Recognising Those Embracing Modern Infrastructure

A modern functioning civil service comprised of government departments and public sector entities such as Fiji Roads Authority accepts some things as being ‘part of the job’. One is that there
11 Jul 2015 08:46
Recognising Those Embracing Modern Infrastructure
Fiji Roads Authority chief executive, Neil Cook (fourth left) with delegates at a conference in Rotorua, New Zealand.

A modern functioning civil service comprised of government departments and public sector entities such as Fiji Roads Authority accepts some things as being ‘part of the job’.

One is that there is, and should be, intense scrutiny over the use of public funds.

A second inherent part of the job is that there will be genuine well-intentioned critique of the activities we undertake.

A less palatable, but equally inalienable part of a public sector operating in a democratic society is that there will be times when we are viewed through a lens of a particular political context – when ‘facts’ are presented in isolation or out of context to support a particular view.

My encouragement to my teams during trying times is to hark back to the beautiful words of Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

The last quality, ‘wisdom’ is perhaps the most challenging of the three.

So, in accepting there are some things we cannot change, this week I will spend some time acknowledging a group of people who have had the courage to step up and embrace the movement towards a modern infrastructure delivery sector for Fiji.



Last month, I led a delegation from Fiji to a conference in Rotorua, New Zealand.

This was a large international conference co-hosted by the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia and the International Federation of Municipal Engineers.

The opening address was by the President of Iceland via video link. Our Fiji contingent was a 15-strong party amongst 800 delegates from such diverse origins as Finland, Canada, South Africa – in fact all over the globe.

We had a 90 minute speaking slot where we described the reform of the roading sector.

We spoke of the journey from government department to statutory corporate entity.

Our maintenance contractors talked about how they became involved and just what it took to establish effective businesses in Fiji in the 50 days between being awarded a contract and the contract start date!

Some of what they went through was eye-opening even for me.

But the most engaging part of our presentation was the stories of the smaller contractors who came on board with our maintenance contractors to learn, to grow, and to be part of moving Fiji forward.



The audience response to Roy from Hot Springs, Lawrence from Fairdeal and those who joined us on video including the inimitable Brij from Dayals was overwhelming.

They each shared their simple story of embracing change, investing in their staff and taking the opportunity to learn from the experts.

The biggest appreciation from the audience came when one of our locals described how the main contractors shared their knowledge stating somewhat incredulously “…and they don’t even charge us. They train us for free.”

Explaining further the rationale that when the sub-contractors are knowledgeable, experienced and can perform it means the main contractor is successful as well.

The audience response is best captured through the words of New Zealand’s Auditor General, Mrs Lyn Provost, who approached me after the presentation “…Neil, I would love to have your team give that presentation to some government departments in New Zealand.”

Coming from this very accomplished lady whom I have worked with in the past and respect very much I couldn’t wait to share that with the guys.


Reform journey

And I guess that is the heart of this reform journey that we have been on.

Preparing for this conference was one of the first times I have made myself step back and reflect on the past two and half years.

In doing so it crystallised very clearly that while the new and improved roads are great achievements, the long lasting changes, the keys to sustainability, are the changes that have been wrought in people.

Both those who came in to help, and those who accepted the help that was offered.

And you can be sure there have been changes across the board when one of the ‘big boys’ from the NZ Contracting industry is taking pride in the fact that they have helped a small contractor develop to the point he is beating them at the tender box!

For me the human story doesn’t get any better than the closing remarks to our presentation in Rotorua.

I showed our audience a picture of a beautiful Fijian baby boy – a future engineer – and introduced “Higgins”, named by his parents in honour of the company his dad is proud to work for, making a real difference for his country.

– Neil Cook is the CEO of the Fiji Roads Authority. This is his regular column which will be published by the Fiji Sun on Saturdays.


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