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Source: FIJI DEVELOPMENT BANK
In the aftermath of the 1987 coup, many local businesses flipped into ‘panic mode’ and overseas investors lost confidence by either slowing down business operations or winding them up. Local businessman, Charan Jeath Singh did the opposite. He started investing.
Twenty five years later, this northern entrepreneur is the proud owner of 18 commercial and rental properties throughout Fiji under the Charan Jeath Singh Group of Companies.
The CJS Group’sfirst venture was the acquisition of a piece of land adjacent to the bus stand and municipal market in Labasa where Mr Singh established his first retail outlet under the brand name of Countdown Supermarket.
“I was given an opportunity to invest in Labasa, in prime land directly opposite the Labasa Market and bus stand where I went ahead and developed the first of our supermarket complexes together with three retail shops at a cost of half a million dollars,” Mr Singh said.
“The Fiji Development Bank was the principal financier in my first project and in the years following, the company grew with the help of FDB. As our company took on new projects, whenever we approached FDB, they always came up with best business deal that allowed my company to expand.”
Originally from Labasa, Mr Singh’s father, the late Gurbachan Singh came to Fiji in 1935from Jalandhar, Punjab, India. Mr Singh the elder worked in Suva and later in Labasa where he eventually started his own business in 1945.
The CJS Group includes the Friendly North Inn and the Grand Eastern Hotel in Labasa, the Lautoka Hotel as well as several prime real estate properties in Suva and Nadi. In addition, the company also operates pizzarias in Lautoka and Labasa.
The CJS Group manages all its different activities under various trading names such as Gurbachan’s Foodtown Ltd, Gosal Distributors – an importing and distributing arm of the Group, Orange Coast Investments Ltd which mainly concentrates on hospitality aspects of the business operating hotels and motels and the property division under Charan Katonivere Holdings Ltd. The Group is a major employer with more than 250 employers on the payroll of its various entities.
The Group recently ventured into cane farming by purchasing two sugarcane farms in Labasa. It has invested significant capital in upgrading the farming equipment which will allow it to not only improve the farm’s sugar cane crop but also the commercial farming of mixed vegetables which it will farm alongside.
“The cordial relationship that we enjoy with FDB has also enabled us to also develop an apartment complex in Disraeli Road in Suva and earlier this year we opened the first Waste Paper Recycling plant at Laucala Beach Estate also Suva.”
The waste paper recycling plant was financed under FDB’s Commercial Loans facility. This particular facility allows for the purchase of businesses, loan refinancing from other financial institutions, provision of working capital, refinance equity and the issue of Bank Guarantee and Bond. All loans under this facility are valued above $500,000.
The recycling plant is a first for Fiji and you may have heard of its main product – the NAMBAWAN brand of toilet tissue that is currently on supermarket shelves Fiji wide. In line with Government’s importation substitution initiative, this project is a first not only for Fiji but also the South Pacific region.
“Our factory collects all waste paper from printers and newspaper companies for processing. These old newspapers and waste paper were previously taken by them to the dump or burnt which is an environmental and pollution problem.”
According to a paper on Economic Opportunities in Waste Management in SIDS presented at the CSD Intersessional Conference on Building Partnerships for Moving Towards Zero Waste held in Tokyo, Japan in February, 2011, Professor Al Binger noted that in 2000, the total waste produced per person in Fiji, totaled 146kg annually. Of this approximately 10 to 15 per cent is waste paper. Twelve years on with a slightly bigger population, that figure is expected to be much higher.
NAMBAWAN is not only helping reduce the cost and environmental burden of solid waste disposal but it is providing a renewal and sustainable business alternative to Fiji’s solid waste management problem. It is an investment in Fiji’s future.
“The fact that we now manufacture our own toilet tissues here in Fiji means it is truly 100 per cent Fiji Made unlike toilet tissues sold by our competitors who bring in jumbo rolls from New Zealand and China, rewind and pack it in Fiji but claim that it is Fijian made.”
The opening of the recycling plant in January, helped create 35 new full-time jobs. In the three months that it has been in operation, NAMBAWAN has received a warm response from local retailers and consumers with many stating that it is good value for money. The next step is to look at exporting NAMBAWAN to other islands and territories in the region.
“In closing, I just want to say that the management and board of FDB have focused its banking needs towards the development of this nation and it is my belief that if they maintain this path Fiji will continue on the road to economic prosperity,” Mr Singh said.