Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press Corps.
Thank you for being here to cover the announcement of key decisions made at the sixth meeting of the Peoples’ Coalition Cabinet held this morning Tuesday 11th April 2023.
Ni sa Bula Vina’a, Namaste and a very Good Afternoon to everyone tuning in via livestream, radio or television.
Welcome to this Post-Cabinet Press Conference which gives me the opportunity to announce decisions made by Cabinet today.
The decisions made today include the following:
1. Limited Twelve Month Amnesty on Interest Payable for Municipal Rates Arrears
Cabinet approved an amnesty period on interest payable from ratepayers in arrears.
The Amnesty is intended to facilitate the recovery of principal rates owed by residential rate payers.
This amnesty will be implemented in phases.
Phase 1 will be effective from 1 January 2023 to 31 July 2023. Based on the collection of rates in Phase 1, Phase 2 will then be effective from 1st August 2023 to 31st December 2023.
Government recognises that owners of residential property face difficulties in paying rates due to reduced household income. Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic saw many workers losing their jobs, or working reduced hours, reducing household income.
The 11% compound interest rate applied annually under the Local Government Act increases difficulties faced by Ratepayers.
The Ministry of Local Government will also review the compound interest rate set at 11% and carry out consultations to ensure interest levied is fair to ratepayers.
2. Re-establishment of Board of Governors for Government Schools
Cabinet today approved the re-establishment of Board of Governors for thirteen (13) Government
The role of this Board is to provide effective oversight into the management and governance of a Government school.
The Board of Governors were abolished in 2015.
They are being re-established for two (2) primary and eleven (11) secondary schools:
(i) Delainamasi Government School,
(ii) Natabua Primary School,
(iii) Adi Cakobau School,
(iv) Bucalevu Secondary School,
(v) Labasa College,
(vi) Levuka Public School,
(vii) Nasinu Secondary School,
(viii) Natabua High School,
(ix) Queen Victoria School,
(x) Ratu Kadavulevu School,
(xi) Sila Central School,
(xii) Suva Grammar School and
(xiii) Vunisea Secondary School.
3. Review of Name Change Laws
Cabinet approved the review of the name change policy implemented by amendments to the Interpretation Act and the Electoral (Registration of Voters) Act 2012 (Acts) in 2021.
The Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice will carry out public consultations on the change of the law in 2021.
The Review underscores the Coalition Government’s commitment to re-evaluate laws enacted without adequate public consultations and deemed undemocratic.
4. The Fiji Law Reform Commission
Cabinet approved the re-establishment of the Fiji Law Reform Commission.
The Commission was initially established by legislation in 1979 under the Fiji Law Reform Commission Act.
Its role is to undertake systematic review, reform and development of laws to make them simple, improved and modern and relevant to our society.
The Commission has not been fully functional since 2006 and currently operates as part of the Legal Drafting Department in the AG’s Office.
The Coalition Government policy is to re-establish the Commission fully, in order that it is able to carry out its functions as required by law.
Cabinet therefore approved the re-establishment of the Commission, and the allocation of appropriate funding through the normal budgetary process.
5. Progress on Digitisation of Legal Registries in the Ministry of Justice
Cabinet was updated on the status of the digitisation of legal registries within the Ministry of Justice.
The registries include the:
– Office of the Registrar of Titles,
– Office of the Official Receiver,
– Registrar of Companies, and
– the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages.
The registries have manual records dating back to the 1800s and it is important to preserve the records digitally and at the same time provide efficient and reliable services with the use of modern technology.
The Ministry of Justice will undertake consultations with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communications and key stakeholders to complete the digitisation project.
6. Second Amendment to the Grant Agreement on Phase II of the Rehabilitation of Queen Victoria School
Cabinet approved the second amendment to the Grant Agreement (Agreement) with the Government of the Republic of Indonesia, in relation to Phase II of the rehabilitation of Queen Victoria School.
The amendment will extend the duration of Phase II from 31st December 2022 to 31st July 2023.
Currently, construction is at its finishing stages with the structural shell completed, including installation of roof framing for the school.
7. A Legislative Framework for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expression
Cabinet endorsed the development of a legislative framework to protect traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression.
Comprehensive consultations for the protection of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression (TK and TCE) will be led by the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General.
Traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression have far reaching implications for owners of traditional intellectual property.
The legal framework to protect traditional knowledge and cultural expression is intended to prevent the abuse and exploitation of cultural heritage.
8. Review of Nightclub Opening Hours
Cabinet approved the review of the opening hours of nightclubs vis-à-vis the permitted hours during which liquor can be sold.
Currently, nightclub opening hours are authorised from 5pm to 5am for designated zones.
In recent years, there have been numerous reports of brawls, robberies and attacks in areas around nightclubs in designated zones in the early hours. This has also resulted in loss of lives.
The Fiji Police Force made submissions for review of the opening hours for nightclubs given ongoing assaults, violence and robberies are cause for concern and pose a risk to the safety of citizens.
The review team will include representatives from the Home Affairs Ministry and the AG’s Office.
9. Education Commission
Cabinet approved preparatory works for the establishment of an Education Commission to carry out a holistic review of our education system.
This is a major undertaking of the People’s Coalition Government to review the entire education system.
The Commission will make recommendations to:
(i) improve the quality of teaching and leadership in schools, and
(ii) ensure the curriculum meets the needs of our labour market.
The Ministry of Education, in consultation with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Solicitor – General’s Office, will develop a Terms of Reference for the Commission. The Draft TOR will be published for the views of members of the public.
The final Terms of Reference will be brought back to Cabinet for endorsement.
Membership of the Commission will be determined through an inter-ministry consultative process.
I will keep you informed on the progress of the establishment of the Education Commission.
10. National Education Summit 2023
Cabinet agreed that the National Education Summit be convened in the next financial year.
The Summit will bring together a wide range of stakeholders from government, non-government organisations, civil society organisations, communities, provincial administrators, faith-based organisations, industries and employers and individuals with experience in the education sector.
The Ministry of Education will work closely with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance on preparatory work for the Summit.
11. Vanua Levu Tourism Development Programme
Cabinet approved the institutional mechanism for the Tourism Development Programme in Vanua Levu.
The Programme aims to build sustainable economic growth in Vanua Levu through:
– destination development,
– investments in resilient infrastructure and essential services,
– an improved tourism enabling environment, and
– institutional coordination.
The World Bank (WB), at the request of the Government of Fiji, is providing financing, through its International Development Association (IDA) facility, to support integrated, resilient, and sustainable tourism development in Vanua Levu.
12. Proposal to develop Seaweed Farming Sector
Cabinet was updated today on seaweed farming development by the Ministry of Fisheries.
Seaweed production is a viable income generating activity to reduce poverty for our coastal inhabitants.
The Ministry of Fisheries will be engaging with other Government ministries, industry stakeholders and communities to coordinate efforts in this regard.
13. Review of the Inshore Fisheries License Regime
Cabinet agreed that the Ministry of Fisheries undertake extensive consultations on fishing permit and license processes.
Nationwide consultations will be undertaken by the Ministry of Fisheries following which a practical mechanism for the administration of the inshore fisheries licencing regime will be established.
14. Review of Immigration Act 2003
Cabinet approved a holistic review of the Immigration Act 2003 as amended, be carried out by the AG’s Office in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The Act provides the regulation of individuals entering or transiting Fiji and the purposes for such travel.
The Review team will include representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, Fiji Revenue and Customs Service and the Office of the Attorney-General.