Honourable Cabinet Ministers,
Your Excellency, the Chinese Ambassador to Fiji;
Members of the Chinese Delegation;
My Fellow Fijians.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Last Friday evening, my government announced Fiji’s National Budget for the 2019-2020 financial year. As a nation in the midst of a record ten straight years of economic growth, that budget not only furthered our proud legacy of disciplined fiscal policy-making and prudent financial management, it laid out the blueprint for the second evolution of Fiji’s economic development.
Every dollar of new expenditure in our latest budget has gone towards – what we see – as five fundamental pillars of modernity: Empowering young people, Protecting our natural environment, Spurring technology and innovation, Building certainty in an uncertain world and – last but not least – Strengthening law and order.
We recognised that final pillar, Strengthening law and order, as fundamental, because we recognise that no measure of progress is more central to our citizen’s wellbeing than their feeling of security. Every Fijian deserves to go about their lives with the absolute assurance of safety. Every Fijian child should be able to walk the streets without their parents fearing for their welfare. Every Fijian business should have the guarantee that their hard work won’t be erased by an overnight robbery. And when threats do arise – every Fijian should have every confidence that authorities are ready and able to give their concerns the urgency they deserve.
Fiji is no longer some isolated island economy; we’re an integrated hub of economic development. That transformation has brought unprecedented prosperity to our people, creating new jobs, higher wages, new development and new opportunities. And throughout this economic evolution, we’ve made clear and consistent financial commitments to improving public safety. But criminal elements haven’t sat idly by as our law enforcement agencies have grown more sophisticated, they’re evolving as well. And Fijian authorities need to keep pace with a new range of tools, training and expertise to provide the world-class duty of care our people deserve.
Particularly when it comes to our border security, we need to protect our people from the devastating impact that illegal flows of trade – particularly hard drugs – can have on a society’s development. There’s an enormous body of evidence that shows when drugs pass through a nation’s borders, innocent people become the victims. Young people get access to hard-core drugs, placing them one bad decision away from destroying their entire lives. And drug dealers – with no regard for a nation’s laws – bring violent tactics that spill over into society at-large, putting ordinary people at risk. We will never allow Fiji to descend into such lawless chaos.
If anyone comes to our country looking to sell hard drugs or use Fiji as a transit point to our neighbours, they should be prepared to extend their stay in Fiji indefinitely. There are already more than a few overseas offenders spending their nights in Fiji’s prisons who can testify to that fact. And thanks to allocations in our 2019-20 National Budget, they’ll likely soon be welcoming new bunkmates.
We’ve allocated $800,000 to fund a stronger effort to combat drug trafficking, with full-time staff dedicated to combatting networks of drug dealers and suppliers. We’ve allocated $720,000 to purchase four new intercept boats to the Fiji Police’s new Water Unit to strengthen the enforcement of our laws at sea. And to assist the police with surveillance in Fijian waters, the Fiji Navy will use their two new boats, donated by the Korean and Australian governments, to complement a nationwide effort to rid Fijian society of anyone looking to violate our laws.
But strengthening our border security doesn’t only entail protecting Fiji from networks of drug traffickers; it’s also about keeping our own importers in check. Too often, we see businesses try and skirt the rules by misidentifying their shipments to avoid paying the required duties. These dishonest traders intentionally undervalue or undercount their goods –– or even declare that they are carrying a different cargo entirely –– giving themselves an illegal leg-up in the market over those who follow the rules, and cheating the Fijian taxpayer in the process.
Today, we give ourselves another tool to protect Fiji from law-breakers within and beyond our borders as we officially commission this non-intrusive inspection x-ray technology that will strengthen our ability to enforce our laws at our ports of entry. We’re adding an x-ray machine for mobile containers and vehicles, a pallet x-ray machine and four sets of CT x-rays, along with spare parts and seven technicians to help run this equipment – all donated by the Chinese government.
Equipped with this new technology, we’ll be able to quickly scan loads of cargo, containers or pallets without ever having to actually open them up, making clearance more accurate by reducing human error and more efficient by allowing for faster clearance. That’s good news for law-abiding Fijian businesses as well, as the transit time for imports will be decreasing.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fiji has zero tolerance for anyone who disrespects and violates our laws. And I’m not only talking about the drug trade –– I’m talking about every aspect of governance. From our environmental laws, to the laws governing our roadways to the laws protecting taxpayer funds from abuse. If we allow any of those laws to go unenforced, we erode society’s confidence in our ability to keep them safe, and we send criminals a message that they can get away with exploiting our country.
As of today, our borders enjoy a new level of security. But this is only one small victory in a much larger campaign. A campaign to build a stronger, law-abiding Fiji. A Fiji where laws are not only enforced by government, but by ordinary people who demand adherence and accountability, and work with our authorities to report and uproot criminal networks.
I look forward to seeing these new technologies fully rolled out in our ports of entry and put to good use by our authorities.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.