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Opinion

Building The New, Smarter Fiji

Building The New, Smarter Fiji
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.
October 23
10:50 2016

The following is Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, iTaukei Affairs and Sugar Industry Voreqe Bainimarama’s address to the Fijian community in Auckland on October 21.

 

My fellow Fijians and friends of Fiji, Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

It’s wonderful to be here with the great extended Fijian family in Auckland and I bring you greetings from everyone back home.

As I told the members of our Australian family in Sydney last weekend, it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, we remain forever connected to our island home. And no matter where we go, we take our Fijian values with us. Our yalo loloma or our bada dil – the big hearts that we all pride ourselves on having.

 

Tropical Cyclone Winston

The first thing I want to do tonight is to thank you all for your big hearted response to the plight of our people back home who were affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston in February.

We are still getting over – as a nation and as individuals – the loss of 44 of our loved ones. We are still in the process of getting back on our feet, of rebuilding the thousands of homes that were destroyed. But the burden that so many Fijians faced was considerably lightened by so many people around the world like you – the wonderful members of the Fijian community in New Zealand.

The way you came together to contribute to the relief effort really touched the hearts of our people. So from your extended family members back in Fiji, vinaka vakalevu to you all.

 

Rebuild better, stronger

Friends, we are determined to build back better and stronger. Because we know that it is only a matter of time before the fury returns. Climate change is producing more frequent and more intense weather events all over the world. And we have to be prepared for this new and terrifying era. While at the same time doing everything we can to persuade the industrial nations to cut back on the carbon emissions that are causing this crisis in the first place.

 

COP-22

As you know, Fiji is taking a lead role in this fight. And next month, I will be travelling to Morocco for COP-22, where I will again be pressing for deeper cuts in carbon emissions than we have on the table at the moment.

Fiji and the other Pacific countries want global warming to be caped at one-point-five degrees above the pre-industrial age, rather than the two per cent that the world agreed to at COP-21 last year. So we will keep fighting for our position. While we also do everything we can to prepare our people for more cyclones, as well as getting them back on their feet after the last.

The sheer scale of the disaster caused by Winston means that it is taking longer to rebuild our homes and schools than we would have liked. But the rebuilding effort is in full swing and we are also exploring more innovative ways of building back better and more efficiently. Including with some Kiwi help.

 

Kiwi help

A New Zealand company has put in a tender to rebuild homes and schools using modular units – modular technology – that is a lot quicker to erect than conventional building methods. They did a lot to house the victims of the Christchurch earthquake and we’ll be looking at this as part of the solution in cyclone-ravaged parts of Fiji.

 

Where we are now

Friends, I intend to take some of your questions after this. But before I do, I just want to give you a brief overview of where we are at in Fiji, including in our relations with New Zealand.

As you know, this is my first official visit to the country. And while it’s no secret that we have gone through some difficult times in our relationship, we are putting all that behind us. In fact, I’m coming here at a time when our official relationship has never been better. And I intend to use my face-to-face meeting with John Key tomorrow to bring us even closer together.

 

John Key

I like John Key and am really looking forward to our talks and then going to the Bledisloe Cup together tomorrow night. It was great to have him in Fiji back in June and whatever the New Zealand media said about the visit, it was a terrific success and the Prime Minister and I got on very well. He’s a straight shooter and I admire him for his plain speaking and willingness to let bygones be bygones – just as I am doing with him and the New Zealand government.

The same applies to Malcolm Turnbull in Australia. So I’m doing everything that I can to produce a closer relationship with both countries, in which we collaborate on a whole range of matters in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

 

Working together

As we come closer together, all sorts of opportunities present themselves. More trade, more investment and closer co-operation on all those challenges we face in the region. Whether it’s climate change, drug trafficking, people trafficking or any number of other things in which working closer together makes it far more likely that we can find solutions.

Friends, just to give you some idea of the big picture as I see it:

We need to give Fiji a bigger voice in the world on issues like climate change and the threat to our environment and especially our oceans. The Pacific  – like other oceans and seas around the world – is in a mess.

 

Our oceans

Overfishing by selfish nations is affecting the catch on which our coastal communities depend. And there is far too much pollution, including all those plastic bags and bottles that the countries on the Pacific Rim are dumping into our ocean and are making their way down to us.

That’s why Fiji is joining Sweden to co-host a UN conference in New York next June to start addressing this crisis. While at the same time, doing everything we can to draw global attention to the urgent need to address the challenge of climate change.

So on two fronts – extreme weather events and rising sea levels and the quality of the waters around us – Fiji is taking a strong stand. Because if we can’t stay safe and don’t have a clean environment, the future for us all looks pretty bleak.

 

Our Economy

Friends, at the same time, we are doing everything we can to grow our economy, raise living standards and provide our people with interesting, sustainable livelihoods. And we are having a tremendous amount of success in doing so. We’ve had seven straight years of economic growth – the longest in Fijian history. And even with the crushing effect of Cyclone Winston, we’re still expecting close to three per cent growth this year. Because, thank God, Winston spared our main tourism areas.

All this means keeping jobs, more jobs, and better jobs. And with more people employed and more companies making profits, the revenue that the Government gets from taxes is also better.

And we’re able to channel a lot more of that revenue into such things as education and health. And in taking care of the more vulnerable members of our society, such as low income earners, the sick and the elderly.

We’ve been able to do things that previous generations of Fijians could only dream about. Including free schooling for our young people, more scholarships and a tertiary loans programme. Even the most disadvantaged Fijian child now has the chance to get a proper education. And we’ve established a network of technical colleges across the country to give our young people access to better trade skills and increase our nation’s skills base. All those things like properly trained plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and cooks that any country needs to be successful.

 

Tertiary Education, Education Revolution

These new technical colleges plus our existing three universities are giving young Fijians unprecedented opportunities to gain higher qualifications. So they can go out into the world and make a difference.

Friends, we have set ourselves the task – with our education revolution – to become a smarter country. A cleverer country. Because that is the surest way to achieve our overall objective to turn Fiji from a developing country into a modern nation State. To stand on our own feet. To not be dependent on foreign aid. To be a beacon for other developing countries for what is possible if small nations put their minds to it, are disciplined and focused. To make Fiji even greater and more respected than it is now. A voice in the world that is listened to. With a people equipped with skills that are portable and are recognised wherever Fijians travel.

 

Citizens of the world

Friends, I’ve said that I want Fijians to regard themselves as citizens of the world. Taking with them – wherever they go – our Fijian values of respect and care for each other, our respect and care for the people of other nations and our respect and care for the planet on which we all live. Whether it is as UN peacekeepers keeping ordinary people safe in areas of conflict, our volunteer teachers and health workers in other Pacific countries, or any Fijian who moves to another part of the world. We can all take our values and our skills with us. And we can all make a difference.

 

Investments in Fiji

Of course, there is little point in educating our young people if we don’t provide them with interesting and sustainable jobs. That is why managing our finances and economy is so important. And creating the stability and the incentives for people to invest in Fiji – whether it is investment by Fijians or people living overseas.

A vital component of my Australian and New Zealand visits have been the Trade and Investment symposiums that we have held in Sydney last week and in Auckland yesterday. It’s all about explaining to potential investors the benefits of putting their money in Fiji. Of our educated workforce, our low taxes and easy access to other markets. And creating the jobs and the wealth on which the prosperity of every Fijian depends.

We have a growing collection of quality Fijian Made products and services. And I am making it a priority to take those products and services to the four corners of the earth. And to make the Fijian Made brand a byword for quality the world over.

 

My greatest ambition as Prime Minister

Friends, my greatest ambition as Prime Minister is to equip every Fijian child – no matter how disadvantaged their background might be – with the skills to go out into the world and make something of themselves. And in doing so, to work together with other better educated Fijians to make our mark as a nation. That is our quest. That is our mission as a Government. And I’m very gratified that it has the support of the Fijian people.

Friends, by managing the economy properly, we are also able to provide the Fijian people with a greater level of services than ever before. New and better roads, new airports and more efficient ports, that reduces the costs of the things people buy because our wharves are finally working properly.

 

New Fiji, infrastructure

If you haven’t been to Fiji for a while, you’ll be amazed at all the activity going on. As soon as you leave the airport, you’ll notice the new roads we are building, the new street lights. And when you come to Suva, you’ll be amazed at the transformation of our capital. Our renovated Government Buildings and the Parliament, The wonderful Grand Pacific Hotel – now grand again – and the refurbished Albert Park and our brand-new Pavilion.

You’ll also be amazed at how connected everyone is, not only mobile phones but high speed Internet, which is a big draw-card for investment as well. So Fiji is really buzzing and I urge all of you who haven’t already done so to reconnect with your country of birth.

 

Dual citizenship

We have people with us on this trip that can help you apply for dual citizenship. You can be both a Kiwi and the Fijian and come and go as you please. We have people who can register you to vote in the next election. And we have people who can register your children in the Vola Ni Kawa Bula, if you are iTaukei.

Our indigenous people have never been more secure or better educated than under my Government. Creating a level playing field for every Fijian – creating opportunities for all – has not been at the expense of any one ethnic group, which was the politics of old. The iTaukei own 91 per cent of the land and that ownership is guaranteed under our Constitution for all time. Along with the protection of the customs and traditions of the iTaukei, Rotumans, Banabans and other groups.

In fact, we have strengthened the position of the iTaukei across the board. And we’ve ensured that ordinary iTaukei are more empowered and are able to get their fair share of the lease monies that are owed to them through their collective ownership of the land. We now have a digital record of the members of each landowning unit. So we have better processes to ensure that the distribution of lease monies is transparent and fair.

 

Fairer, more equal society

Above all, Friends, we are producing a fairer and more equal society, using more of our resources to direct assistance to those Fijians who are most in need. Our low incomes earners are benefiting from subsidised electricity and free medicine and water. Our elderly are benefiting from the first pensions to be granted in Fiji. Our women are benefiting from a range of specially targeted programmes.  And we are finally making the effort we should have always made to enhance the opportunities for disabled people. Building not only a fairer society but a more caring society.

Friends, we have made great strides in recent years. But it is vital as we move towards the half-century mark as an independent nation that the reforms that we are making continue. We cannot afford to lose our momentum, especially when it comes to the strength of our economy, on which the prosperity of every Fijian depends. We must continue with the underlying philosophy of my Government, which has brought about socio-economic stability and confidence, created and sustained jobs, produced a conducive environment for investment and a just and fair society. And that is why I am also asking you to support my Government as we move our nation forward.

( if there’s an interjection )Yes that means you too.

Friends, I want to close by saying that you all have a part to play in the new Fiji. And I again urge those who haven’t already done so to reconnect, to visit Fiji and for those who have the means, to perhaps build a house or start a business. There are some great opportunities for you to do so and I urge you to get all the information you need from our people at Investment Fiji.

Friends, vinaka vakalevu for listening. I hope you’ve been able to learn something and I’m now happy to take some questions.

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