|Q1. Mr. Punja,
you are one of the leaders of the industry
in Fiji after the Punjas Group split in 1998.
Could you explain to our readers how have
you achieved this in this last 4 years?
A1. The company did not split, I just
left it to start my own company. I joined
the Punja and Sons in 1960, when it was only
a store and I got the business into Manufacturing.
I was Chairman and Managing Director until
1998 when I started my own company. A research
shows that 90% of the family businesses collapse
as the 3rd generation takes over. That was
the 2nd generation of our business with five
brothers in. It was my long term plan to have
my own business as the family was growing
and my children were at University. I perceived
that with the 3rd generation the business
would not get along well and I had personal
businesses that were growing very well and
today it is quite a big company. I have a
market capitalization of about 80 million
FJD. At the moment the biggest company is
Flour Mills of Fiji but there are others like:
AtPack, Biscuit Co. of Fiji Ltd., our Rice
Company, etc. The biscuit company will be
closed in order to start a new one with a
10 million FJD investment which will be operating
mid this year.
Q2. You are one of the first Indo-Fijian
conglomerates to see the value of the SPSE
to raise capital and reduce risk by opening
to outside investors. Can you elaborate
about the situation of your companies in
the Stock Exchange?
A2. After I left the family company I
did not have much money so I chose the SPSE.
It has helped me and a lot in the process.
Flour Mills started in 1980, 1 FJD invested
in that day is worth now 55 FJD. In the stock
exchange, the companies are doing very well.
The current venture is very well catered locally
so it will not be needing any off-shore investor.
I do not have any problem raising funds. For
example, I floated the rice company in 1999
at 50 cents and today it is 2 FJD. Those people
who invested have done very well and I am
pleased with that. I would like to keep this
combination so I do not have any problems
raising the funds. My floats are always oversubscribed
in Fiji. We export two containers a month
to the US and to New Zealand. With the new
biscuit factory we will expand our markets
to the world but at the moment it is only
Australia and South Pacific region. The new
factory is modern, world standard, similar
to Arrnotts in Australia.
Q3. And what will be the main future
investments and development plans of the
group for the near future?
A3. As I tie up the current venture, I
intend to float a property company of about
15 acres of land in the city area in the stock
market late 2003.
| Q4. Mr. Punja,
the government has urged the private sector
to increase investments in order to have a
sustainable development in Fiji. What is your
opinion about this?
A4. The problem about the low rate of
investment in Fiji is not simple. I do not
think that the May 2000 coup decreased the
investments into Fiji. The investments were
decreasing well before the May 2000 coup.
The decrease in investments has happened because
global organizations like the World Trade
Organization has taken away the attractiveness
of investment into 3rd world countries. Most
of the 3rd world countries are suffering because
of the WTO. The WTO is a club of rich countries
and the developing countries are being screwed
by them. Fiji and a lot of developing countries
are caught in their web and there is no other
way out. Manufacturing based development is
totally impossible. For example I was fortunate
to have started my soap factory before the
WTO came into existence. I started with a
90% protection on duty of imported soap, today
it would be impossible because of the WTO
regulations. Today, the duty of soap is quite
low but we are established because we had
time. When WTO came thank God I was already
established, if not there would be no Punjas
& Sons Co. Ltd.. In order to increase
the GDP now we have to fight, we must forget
about the industries because of WTO rules,
industries are now a monopoly of WTO. Fiji
should identify the things we have and develop
them, for instance the tourism industry, the
forest and timber industries, the fishery
and its small but skilled labour force.
Q5. Mr. Punja, since May 2000 we read
in the local and in the international media
how several sources relate you to the coup
plot. What would you like to comment about
A5. I would never be involved in an illegal
activity. I believe I was related to the coup
because I was criticising the Chaudry Government.
When Chaudry became Prime Minister he was
very unfair to my companies, infrastructure
wise, and I was taking him to court and to
the media. In the midst of this the coup happened.
Mr. Qarase, who became the Prime Minister,
was previously Assistant Chairman of one of
my companies where I was the Chairman. These
were the reasons that have caused the rumours.
Yes, I did not like the Chaudry government
but no, I was not related to the coup plot.
Q6. Where would you place the Indo-Fijian
people in the Fijian economy and where are
A6. Most of the Indo-Fijian people came
into Fiji during the indentured system. My
father came as a trader in 1914. It is true
that today you will see big companies with
Indian names but this gives a false impression
that Indians control the economy. The wealth
is with the Fijian people because they own
bulk of the land with the forest and the sea.
They have the asset with far greater wealth.
Unfortunately, it is not being developed.
Indians are in farms, commerce, taxis and
other sectors. Generally speaking, I think
that we have a great future in this country
if we can grab the opportunities that are
ahead of us. For instance, after the 1987
coup, people wanted to leave and they started
selling houses valued at 200,000 FJD for 40,000
FJD in order to migrate. I bought some of
the houses with a long term perspective as
I saw the opportunity. Indo-Fijians have a
good future in Fiji but unfortunately they
are being ill-advised, their community leaders
lack good leadership. The idea is to look
for opportunities, to be different and to
identify your own advantages. I did that and
today I own the biscuit factory, the Rice
Company, the soap factory & oil, etc.
I am involved mostly in the food industry,
in an insurance company, in two commercial
radio stations and in Fiji T.V., where I own
most of the shares.
Winne cannot be held responsible for