E na Vanua Vakaturaga o Ra,
Uluda na Gone Turaga na Tui Navitilevu,
Nacobicibici na Vunivalu na Tui Nalawa,
Burelevu vua na Ratu ni Natawiya,
Nakorotubu na Turaga na Nagonesau,
Na Liuliu ni Bose ni Yasana,
Members of the Ra Provincial Council Meeting,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here this morning to open the Ra Provincial Council Meeting.
This weekend our nation was devastated by the news of the passing of five of our citizens in Votualevu. I know I speak for every Fijian when I say I was shocked and saddened by that horrific tragedy, but I thank God that the one-year old child was discovered and has since been admitted to hospital. I am praying for that young girl’s full recovery.
I’ve been assured that our Fiji Police Force is giving this serious matter the resources and attention it deserves as they work to uncover the nature of this crime and discover who is responsible. In the meantime, I ask that you all join me in prayer to grant strength to the family and friends of the victims during this incredibly difficult time, and for the health of the infant girl who was rescued.
Friends, when I spoke to many of you in 2018, Fiji was undertaking preparations for our most recent General Election. In addressing this Council, I delivered a message of progress and a promise of even greater prosperity for our beloved Fiji.
I carried that same message across the country throughout our election campaign. Once again, the FijiFirst movement captured the hearts, minds and dreams of the Fijian people. Once again, I was honoured to be elected to serve as your Prime Minister.
Since our electoral victory, we’ve lived up to our greatest promises: we’ve delivered our tenth straight year of economic growth, we’re continuing to empower our people with greater opportunities, and we’re affording those living in rural and maritime parts of the country a special level of care and commitment – going above and beyond the call of duty to bridge the divide between our rural and urban areas.
Our assistance is given out of recognition for the unique challenges faced by our people wherever they reside. It’s never given on the basis of province. It’s never given on the basis of ethnicity, family connections, religion or communal background.
When I sit down at the decision-making table with my Ministers, we don’t see this country through the lens of our differences. When we discuss the different provinces, we don’t ever pick favourites. We see the needs of all communities, and we get to thinking about how we can serve those needs as urgently as possible. That is the sacred promise behind how my Government operates. We care for all people. We empower all people. It’s not about where a person comes from. It’s certainly not about for whom they may have voted. Our priority is on making life better for every member of every family in Fiji.
I don’t only work to realise that commitment when leading as Prime Minister, I strive to live out that mantra in my own life on a daily basis. While many see me first and foremost as Fiji’s Prime Minister, to me, my primary role is being a father. I care about my wife, children, and grandchildren; they, and all the children of Fiji, are what has driven my relentless pursuit to make our beloved nation a better place.
They, with my service to God and country, are my life.
Like any parent, or grandparent, I know that family is the source of our nation’s greatest strength. Strong families build strong communities which strengthen the nation as a whole. And strong families create citizens with strong moral foundations – citizens who adhere to our highest values, citizens who care for their fellow Fijians, and citizens who we can entrust with securing our nation even greater successes in the years ahead.
The institution of family is sacred. It’s above politics. And every policy and project we champion is designed to empower families to perform their vital role in building a better, more caring and more prosperous Fijian society. The massive investment that my Government has poured into Ra is no different; whether that’s the roads we’re building to open up more of your communities to new markets and new opportunities, the assistance we’ve introduced to support those most vulnerable in society or the unprecedented funding set aside for your children’s education.
Last year alone, we granted just under half a million dollars to fund social welfare assistance programmes in your province – uplifting senior citizens, expecting mothers, those living with disabilities, our children and the disadvantaged. That social safety net has saved many of our people from slipping through the cracks of mainstream society, and allowed them to find fulfilment in life, with the confidence of financial and physical security.
And we’re continuing to provide low-income mothers of newborn Fijian babies with Parenthood Assistance Payments –– a $1,000 grant that is paid in two instalments, $500 upon the birth of the child, and $500 once that child enrols in Year 1.
We’ve given over Four Million Dollars last year towards the education of children in your Province, funding free education, free textbooks and subsidised transportation to school. That funding includes the upgrades we’ve undertaken at the Nasau Secondary School and the Naqaqa SDP Primary School.
And on top of that significant investment, we’ve made over 250 Million Dollars available for tertiary loans and scholarships for Fijians – of all ages – looking to pursue their dreams of higher education. And I fully expect to see more children from every school in Ra among the ranks of graduates at our various universities, along with our vast network of technical colleges.
We’re investing in health, upgrading and expanding facilities, spreading awareness of the danger of deadly non-communicable diseases and investing in facilities where Fijians can exercise to maintain healthy lifestyles. We’re investing in law enforcement, as seen through the recently-completed, 600,000-dollar Namarai Police Station – which we’ll commission soon. We’re improving access to fire authority services to the tune of 1.2 Million Dollars to contract a new Rakiraki Fire Station. We’re investing in community security by installing street lights in communities, schools and health centres all along the King’s Road.
And we’re investing in expanding economic opportunity, supporting your agricultural sector and livestock production, including a future-facing focus on “aqua-culture”, with some of your communities opening up to lucrative new opportunities like black pearl farming.
Since the last financial year, we’ve invested Three Million Dollars in our rural water project, putting water tanks directly in communities to cut reliance on expensive water carting during the dry season and another Eight Million Dollars has gone towards the rural electrification scheme to bring the life-changing benefits of reliable and affordable power to communities across Ra.
Friends, we’ve been busy accomplishing all of this while my opponents have been busy claiming that Fiji is running out of money. Seriously, whenever you hear that from a politician, I urge you to ask them: So, who is paying for our children’s education? Who is paying for our free water and subsidised electricity? Who is building the roads and giving assistance to the vulnerable?
I promise you – it’s not my opponents. Year after year, they offer no alternative vision, and have produced no alternative budget.
Their answer to all of my Government’s solution is “no” –– and voting “no” without an alternative never paved a road or fuelled an economy. Finding those real solutions have been left to my government. And every day that critical funding supports the wellbeing of our people, we prove the Opposition’s lies all the more wrong.
But amidst all of this progress, there are opportunities being left on the table. As you know, my government has launched an historic initiative to fund the development of iTaukei land, and we’ve already broken ground on five such projects across the country. But I’ve been informed that not one complete application for the subdivision of land has yet been received from a community in the Ra Province.
This programme exists because we want you – our iTaukei landowners – to be more than rich in assets, we want you to be cash rich as well. We want you to realise the full benefits from your land. We want you to become more economically and financially powerful.
We want you to lease your lands for long term leases and get the right rental paid for it. And by leasing your lands over a longer term of 99 years, you give investors the security to make large-scale investments, whether agricultural, commercial, tourism-based or residential, that open up new doors of economic opportunity for your communities by creating jobs for your people – on top of the lease monies you’ll be paid.
It’s an obvious win-win. But we need your communities to take the initiative. Put together a successful and complete application to have your land developed and subdivided, realise your own financial gain and do well by your communities and by the Fijians each of you is tasked to serve.
My Government is covering the absolute essentials for every Fijian family. So, when you sit down for dinner, you don’t need to think about affording to send your child to school.
You don’t need to question whether or not the authorities can reach you in times of crisis. You can think bigger. You can plan out your success over a longer term. You can empower yourselves by taking your stake in our growing economy. When you do that, you benefit and your nation benefits as a whole.
Friends, I raise these points because I’m passionate about the well-being of every Fijian who calls this province home. I don’t measure progress just by the new world-class hotels and grocery stores popping up in Suva and of our major towns and cities. I measure progress by how life in our rural communities is keeping pace with the development of our urban areas – by how communities everywhere, including here in Ra, are seeing the benefits of our national progress.
I’m proud of my record in bringing rural and maritime regions into the fold of our nation’s development. But I know more can be done to deepen our work with your communities.
My Government has extended the hand of friendship and support to you, as leaders, in many ways. But it is up to each of you to reach out and seize the opportunities our co-operation can make possible. Our work together, with leadership at the highest levels paired with leadership directly at the grassroots, is the surest path to success for your communities. And as Prime Minister, I’m committed to being a partner in progress to all of you. I stand ready to work for you and work with you in that regard. When I speak with each of you, you will always get the full truth and nothing but the truth. You’ll never catch me trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes; for better or worse, I’ll always tell it like it is. And when I do act, you’ll always get results you can count on.
I thank you for the warm welcome you’ve afforded me and my delegation. I wish you all a successful meeting and I look forward to speaking with as many of you as possible.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.