Best for the people

WHEN Ratu Kini Vosailagi took on the role of turaga na Tui Nalolo in 2014, he vowed to always do what was best for his people.

For about a decade there were divisions among the people of Nalolo, much of this conflict arising from the issues emerging out of a failed development project that started in 2004.

It was a project the six villages in the tikina had banked their future on, one that held the promise of employment for a lot of its people.

The project was a resort development at Momi Bay, Nadi, where the country’s superannuation body, the Fiji National Provident Fund, was a major partner.

Ratu Kini said it wasn’t easy winning the trust of landowning units — the Yavusa of Nalolo of Tau Village and neighbouring villages of Lomawai and Bavu — when the FNPF returned to re-engage and hold discussions on the project that had been abandoned a decade ago.

“People were conflicted because they didn’t know where to stand,” he said.

“Some were all for the development while others were reluctant because promises made long ago were never fulfilled.

“And their faith that such a project would ever be completed had waned, it felt like a pipedream.”

He said there were also recollections of past failures, largely dealing with a failed business set up by villagers when the project began in 2004.

The Vanua o Nalolo had started a company that operated as a subcontractor to the initial Momi Bay Development Project.

“The company was set up to generate income but this failed when the development failed.

“They had dump trucks and diggers (excavators) and they were working at the construction site.”

Matapo was the locally registered company linked to original investors Bridgecorp and the Fiji National Provident Fund.

FNPF and the Fiji Development Bank (FDB) had provided $80 million through a syndicated loan to Matapo while Bridgecorp provided an investment of $NZ106m ($F154m).

All plans and investments fell over in July 2007 when the project ceased. A large number of local creditors and suppliers suffered substantial losses, including the company set up by the vanua.

“There were a lot of hardships when the project stopped.

“You could tell there weren’t a lot of sound decisions made because the vanua company was in debt when the project was halted. They had a $600,000 debt.”

He added that in inheriting the role of chief in January 27, 2014, he also inherited a problem.

Other than having to work with a divided people, he also had to deal with a 107 hectare foreshore waterfront site which was a mixture of native land lease and freehold titles.

Sitting on this piece of land was 350 residential units. The site was also home to an incomplete golf course, hotel and resort.

The villagers were helpless because there was nothing they could do about it.

Even when the FNPF approached the vanua for redevelopment talks in 2014, villagers were unfazed.

They had lost all hope in the project and never believed it would be resurrected and redeveloped.

“Shortly after I was conferred the role, FNPF brought a tabua requesting to resume the project.

“It wasn’t easy getting people to agree on it because there were still mixed feelings about the original project.”

On November 13, 2014, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama officially launched the Momi Redevelopment Project.

He outlined in his speech that rehabilitation plans on the project began in 2010 with Government announcing a $150m investment into the redevelopment of Momi Bay.

Prior to this move by Government, the incomplete project was to have been auctioned off in 2009. But the highest bid for it was $41m, not enough to cover FNPF’s investment of $80m.

The FNPF board then made a decision in 2014 to pursue completion of the resort project. In that same year they selected Fletcher Construction Ltd as the primary contractor.

Fast forward two years, to Saturday April 8, 2017, and the Fiji Marriot Resort Momi Bay was officially opened by Prime Miniser Voreqe Bainimarama.

Ratu Kini said the event signalled renewed hope for the people of Nalolo District. At the time the resort opened its doors to the public, 47 people from the district were already employed at the resort.

He said the resort held a lot of promise for his people.

“There was a lot of trust lost among our own people.

“The success of today and this completed resort should not just be something to celebrate but should also serve as a reminder to the people of what happens when you decide to make your own decisions with a blatant disregard for others.

“There were those who pushed their own agenda in the original development and refused to work with the then Government.

“That was the result, a halted project and a significant amount of debt.

“We have come a long way since then and I believe this end product will help boost the confidence of our people and continue to show a united front in development projects in and around the tikina.”

He added they had already started to see benefits with the completion of village halls and the promise of continued employment.

FNPF board chairman Ajith Kodagoda in delivering his speech at the opening of the resort on April 8 reaffirmed that their dealings with the landowning units was a challenge.

“Taking physical possession of this property was also not an easy task as the landowner communities were also short-changed by the previous developer,” he said.

“In fact we had to overcome resistance and roadblocks as we went through a painful and frustration process of winning the confidence of landowners.

“We now have a cordial relationship with the landowner communities.”

FNPF built four village halls in the villages of Tau, Navutu, Bavu and Lomawai.

They successfully negotiated a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the tokatoka Nahau, the landowners of the Golf course.

They engaged Fiji National University to train 47 youths from the six villages at the cost of $100,000.

The fund also paid $1m in goodwill to the landowners to make good and complete the process of land swap.

Ratu Kini said the fund’s initiatives to make good on promises made previously was a sign of good things to come.

“Our villages didn’t have a village hall to begin with and when the plans fell through with the original project nothing was ever really done about it until now.

“I’m grateful for the assistance.

“We faced a tumultuous start but this is a promise of a better future not just for the people of Nalolo but for the whole of Fiji, particularly those who contribute to FNPF because they are the real owners of the Marriott.”

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