The Honourable Ministers;
The Honourable Speaker of Parliament;
Leaders and Executives from the Public and Private Sectors;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni sa bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

On behalf of the Fijian Government and all my fellow Fijians, I extend a warm welcome to all our invited guests who are here today, both from here at home and around the world. I’m glad to be back with you all in Suva after returning from Australia, where we marked yet another landmark achievement for Fiji with an historic State visit. While in Canberra, I had the great pleasure of formally signing on to a new “Vuvale Partnership” between Fiji and Australia, cementing a new chapter between our two great nations that paves the way to greater commitment and greater understanding between our governments and our citizenry.

And this morning, I have the privilege of ushering in another new milestone in our national development –– one that will make travel much easier for all Fijians –– as we come together to officially welcome Fiji’s first e-Passports.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fijian Government’s Department of Immigration is the sole agency responsible for the issuance of our nation’s travel documents and conferment of citizenship, while managing the entry and exit of people at entry points throughout Fiji. As Prime Minister, this duty falls under my portfolio –– and it’s a duty that I take very seriously. When it comes to immigration, we have some exciting developments in the months ahead that will expedite work processes for visa approvals and forever make our immigration policies more secure, fair, and accountable.

I have applied the same spirit of progress to the Department of Immigration that has guided all of my government’s visionary leadership –– an open embrace of bold change. With today’s e-Passport launch, we are taking the next step to a sweeping digital government transformation that will touch all corners of Fijian society, securing our borders, uplifting our economy and bettering the lives of our people along the way.

This transformation –– digitalFIJI –– is being undertaken in partnership with Singapore Cooperation Enterprise, a hugely ambitious programme has already achieved a burst of advancements prior to today’s e-Passport rollout. We’ve made our public busing network more convenient through the cashless eTransport initiative, and established Wi-Fi hotspots in our national university, public parks and in free-to-use telecentres around the country. We’ve covered 100 per cent of the country with digital, free-to-air television with Walesi through terrestrial and satellite technology. We have more SIM cards in Fiji than actual people. Our government directory has been brought into the future via the digitalFIJI app. Parents can now register the birth of their child using their mobile phones. Fijians can submit and track feedback on government performance –– and also pay for government services and register their businesses online. There’s even more on the horizon, with new plans well underway for new national identification cards that will bring us up to par with advanced countries around the globe. Indeed, through every goal we set with digitalFIJI, we are benchmarking Fiji against the best of the best on the world stage, and these e-Passports are again meeting that high standard we’ve set for our nation’s future.

Ladies and gentlemen, the rollout of our new e-Passports will bring about benefits to all our citizens, both at home at those travelling abroad, as they will consolidate security requirements at our own borders and ease travel at ports of entry around the globe. They contain a new range of security features that will make it much more difficult for people to enter the country illegally, establishing a more secure Fijian passport, bringing greater integrity to our immigration system. So, we’re not only making Fiji safer, we’re making travelling easier. We’re also setting Fiji up for wider visa-free status access around the world, and I hope to have updates and announcements about this in the future as we continue to actively push nations of the world to allow Fijian travellers to move freely to work, play, and visit their families abroad.

Thanks to industry-leading technology incorporated by Germany’s Mühlbauer ID Services –– whose very same security features are found in passports in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States –– Fijian e-Passport holders will also be protected against forgery, identity theft, and passport tampering and reproduction. With the rollout of our new e-Passports, Fiji officially joins the ranks of 54 other countries from around the globe that have already engrained such technology within their passports.

But it’s important to understand –– when I say “e-Passports” I don’t mean that passports are going entirely online. On the surface, these new passports look very similar; we’re still talking about physical passport books printed with covers of beautiful Fiji-blue, but it quickly becomes clear that we can’t judge a passport by its cover. The new bio-data page – for example – is a polycarbonate, seven-layer heat pressed page printed with multi-imaging techniques. But while these e-Passports are considerably more sophisticated, that doesn’t mean they take longer to produce – in fact, just the opposite.

Our previous supplier was producing around 120 traditional passport books a day. However, our new supplier, Mühlbauer, can print that same number of e-passports in a single hour! That, my friends, is a serious upgrade. Once we reach critical mass with e-Passport holders, we will be installing e-Passport gates at our international airports in Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, looking ahead, things will only get easier when it comes to acquiring or renewing a passport in Fiji. Within ten weeks’ time, we will have at least six passport stations located within post offices throughout the country, allowing Fijians living outside of our major population centres to lodge applications and have their e-Passports processed. This will further bridge the digital divide, saving those living outside of our urban hubs the time and money they once had to dedicate to acquiring their documentation. And for those in our Fijian diaspora family living abroad, our offshore missions –– starting with those in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom –– will be able to process e-Passport applications on their own.

Ladies and gentlemen, the benefits of these e-Passports are wide-ranging, and they are many –– something that will become clearly evident for Fijians who use them in the months and years ahead.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who made this ambitious project happen: The Fijian Government’s ITC department, our Department of Immigration, and our Ministry of Economy –– in addition to our international partners, Germany’s Mühlbauer ID Services and Sri Lanka’s Informatics –– for the hard work put in to get us over the finish line.

I am particularly grateful to Mr. Ludwog Huber, Mühlbauer’s Assistant General Manager, and Mr. Hiran Wickramasinghe, the Head of Public Sector Solutions at Sri Lanka’s Informatics International Limited, for partnering with Fiji to bring what was once a vision of my government into a reality.

I now have great pleasure to officially welcome the era of e-Passports to Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.