertaken for the partial Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (AFS).
AFS is the first WTO agreement that focuses on environmental sustainability and is a significant step towards ensuring the ocean’s sustainability, as it will tackle one of the key drivers of overfishing by curtailing trade distorting subsidies. Subsidies are payments made by nations to commercial fishing operators to keep those businesses profitable.
The partial Agreement prohibits certain fisheries subsidies in 3 situations:
Illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing (Article 3).
Fishing of overfished stocks (Article 4).
Fishing on unregulated high seas (Article 5.1).
Fisheries subsidies, if not disciplined, will contribute to overfishing, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries in our waters, thus leading to both environmental and economic harm and irreversible depletion of fish stock for the Pacific.
16.Fiji to Bid for Hosting of Festival of Pacific Arts
Cabinet agreed that Fiji submit its bid to be the back-up host for the 15th Festival of Pacific Arts (FESTPAC15) in case circumstances do not allow New Caledonia to host the festival in 2028.
Cabinet also agreed that Fiji place its bid to host the FESTPAC16 in 2032.
Fiji’s proposal to be the back-up host for FESTPAC15 and bid for FESTPAC16 is a strong signal to the region Fiji is ready to once again take a lead role in the regional cultural sector.
17.Feasibility Study for Medicinal Cannabis In Fiji
Cabinet agreed that a feasibility study be undertaken for the emerging market in medicinal cannabis in Fiji.
The feasibility study will be overseen by a Taskforce to be chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Communications.
Medicinal Cannabis is defined as the use of cannabis including constituents of cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids that are mainly used for the treatment, or symptom reduction, of a range of illnesses and conditions that are prescribed by the physician.
At present, there is no specific legislation for the cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis in Fiji.
The findings of the feasibility study and any subsequent proposed amendments to the law and the drafting of a new law in consultation with the Office of the Solicitor – General, will be brought back to Cabinet for decision.
The Ministry of Trade, Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Communications and Investment Fiji have so far received expression of interest from two foreign ventures for the construction of medicinal cannabis facility for confined extraction and manufacturing of medicinal cannabis.
18.Agreement on Defence Cooperation and Status of Forces between France and Fiji
Cabinet approved the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of the French Republic.
Military engagements between Fiji and the French Republic have been in existence since 1987. The relationship was suspended in 2000 fully restored in 2004 resulting in the commencement of training exercises between the two forces.
The Agreement provides a framework for cooperation and assistance through military exchanges and the sharing of expertise between the Republic of Fiji Military Force and the Defence Force of the French Republic.
The proposed areas of cooperation under the SOFA include:
• exchange of expertise and visits;
• provision of advice to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces on training plans, logistical support through operational instructions and technical instructions through the sharing of expertise;
• joint activities in the field of armament and defence technology and research;
• exchanges to enhance and broaden interaction between the two military cultures;
• provision of international humanitarian assistance;
• provision of emergency assistance; and
• other defence related cooperation activity as defined by mutual agreement between the parties.
The finer details of the Agreement in terms of the geographical framework, volume of participation, duration of any exercises and other technical aspect of this cooperation will be determined by the joint procedural document to be signed by both parties.
19.Update on Review of Fiji’s 4th Trade Policy at the World Trade Organisation
Cabinet was updated on Fiji’s 4th Trade Policy Review.
The Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM) was introduced in 1989 and then later established as an integral part of the WTO. It is a mandatory programme running throughout the work of the WTO which provides surveillance on members’ trade policies.
Fiji’s 4th TPR was a whole of Government approach undertaken with the support of Fiji’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva and other International Organisations (PRUNOG).
During the TPR, Fiji received widespread support and commendations from WTO members for its high-quality report, which provided comprehensive insights into Fiji’s trade and economic policies.