Fiji tries to end dispute over civil aviation reforms

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Fiji's Cabinet has ordered the termination of sub-contracts entered into by a new semi-autonomous airport management company as it seeks to end a long-running row over a re-organisation of the country's aviation bureaucracy.

Airports Fiji (AFL), which recently took over control of the country's airports from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Fiji Islands (CAAFI), has been ordered to terminate all services contracts secured with Strategic Air Services/Airport Management Technical Services and Fire Control Fiji.

The sub-contracts were entered into after a controversial bill was formally passed in March allowing AFL to assume control of airports at Nadi, Suva and 16 outer islands. The company is 100% owned by the Government but operates as an independent profit-making entity. It was established in the hope that Fiji's airports could eventually be privatised.

Under the Civil Aviation Reform Bill, first proposed last year, the CAAFI handed over control of the country's airports to AFL on 12 April as it switched to a purely regulatory role.

The airport management company had earlier sparked controversy by announcing its intention to cut 500 jobs in a bid to boost efficiency, causing immediate protests from airport workers who went to court to block forced redundancies.

Further controversy was caused when plans were announced for the sub-lease of portions of land at Nadi International Airport, Fiji's gateway facility. The land was requisitioned for use by the US military during the Second World War and is claimed by the local Hadrau community.

The Government, in a bid to resolve the disputes, is now planning to make landowners as well as airport employees shareholders in AFL.

It has also announced an inquiry that will investigate "allegations of improper practices in the sub-contract services which AFL had entered into", and says the contracts are to be "terminated by AFL in accordance with legal advice it has received on procedures to be followed".

"With the termination of these sub-contracts, AFL is to operate these services directly along with other services such as electrical and building maintenance, ground maintenance, and airport security services," the Government says.

"Cabinet has taken this decision, recognising the national importance of ensuring the safety and security of Civil Aviation in Fiji. This decision will also facilitate future arrangements for the landowners at Nadi airport and for airport workers to join AFL as shareholders."