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Changing times

Felix Chaudhary
Wednesday, April 09, 2014

ONCE a thriving centre for industry and trade, the Old Capital is now a shadow of its former self and former mayor George Gibson believes a lot of it has to do with the people and dependence on one industry.

"The place hasn't changed much but people have," the 84-year-old said.

"The people that were the cornerstones of our economy are slowly going."

The carefree sprit that once engulfed Levuka has been replaced with a sense of quiet caution.

"We rely solely on PAFCO to keep our economy afloat and while there have been a number of new ventures since, like Taki Mai which produces bottled kava shots and tourism, there is an urgent need to diversify so that more jobs can be created.

"We also have to grow other industries so if something happens to PAFCO, Levuka does not go down with it."

The families of about 900 people are heavily dependent on the Pacific Fishing Company and about $300,000 is paid out in wages and salaries per month.

And despite the steady influx of money into the local economy, business owners in Levuka share Mr Gibson's sentiments.

Navin Vallabh, proprietor of Vallabh and Sons on Beach St — a general goods store that has been in business for 90 years — said when PAFCO closed in December last year because of an issue with the cooling system, Levuka came to a standstill.

"Business dropped, no cars were going on the road and people just relied on whatever they could pull out of their gardens or fish from the sea," the 69-year-old said.

"Luckily, most of us own the buildings we operate our businesses in. If we were renting, a lot of stores would have closed down."

Mr Vallabh believes that the answer lies in tourism.

"Once upon a time we had 52 pubs and a steady flow of people to the island, now we have a handful and visitors are mostly parents visiting their children at St John's College in Cawaci.

"If we can develop tourism, ancillary business will thrive, employment could be created and everyone will benefit."


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