Government Acquisition Of Fiji Sugar Corporation Slammed By Union

Forced conversion of debt to shares could be unconstitutional: Chaudhry

By Felix Chaudhary

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 25, 2016) – Government's compulsory acquisition of the Fiji Sugar Corporation could be in contravention of the 2013 Constitution, says the National Farmers Union.

Union general secretary and former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry made the remarks during submissions to the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs on the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry Bill in Lautoka recently.

Under the Bill, which has been rejected outright by canegrowers, Government intends to convert a $175 million debt owed by the FSC into equity or shares. If passed, the Bill would give Government a 100 per cent stake in the miller.

"The compulsory acquisition of FSC shares without negotiating with shareholders has serious implications for investor confidence," Mr Chaudhry said.

"They are doing it to FSC today and could do it to other organisations tomorrow. We object strongly to Clause 84 of the Bill, which forces all shareholders of FSC, except the Government, to transfer their shares to the Government for a consideration yet to be decided, whether they agree or not. Private shareholders have not received any prior written notice of this scurrilous imposition on them.

"We point out that it constitutes an act of deprivation of private property by the State and may well constitute a contravention of Section 27 of the Constitution — freedom from compulsory or arbitrary acquisition of property."

Standing committee chairwoman Lorna Eden said the comments made by Mr Chaudhry were noted and would be used in a report to be tabled to Parliament.

[PIR editor's note: On May 25, 2016 Fiji Times reported that 'Goverment should leave the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) alone. ... This sentiment was shared by FSC shareholder Saimoni Lutu during his submission to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economic Affairs on the Reform of the Sugar Cane Industry Bill. ... Mr Lutu said Government support weakened FSC and it also undermined the strengths of the sugar industry.']

FSC has a 68.11 per cent stake in FSC followed by the FNPF with 16.99 per cent, FHL with 9 per cent, Unit Trust of Fiji with 0.84 per cent, Fijian Holdings Securities with 0.68 per cent, Colonial Mutual Life Assurance with 0.56 per cent, Sugar Cane Growers Council with 0.27 per cent, Ba Provincial Holdings with 0.23 per cent, Robert Lee 0.22 per cent, Reddys Enterprises with 0.17 per cent and other small shareholders.

Fiji Times Online.
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