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Debt-free Fiji Pine pays millions to landowners, commits to Fiji’s tree planting effort

The following is a speech by the Prime Minister and Minister for Forestry Hon. Voreqe Bainimarama at the Fiji Pine 2022 Lease Security Bonus Payment in Drasa, Lautoka.

Na Gone Turaga na Tui Vitogo;
Na Gone Turaga na Tui Nasesevia;
Na Gone Turaga na Tui Nalolo;
Na Gone Turaga na Tui Ba;
Na Gone Turaga na Tui Vatu
The Pine Landowners, Stakeholders, Board of Directors,
Management, Employees of Fiji Pine Group;
Ladies and Gentlemen. Bula Vinaka and good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be back in Drasa.
Today, we add another six million dollars to the tens of millions of dollars that have been paid to landowners since Fiji Pine introduced lease security bonuses –– making for $36.5m in dividend payments to landowners over nine consecutive years.
 Even after the worst cyclone that Fiji has ever endured, Fiji Pine delivered you these dividends. And even in a year defined by a global pandemic, when the world economy was at its knees, this Industry stood tall and you, our landowners, have shared the benefits –– millions of more dollars are going into your pockets to support your families and develop your communities in recognition of your partnership with Fiji Pine.

Building back 
Most of you have been part of this Industry for years. You can recall the stark difference between this success and this Industry’s struggles in the not-so-distant past.
Just over a decade ago, Fiji’s Pine Industry struggled to stay solvent due to a volatile cocktail of rampant corruption and terrible management. Fiji’s soil was not any poorer in 2010 than it is now and our timber was not of any lesser quality. Still, Fiji Pine’s management at that time inexcusably failed to turn a profit and they could not pay you a single dollar in dividends. That failure extended across every horizon –– they could not run the business in the short-term or even plant sufficient pine to guarantee this Industry’s future. Their level of mismanagement was among the worst leadership failures since the loss of Fiji’s National Bank. Except for this time, my Government was there to stem the bleeding.  We stepped in to save this Industry from collapse with commercial savvy and merit-appointed leadership who helped us right the ship.
And these nine straight years of dividend payments are a direct result of the merit-based managerial excellence that has produced Fiji Pine’s commercial success –– the right people, in the right positions, have delivered tremendous results.

Achieving debt-free
Despite that success, we’ve never rested on our laurels. Just last year we carried out another series of major reforms at the Fiji Pine Trust to root out stubborn vestiges of corruption and abuse – including from the Forest Base Companies and Forest Base Trusts. We’ve cleaned things up at the Trust in direct and exhaustive consultations with landowners. The Trust is more transparent and it serves landowners equally, in accordance with the law, without playing favourites. No one can bulldoze their way to extra advantage simply because of their status. Those days are over, and they will never come back, so long as we are your Government. 
The corruption that we’ve rooted out within the Trust was a blight in an otherwise stellar year for performance. Again, let’s remember these was achieved amid the global crisis of the pandemic.
For the first time in history, the Fiji Pine Group is debt-free after making a lump sum payment of $2.2M to the Fijian Government to repay a loan taken out in the 1990s.
Profits in the 2021 Financial Year were the highest ever –– coming in at $41.88M.
Over $867,000 was paid in stumpage to landowners in Nasarawaqa.

Reforestation targets
We planted 4,236 hectares of pine –– a new single-year record. We have planted a total of 21,230 hectares of pine since 2011. And this year, we are committed to planting another 7,200 hectares of pine.
A new nursery with a seedling capacity of one million was set-up opposite this factory.
After a concerted effort to revive forest stations, stations within all six forest areas now manage their operations and are fully equipped with tools, technology and human resources to offer reliable and quality services to landowners.

Community engagement
Since we introduced the Landowner Community Development Fund last year, we’ve funded training programs as well as water projects, solar installations and other development initiatives in landowning communities. Kubulau Villages is the latest to receive solar power.
Two years ago, we set-up a Landowner Consultation Division that has deepened and broadened consultations with your communities.
Sawn timber has become a branded Fijian Product and expanded into new export markets.
Drasa will soon have a brand-new sawmill to process larger diameter logs that cannot be processed at the existing mill. Two brand new kilns for timber-drying are on the way as well.
Most importantly, as of today, we have planted 15 million new trees in less than four years.
My political opponents love to talk about the number of years I’ve served as your Prime Minister. What they will refuse to admit is that those years have been the best our Pine Industry has ever had. Despite serious challenges, like Cyclone Winston and the pandemic, we have not only set but kept this Industry on the path of profitability.
In addition to record-breaking dividend payments, we’ve paid fair and reliable returns to landowners. A lease premium of 20 Dollars per hectare is paid at the time of leasing land, 14 dollars is paid per hectare in annual rent, and stumpage of 12% is paid when trees are harvested in addition to benefits through the Landowner Community Development Fund and operational costs that Fiji Pine covers itself. This all continued through the pandemic. 
Fiji Pine kept paying dividends, it kept employing its workers –– even paying bonuses –– it kept planting trees, it continued investing in infrastructure and even installed satellite internet in remote communities so that students could access educational materials even when schools closed.
That, my friends, is a genuine commitment. It shows this enterprise isn’t only solely on making and sharing its profits –– it is about forging partnerships and sharing prosperity with your communities.

Partnership with Fijian, Fijiana Drua
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Pine Group is also making investments towards operating its own logging, roading and cartage machinery to guarantee supply chain security and lend greater efficiency. Fiji Pine also will continue to diversify its global customer-base in the year ahead. We’re looking at potential markets closer to home, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, and in the Pacific, where we can market world-class timber with local roots, literally.
Tropik Wood will lead that marketing effort, and I’m excited to announce today that they’ve found a perfect Pacific partner –– our Fijian Drua and Fijiana Drua.
Now when our Drua competes in front of in-person and television audiences across the region, Tropik Wood will receive some of the best exposure that money can buy, with their brand proudly displayed whenever, and wherever, our Champion Fijiana Drua take the field or our Fijian Drua feature in Super Rugby Pacific. Your brand of Fijian-made quality has never had a bigger stage. And your future has never looked brighter.
A sustainable Pine Industry is a great thing for you, and it is great for the country and the planet, because forest serve a climate-regulating role by capturing carbon, thereby stabilizing the climate.  On the course that we’ve set, our Pine Industry’s best years are most certainly ahead. Together, we’ve righted this ship. We owe it to your children and their children, and to every future Fijian, to keep the course that we’ve set.
Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you.

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