THE Fiji Labour Party claims rising poverty levels, unemployment and high living costs are forcing the people of Labasa to relocate to Viti Levu in search of a better life.
After meeting people in the two towns last weekend, party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said the situation in Labasa and Savusavu towns was quite worrying.
"Labasa can be easily tagged an economically depressed zone. It is depopulating with an estimated exodus of around 3000 people annually to Viti Levu. A smaller number is resettling in Savusavu or Taveuni," Mr Chaudhry claimed.
"The sugar industry is down by almost 50 per cent with the crop size reduced from 770,000 tonnes in 2006 to 530,000 tonnes in 2012.
"Timber milling has suffered as a result of short supply of logs.
"About 500 timber workers have been laid-off since late last year due to the slump, adding to the already high rate of unemployment."
Mr Chaudhry claimed high fees and charges levied by certain authorities were stifling investment, saying many businesses had closed or downsized because of over-regulation. "Labasa is being strangled through a lack of investment and economic activity to sustain its people. The high cost of food and other basic household goods are adding to push factors, forcing people to resettle elsewhere in search of a better life."
But acting Commissioner Northern Alipate Bolalevu yesterday downplayed those claims saying they were not true.
"We just had a meeting with the various authorities on the extension of the Labasa Town boundary and it shows that there is growth in business here," he said.
"A new supermarket opened two months ago and there are plans to build a mall in town.
"The FNU has also been given 27 acres of land to build its complex in Labasa, which will see students staying here and studying instead of going to Suva for further studies."
Mr Bolalevu said the timber mills were operating well and there were plans to start a dairy industry in the North.
He said the Labasa mill recorded a good performance so far this year with 55,000 tonnes of sugar produced from 497,000 tonnes of cane.