Rising poverty levels, chronic unemployment and high living costs are forcing the people of Labasa to relocate to Viti Levu in search of a better life, says Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry.
Mr Chaudhry who returned from Vanua Levu in the week-end after meeting with people in Labasa and Savusavu, said the situation in both the towns was quite worrying.
“Labasa can be easily tagged an economically depressed zone. It is depopulating with an estimated exodus of around 3000 people annually to Viti Levu – a smaller number is resettling in Savusavu or Taveuni,” Mr Chaudhry
There is little economic activity there to induce people to stay. The sugar industry is down by almost 50% with the crop size reduced from 770,000 tonnes in 2006 to 530,000 tonnes in 2012. Timber milling has suffered as a result of short supply of logs.
Some 500 timber workers have been laid off since late last year due to the slump, adding to the already high rate of unemployment.
Small businesses in both towns complain of too many stringent requirements imposed by the Commerce Commission. High fees and charges levied by the National Fire Authority, town councils and Labour and Health Ministries are
stifling investment. Many businesses have closed or downsized because of over- regulation.
“Labasa is being strangled through a lack of investment and economic activity to sustain its people. The high cost of food and other basic household goods are adding to push factors, forcing people to resettle elsewhere in search of a better life,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Mr Chaudhry said Government’s Northern Development Programme had become ineffective because of the red tape involved in obtaining approval for projects as well as inadequate resource allocation.