Opinion

Special Concession for Grace Road Group?

If one were to ask one question regarding the Grace Road Group saga, it would be, does Grace Road Group get special concession to operate businesses in Fiji?

Shin Ok-ju, the founder of Grace Road Church, has been arrested in South Korea, accused of enslaving some 400 followers in Fiji. Photo: Grace Road Church

The Foreign investment is regulated by the Foreign Investment Act (FIA) 1999,the Foreign Investment (Amendment) Act 2004, the Foreign Investment Regulation 2009 and the Foreign Investment (Budget Amendment) Act 2016 and sets out the guidelines by which a foreign investor can invest in Fiji. Fiji’s primary foreign investment promotion and regulation agency is Investment Fiji (IF).

Under FI 10, 015 Reserved Activities of Foreign Investment Act 1999 and Foreign Investment Act 2009, the following activities are prescribed for Fiji Citizens only.

For the purpose of Section 5 of the Act, the following Activities are prescribed –

  1. A Milk Bar or Cafeteria Business;
  2. A Taxi Business;
  3. A Kava Business;
  4. Retail Sales via Stalls and Markets;
  5. A Handicraft Business;
  6. Tailor Shops;
  7. Repair of Personal and Household Goods;
  8. A Plumbing Business;
  9. An Electrical Business;
  10. Plant Nursery and Care;
  11. Day-care Centre;
  12. An Internet Cafe and Amusement and Gaming Centers;
  13. Home-stay Lodging Services;
  14. A Bakery Business, other than those operated within the vicinity of a hotel/resort and/or operated by foreign owned hotels/resorts;
  15. Back-packer Operations;
  16. A Nightclub, other than those operated within the vicinity of a hotel/resort and/or operated by foreign owned hotels/resorts; and
  17. A Liquor Bar, other than those operated within the vicinity of a hotel/resort and/or operated by foreign owned hotels/resorts.

Under the RESTRICTED ACTIVITIES to operate a construction company, a set of conditions must be met by foreign investors who wish to pursue them:

A foreign investor engaging in the construction industry must have at least $1m in owner’s contribution or paid up capital for companies in the form of cash from the operational date, to be fully brought within Fiji within the implementation period.

In yesterday’s Parliament session, Opposition MP Lenora Qereqeretabua asked the governmenthow do the Grace House “Snowy House” cafes operate in Fiji? How do their “Pacific Patisserie” bakeries operate in Fiji? Aren’t these activities reserved for Fiji citizens?

Cafes and bakeries are “reserved activities” under the Foreign Investment Act and Regulations .

“We know that Grace Road has a construction company. And we also know that this construction company works for the government,” she added.

According to Al Jazeera, they had asked Investment Fiji for an interview to which Investment Fiji replied that they had been told that they were not allowed to talk anything regarding GraceRoad.

Ms Qereqeretabua also called on the Government to tell Fijians about the “real relationship” between government and Grace Road Group.

“So tell us – what is the real relationship between government and Grace Road,” she asked.

So the question arises, how can a foreign investor operate a business which is reserved for Fijians only?

Grace Road Group

Grace Road first arrived in Fiji in 2014 and since then their business have grown extensively.

Grace Road Group operation started through agriculture and has since evolved into construction, food processing, restaurants, trading, resorts, health services and more.

The Grace Road Group currently has:

  1. 9 Grace Kitchen branches
  2. 6 Snowy House
  3. 4 Noodle Story
  4. 4 Pure Green
  5. 6 Sunny Pizza
  6. 1 Awesome Grill
  7. 7 Patisserie Pasifica
  8. 2 I Sushi
  9. 1 Fierce Chicken
  10. 2 True Value
  11. 4 Bata sotre
  12. 5 Misha
  13. 5 Grace Beauty Salon
  14. 1 Grace Dentistry branch

They also have agriculture farm in Navua and Savusavu and work in partnership with government owned Fiji National University.

It is believed that the group’s business arm has won over hearts and minds of people in the highest levels of government, and ministers have spoken effusively about Grace Road’s work and presence.

They have also been supported with land leases to operate in various parts of Fiji.

In 2017, Grace Road’s leaders – including Shin’s son, Daniel Kim – were pictured smiling with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who had just awarded Grace Road Group a Prime Minister’s business award.

Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama, second from right, is pictured at the awarding of a Prime Minister’s Business Award to a member of Grace Road Group, the church’s business arm, in 2017. Photo: Fiji Prime Minister’s International Business Awards

Grace Road businesses have dissipated like wildfire and now operates ice-cream parlours, restaurants, retail stores and salons which are still open across the country, its plantation is still in full operation, and its construction arm still holds lucrative government contracts, including to renovate and upgrade the president’s residence on the Suva waterfront and the Prime Minister’s office.

The greater Fijian community has called for a boycott of Grace Road businesses.

The Fijian government is yet to comment on how Grace Road Group was allowed to operate reserved business activities which were for Fijian citizens only.

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