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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 11) - The Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO), a Fiji government-owned company, has recorded a net profit of FJ$1.3 million [US$839,000] for the 2006 financial year.

The company has also declared FJ$445,000 [US$287,000] as dividend payment to its major shareholder.

The Levuka-based company also wants to be the first government commercial company to list on the South Pacific Stock Exchange.

[PIR editor’s note: Pacific Fishing Co. operates a tuna cannery in Levuka, the former capital of Fiji, located on the island of Ovalau]

PAFCO chairman Dhansukh Lal Bhikha said the idea to list on the SPSE was first floated in 2005, but was put on the backburner for a while.

He said the listing would enable greater stakeholder participation, including making PAFCO workers and the people of Lomaiviti shareholders in the company. He said the company was "finally reaping dividends" after seven years of hard work.

"We have turned around the company from a loss-making enterprise to a blue chip company," Mr. Bhikha.

"This is even more amazing because the company competes on a level playing field with every other commercial enterprise in Fiji."

During 2006, the company's revenues from exports were also hit by a weaker US dollar, he said. He said it was also affected by a "huge shortage" in the supply of raw fish in the second quarter, "due to local companies exporting unprocessed fish to our competition".

"Periodic shortages are normal, but this was unusual in the company's recent history as we had to stop production," Bhikha said.

He said the company is also not compensated by the Government for meeting the huge community social obligations to the people of Levuka and Ovalau and for the additional costs associated with operating out of Levuka.

He puts the cost of operating in Levuka as opposed to Suva at around an extra FJ$3 million annually. But he said PAFCO was committed to staying in Levuka and improving the economic and cultural quality of life for the people of Ovalau.

Bhikha said the company already provides employment for about 1,000 people in Levuka, including using local transport companies, people from the province and service providers.

"We also run a day care centre, kindergarten, laundry, gym and club for our workers," he said.

"We had a meeting recently with the new Interim Minister for Agriculture, Mr Jainend Kumar, and the Provincial Council to look into ways to facilitate local people in exporting their fresh produce to Viti Levu."

Bhikha said the challenge now was to ensure the economic viability of PAFCO on Ovalau by ensuring continued and sustainable profits.

"In my seven years as chairman, PAFCO has paid FJ$2 million in dividends to shareholders and a total of FJ$16 million as social costs."

The official handover of the dividend payment will take place shortly, he said.

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