Opinion

Municipal Council Achievements: Towards Smarter Towns and Cities Across Fiji

The following is the Minister for Local Government, Housing, Environment, Infrastructure & Transport Parveen Bala’s ministerial statement in Parliament on April 25, 2017. Madam Speaker, members of the honourable House,
26 Apr 2017 12:41
Municipal Council Achievements: Towards  Smarter Towns and Cities Across Fiji
Minister for Local Government Parveen Kumar Bala

The following is the Minister for Local Government, Housing, Environment, Infrastructure & Transport Parveen Bala’s ministerial statement in Parliament on April 25, 2017.

Madam Speaker, members of the honourable House, I rise to inform this August House on the progress made by the Department of Local Government and Municipal Councils.

Municipal Councils in partnership with the Department of Local Government under the Fiji First Government are committed to improving the well-being and living conditions of Fijian ratepayers. Madam Speaker, let me detail some in the achievements in these areas as we move towards our vision of smarter towns and cities.

Madam Speaker, we live in new realities. Instead of speaking negatively about urban growth, we need to see it as an opportunity, a challenge and a strong indicator of development and economic progress.

And in order to capitalise on these indicators, as a starting point I have embarked on the hiring of urban planning specialists to assess and upgrade our town planning schemes to reflect these new demands in how we plan and future proof our towns and cities. We also need to align it with recent changes to legislation, under the 2016 Heritage Act which needs to be incorporated into our town planning schemes.

At the same time, we have established strong and accountable relationship with our municipal councils. This is testimony to the strong and progressive relationship between the central government, our ministry and municipal councils. Instead of workshops and endless planning seminars, we have development of amenities, facilities, and streamlining of processes, on the ground within a very limited period.

This is also evident of the increased efficiency of both the ministry and municipal councils under the present structure of appointed officials.

Madam Speaker, I speak from a wealth of experience in the area of local government, going back to 20 years of service in Municipal councils. During this time, I was witness to many changes in local government administration and changes of government. But the rate of accelerated developments and achievements that I am going to substantiate in my ministerial speech, I have never witnessed in all those years.

Madam Speaker, these achievements are the result of a more corporate orientated and bottom line basis to council operations, rather than the politics of tug of war between wards competing for services.

The end result, as indicated by the achievements that I am about document for this August house, are greater amenities and services for all Fijian ratepayers.

A win-win situation for all concerned!

Madam Speaker, let me begin by looking at some of the achievements and projects for our two cities.

Lautoka

Madam Speaker, the completion of Churchill Park upgrade with a total cost of $5.5million. Market extension at a cost of $1.4m and ground breaking of municipal swimming pool at Lautoka’s Botanical Garden will be next week.

Madam Speaker, the upgraded Churchill Park which was opened by our honourable Prime Minister includes new synthetic tracks. This inclusion, as mentioned by the honourable Prime Minister in his opening speech, we shall see people in the greater Western Viti Levu enjoy better athletic facilities and contribute to sports development.

Lautoka City Council entered into Public Private Partnership, with P. Meghji and Tappoo. This is taking municipal councils into a new era of diversifying and greatly increasing their revenue stream.

This is the only way forward. Our councils are under increasing pressure to deliver more and more in amenities, facilities, infrastructure and services.

At the same time, ratepayers obviously do not want increased rates, and we do not want to burden them with increased charges. Similarly, market vendors, taxi and carrier base operators do not want increases in their fees and charges.

Madam Speaker, this begs the question as to where will municipal councils, get increased revenue. And the way forward will be sustainable and fiscally sound public private partnerships. This increased revenue stream will be of benefit to all Fijian ratepayers. And we will increase our efforts to spread these PPP projects to all Fijian municipal councils.

Suva

Madam Speaker, the completion and opening of upgraded pavilion and turf facilities at Albert Park, has done wonders for this iconic amenity. The difference, as they say, is clear. And we have many Suva residents and visitors to the capital enjoying the improved facilities.

Work has commenced on the Suva Civic Center Auditorium and Lower Hall upgrades in partnership with Guangdong Province. This is a significant international partnership for Suva City and more projects are in the pipeline with Guangdong Province.

Madam Speaker, I would also like to report that we had a very favorable response to expressions of interest for the Central Street Car Park public private partnership redevelopment with a $60 million car park, accommodation and sea view restaurant project proposed for the site. This proposal is now being assessed by the SCC and their consultants. Let me now turn to some of our towns and present a report on their major projects. Madam Speaker, let me begin with our two northern towns.

Labasa

Madam Speaker, a multipurpose sports facility was opened at a cost of $90,000 and Subrail Park upgrade at a cost of $100,000.

A major project for Labasa is the long overdue relocation of market and bus station. Madam Speaker, we have begun the planning for this relocation and we expect this will ease current traffic congestion into the Labasa CBD, and provide a major boost for local growers and vendors with improved market facilities with more car parks. At the existing market, work on a temporary fish market had commenced last 2 weeks ago.

Savusavu

Madam Speaker, the Ganilau Park upgrade including fencing, construction of a 1500 seater pavilion at a cost of $250,000 will be completed in June 2017.

Redevelopment of Savusavu Town Council administration center with a new events center and facilities. This will be a significant project that will better showcase the municipal council in this area of increased tourism activity.

The Council has also embarked on providing services and improving infrastructure at an informal settlement in Nakama.

Madam Speaker, let me now turn to the remaining towns in the Central Division.

Nausori

The new Nausori Market is now regarded as the largest municipal market in the Pacific. In line with other municipal markets, the women’s accommodation block is in the planning stages. The market and modern bus stand was built at a total cost of $13.3m.

The old market site will be developed through a public private partnership into a mall.

The Cargill Multipurpose Sports Center at Davuilevu was opened by the Honorable Prime Minister, earlier this year and was built at a cost of $250,000.

Lami

Madam Speaker, Tikaram Park was completed and opened earlier this year to the public. It was built at a cost of $618,000. We can see that is has now made into a major local attraction and amenity for the people or Lami.

Madam Speaker, let me put this on record, this is the first major project for this town.

In addition, the Johnny Singh Park upgrade has commenced at a cost of $198,000. This is the first phase of the project and a second phase scheduled in the next fiscal year will enable Lami to host competitions.

Nasinu

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to report that preliminary works on the Valelevu Ground has commenced at a cost of $350,000. This will provide a much needed designated sporting facility for the people of Nasinu.

The Laqere Market is now at the construction phase at a projected cost of $4.3m.

Levuka

Madam Speaker, our UN Listed Heritage Port Town, has had its Town Hall that was first commissioned in 1898, refurbished at a cost of $100,000. Foreshore upgrading works under Japan Aid, at a cost of $225,000. Children’s Park upgrade at Nasau $35,000 with an additional $25,000 spent on the Nasau Park pavilion.

Madam Speaker, heading west, we have a number of significant achievements and projects, apart from what I have outlined earlier for Lautoka City.

Sigatoka

Multipurpose sports facilities built at a cost of $113,000, ready to be opened and construction of retaining wall along Sigatoka River at a cost of $845,000.

Madam Speaker, the retaining wall will both mitigate against flooding and provide increased river frontage land for development by the Council. Preliminary planning will commence soon on market and bus stand relocation.

Nadi

Namaka Market extension in Nadi with a women’s accommodation center with detailed plans is in the approval stages at a cost of $4m. Upgrade to Prince Charles Park of $150,000 is underway and will be ready in time to host part of the program for Fiji Tourism Expo 2017. In addition, upgrades to the Nair’s Dias at a cost of $90,000, is in progress.

Ba

Madam Speaker, in Ba, the completion of Fiji’s first ever permanent horse race track at a cost of $220,000, and has attracted major races.

Civil and fencing works has commenced at the Maruru Landfill at a cost of $380,000, following relevant environment impact studies.

Work on Govind Park will start soon after its devastation during TC Winston.

Tavua

Tavua multipurpose sports facilities which include upgrading of Garvey Park and Events Center has been completed at a cost of $630,000.

Rakiraki

Madam Speaker, the Rakiraki Market with a women’s accommodation center construction has begun at a cost of $5.84m.

Madam Speaker, in this round-up of achievements and projects of our municipal councils, I would like to point out all this has happened in the space of the last two and half years.

As I outlined in the beginning of my speech, Madam Speaker, this is an unprecedented list of achievements.

And Madam Speaker, let me assure this house, these achievements will only increase in the coming months and days, as through the partnership of Central Government, Ministry and Municipal Councils we will build on these achievements.

Madam Speaker, with an aim to promote small and medium businesses in our town centers, Municipal Councils with the National Government support and in partnership with UN Women are fully committed in the development of our Municipal Markets.

Madam Speaker, our town centers have 8289 market vendors selling local produce. These hardworking mothers and fathers need our assistance in order to have a decent livelihood.

The Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Environment in partnership with municipal councils are totally committed to provide the best facilities for our farmers and market vendors.

Madam Speaker, in addition, the process of getting a business license has been streamlined with Municipal Councils now issuing new business licenses within a maximum of three days, with instant License renewals, in both cases subject to the applicant providing the necessary required documents.

Madam Speaker, to promote good sanitation standards, the Government and Municipal Councils have invested heavily in improving garbage collection and disposal, through 15 garbage trucks distributed among councils.

In addition, Municipal Councils have a free quarterly clean-up program for ratepayers and citizens. The free clean-up is for green waste and white goods collection.

Madam Speaker, this free quarterly clean-up program was introduced in 2015, and is a very successful program, widely appreciated by ratepayers.

Madam Speaker, for the purpose of promoting clean and green environment, Municipal Councils has appointed litter prevention officers.

Municipal Councils reported more than 5000 litter bookings in 2016. This is apart from warnings issued by litter officers.

Madam Speaker, Municipal Councils, have taken on events management as part of its community engagement. Municipal Councils township festivals are becoming popular and we now have 12 township carnivals in Fiji, whose winners compete in the Miss Fiji Pageant Contest. Fiji will proudly host the Miss South Pacific Island Pageant at Nadi.

These are important community engagement events and provide significant boosts to the local economies.

Madam Speaker, through these carnivals there will be mass awareness programme for all Fijians on Climate Change. Each stage of the carnival will carry an appropriate them that the contestants and organisers will act upon.

Madam Speaker, Municipal Councils in partnership with the Central Government and private partners successfully organised the centennial Sutlej V celebrations in 14 town centers last year. This will provide a platform for increased heritage and cultural promotion through municipal councils.

All centres will mark May 14th 2017 as a day of Remembrance, in particular for the women of indenture. Madam Speaker, this event coincides with Mother’s Day.

And Madam Speaker, let me take this occasion as Parliament does not meet before the date, to wish in advance, a happy Mother’s Day to all.

Madam Speaker, on Sunday May 14 we will be organising events remembering the hardships and sacrifices of the mothers, wives,  daughters and sisters of Fiji and all Fijians on May 14 2017, Madam Speaker, we will pay proper respects to those strong women who laid the foundations of our families and contributed immensely towards nation building under indenture.

As part of the program we will launch a number of initiatives and partnerships so that awareness, celebration and education of Fiji’s wider cultural heritage are an on-going part of our municipal council calendars.

This includes an important initiative, Madam Speaker, to include ITaukei local history, culture, performance, arts and oral narratives as part of on-going programs among local councils. Madam speaker, as part of this initiative, we will also include programs to celebrate the diverse multi-cultural nature of our municipalities.

Where relevant we will align these programs with the respective designated World or International days, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, to build relationships between Government and Municipal Councils, the Local Government Forum is now effectively being used for Municipal Councils to raise challenges and ways forward worked with relevant agencies.

This is an effective means of identifying areas of service shortfalls and working closely with all stakeholders to rectify these areas.

We are moving in the direction of smarter cities by employing sustainable and relevant technology to drive our processes and bring in innovation.

We have recently held consultations with the ADB team that has chosen the Greater Suva Area from Lami to Nausori for a global program along with four other cities in promoting the smart city and towns program.

This will enable us to pilot smart technology in one key identified area.

We initiated an amnesty and incentive program for our ratepayers for the first quarter of 2017, through the municipal councils.

Madam Speaker, it is encouraging to note that our ratepayers took advantage of the programs to pay their rates.

Madam Speaker, may I take this opportunity to thank the ratepayers and the citizens of every Municipality for working closely with their respective Municipal Councils.

Madam Speaker, on this note, I conclude my statement and wish to say thank the august house for this opportunity

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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