SPEECH: PM Voreqe Bainimarama’s Address During The 2015 Westpac Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards

The Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Honourable Ministers; Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps; The Chairman, Board of Directors and CEO of Investment Fiji; Sponsors of the
07 Nov 2015 21:07
SPEECH: PM Voreqe Bainimarama’s Address During The  2015 Westpac Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama

The Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism,

Honourable Ministers;

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;

The Chairman, Board of Directors and CEO of Investment Fiji;

Sponsors of the 2015 Westpac Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very Good Evening to you all.

I’m delighted to join you all for one of the genuine highlights of the year, as we honour some of our most important people at the 23rd Prime Minister’s Exporter of the Year Awards.


All of you in this room are the driving force of our economy, the men and women taking Fijian made goods and services to the world. And earning us the export dollars that are building our nation’s wealth and creating prosperity for every Fijian.

Tonight we single out those who have made an outstanding contribution to our export effort over the past 12 months. But while we celebrate their individual efforts, I personally regard every one of you as winners and let me tell you why.

In the past five years, Fiji’s exports have grown by more than 30 per cent. From $1.6-billion in 2010 to $2.3-billion last year.In other words, the value of what we are selling to the rest of the world has increased by almost a third.

And all this is thanks to you, working in partnership with the Government and our other agencies to take the Fijian-Made brand to new heights.

So I want to begin the evening by asking for a big round of applause by everyone for everyone. Because this is really a tremendous performance. (applause)

Ladies and Gentlemen, many of you will have spent the past 36 hours digesting the provisions of the 2016 budget. How it affects you all in the business community and how it fits in to our overall national strategy.

After the speech in Parliament yesterday by the AG and Minister for Finance, I just want to say this:The 2016 Budget is bold, it is imaginative and it is designed to consolidate my Government’s achievements and capitalize on one of the longest running periods of growth in our entire history.

We are moving Fiji forward. And we are doing so with sound, consistent policies based on the underlying premise of working together as one people, one nation. Encouraging a spirit of enterprise and using our growing prosperity to improve the lives of those who most need it – low income earners and the disadvantaged.

Our tax changes, in particular, are designed to produce a more equitable system, a fairer system and one that is more simplified.

Targeted at improving the basic standard of living of ordinary Fijians and giving them the leg-up they deserve.

The centerpiece of these changes is the reduction in our Value Added Tax from 15 per cent to 9 per cent.

It is a significant reduction in the tax every Fijian pays for the items they consume. Some of the exemptions that used to apply to certain goods have been abolished. But that is more than made up with the six per cent reduction in VAT on everything Fijian families require.

And low income earners still benefit from the other provisions that currently exist for them, like an expanded free medicine list for those earning less than $20,000 a year; plus subsidized electricity for households, who also enjoy free water.

So our safety net for the underprivileged is not only still in tact. It has been strengthened. We are creating a fairer and more equitable society by creating a fairer and more equitable tax system.

And we are asking affluent Fijians and especially some of our businesses to make a bigger effort to pay no more than their fair share.

There is still too much tax and revenue leakage. And we intend to crack down on those companies and individuals who fail to meet their obligations.

We have created one of the most generous tax regimes in the entire Pacific.

So there is no excuse for those individuals and companies who are happy to reap the benefits but aren’t willing to pay their fair share.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I also want to use this opportunity to talk about our industrial relations landscape at the present time – something that I know that has been of concern.

No-one wants industrial conflict in Fiji.  The interests of Fijian workers, trade unionists, employers and the Government are one and the same. They need to be – To grow our economy and enable us to give every Fijian a better deal.

You’ll have heard me talking about growing the national cake so that everyone can get a bigger slice. It’s a simple way of explaining to ordinary people how a free-market economy works. And we have a wonderful story to tell. Because that cake is growing all the time, thanks in large part to our exporters and the teamwork you have encouraged in your own workplaces.

As you know, last year our economy grew by 5.3 per cent, eclipsing the performance of our bigger neighbours.

We didn’t do it by having conflict in the workplace. We did it by working together. So I appeal to those in the union movement to work with us, rather than against us, as we strive to improve the standard of living for every Fijian.

I want to explain my own perspective on the current matter before the International Labour Organisation – the ILO.

We are a small and vulnerable nation that needs to protect certain vital arteries carrying the lifeblood of our economy.

We are not a developed nation that can afford the luxury of our essential industries and services being disrupted. And whether it is our ports, airports or our national airline, all these things must be kept open at all times for the benefit of every Fijian.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we simply cannot allow a relatively small group of people to hold the nation to ransom by misrepresenting us and our circumstances to the rest of the world and disrupting our industries and services.

Some union leaders are going to the ILO claiming that this is a restriction on workers’ rights. But this is simply not the case.

Employees under the amended provisions have the right to choose to join a union or not whether they are in the essential industries or not; employees in all sectors have the right to collective bargaining; employees in these sectors, like others, have the right to have their union dues deducted from the check off system. The only difference is that those in essential services need to give notice if they want to go on strike.

And the notice period we have agreed will be reduced to 14 days from 28. We have even created a tripartite tribunal that can quickly dispose of matters or disagreements arising out of these essential services and sectors.

But in pursuing these rights, unions and unionists have no right to damage the jobs of other workers and damage the Fijian economy.

The Government has a wider responsibility and that is to the nation as a whole. And that responsibility is to keep Fiji moving. To make sure our arteries aren’t blocked.

I ask you to imagine a situation where no notice is required from those in the essential services.

A situation in which the pilots of Fiji Airways might go on strike 5 minutes before a flight is to take off from LA or about to leave for Singapore.

What would it do to the image of the country? What would it do to confidence in our transportation system? What would it do to the economy?

Would you have confidence in transporting your exports on Fiji Airways? What would it do to the tourism industry?

I don’t need to go into the details of how and who would be affected by such a situation. Apart from saying that it would have a catastrophic impact on our economy and on the jobs and lives of ordinary Fijians. The whole nation would suffer.

The central ethos of my Government isn’t to erode the rights of ordinary Fijians. It is to empower them. It is to give them choices.

And whether it is our education revolution or the provision of basic services to every Fijian, whoever they are or wherever they live, that is what we are doing. And we are happy to be judged on our record.

We want to work with the workers and even organizations they may form or join – just as we are working with employers – to advance the position of everyone.

But that focus must not be driven by personal or narrow sectional interests. We must deal with this in a holistic manner. We must focus on the need to advance Fiji and all Fijians.

For example: We cannot have unionists going around asking employers to deduct union dues without workers giving their consent.

Every worker has freedom of choice.

And everyone should understand that if we all play our part and focus on our long term goals, we will be able to deliver lot more to everyone, as we have done through the Budget delivered yesterday.

So in the light of all of this – plus the fact that we have amended our laws – we are now compliant with the core ILO conventions and should not be subjected to an ILO commission of inquiry.

Ladies and Gentlemen in approximately 3 week’s time, I will be in the ranks of those leading the charge at the World Climate Change Conference in Paris to get the industrial nations to finally wake up. To take the drastic measures that are needed to avert catastrophe for the island nations and low-lying areas of the world.

So it is not a time for confrontation in Fiji and the Pacific. It is a time for unity to confront the external threats we face.

The threats to our very existence and way of life. It is a time for all Fijians to work together to build on a period of great promise – a surging economy and the prospect of spreading the benefits of prosperity to more Fijians than ever before.

And I appeal to every person to turn their backs on confrontation and join us in moving Fiji forward. As I keep saying, the possibilities are endless if we can stay united and focused. But we can only do so by replacing what is good for some with what is good for all.

I want to close by warmly thanking you all on behalf of the Fijian people for the work you are doing to make the Fijian Made brand a byword for quality and consistency the world over.

And to set you all a challenge of bettering the 30 per cent improvement in our exports in the past five years. Let’s aim for 50 per cent or more in the next five years. And truly fulfill the vision of tonight’s theme – “Partnering for Global Success”.

With all the reforms we are making to our infrastructure, our ports and airports, and to the performance of the Civil Service,WE CAN DO IT. With all the work we are doing to cement Fiji’s place as a regional hub, to break down the barriers that still impede free trade,

WE CAN DO IT. With all the capacity building we are undertaking in our institutions and in Investment Fiji, in Tourism Fiji. With the Trade Framework we have formulated and will be in our new five and 20 year national plans, WE CAN DO IT. And by taking the Fijian-Made brand to those parts of the world we have yet to reach, WE CAN DO IT. In fact, we can do almost anything if we put our minds to it.

Finally, congratulations to the winners. Congratulations to everyone. And our thanks to Westpac – the major sponsor, to Investment Fiji and everyone who has worked so hard to make this event a success.

Thank you. And enjoy the rest of the evening. Vinaka Vakalevu



Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

Covid 19 - SPC
Fiji Sun Instagram