Turaga na Takalai i Gau;
Masi ni Vanua e Lomaiviti;
Turaga na i Talatala;
Members of the Lomaiviti Provincial Council;
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all. I’m delighted to be here this morning to address the Lomaiviti Provincial Council.
Just last week, I found myself reminiscing about my time as a seaman and as a Captain in the ranks of our naval forces as we celebrated the 44th Anniversary of the Fijian Navy. So, I was very looking forward to this opportunity to journey by boat here to Gau – it was a welcome call-back to those years I spent serving on the seas alongside my fellow service men and women.
The last time I addressed your Provincial Council was five years ago in 2014. Since that time, the strength of my Government’s commitment to the people of Lomaiviti has surged to historic proportions. That commitment has taken the form of an unprecedented era of new development and waves of historic levels of funding that have put new services at your disposal and made new opportunities available to your communities.
Not only for your people today, but for your children, and for generations of Fijians to come across this great Province. Page 3 of 18 I don’t play favourites. I don’t value any one province over another. I work in the service of all Fijians. I deliver development for all Fijians. I’m not interested in where they call home or who they may have voted for. What matters to me is my duty. As a Navy man and a former Commander of the RFMF: I know that duty comes first. And it is my duty to ensure that every Fijian community experiences new development and every Fijian child has equal access to opportunity, today and throughout their entire lives.
For far too long in Fiji, our leaders didn’t share that mentality. Past leaders cared only about the interests of themselves and their province, rather than the nation as a whole. They failed to tap into our national consciousness and capture our imaginations of what Fiji could achieve. Instead, they stuck with their backwards way of doing things. But we know that a nation can’t succeed when one province is given all the attention, while others lag behind. We know a nation succeeds only when all people are united in common purpose and all communities see the equal benefits of a nation’s success.
My Government has always stood united in pursuit of a goal that is bigger than any one person, or any one province. Unity, equality and inclusivity have been the foundation of our success from day one. That is why our economy is now the strongest it has ever been.
That is why we have achieved ten years of unbroken economic growth – the longest stretch of growth in Fijian history. And that is how we’re funding unprecedented development across the country, most especially in our maritime areas. Because regions like Lomaiviti do deserve special attention and your challenges require special efforts from my Government to address.
In Lomaiviti alone, since 2017, my Government has invested 42 Million Dollars in infrastructure development across this Province. That includes the over 12 Million Dollars we’ve spent building and maintaining roads, crossings and jetties across Ovalau, Koro and Gau – opening up Fijian communities to new opportunities across this province and around the country. We’ve brought another 20 villages and two settlements access to a reliable supply of water. This year, the Water Authority of Fiji will be connecting two more villages and the Gau Secondary School to a consistent clean water supply.
Our steady spending to bring your people the life-changing benefits of electric power has seen an explosion in access to electricity, with coverage hitting 96 per cent this year. Since 2017, our work in expanding access to electric power is benefitting over 400 households across your Province.
Yesterday I had opened another two solar projects at nursing stations in Naiwakama and Vadravadra to ensure reliable electricity to those two critical installations in our rural health network. We’ve given over 250,000 dollars to support agricultural projects – including yaqona production.
Australia recently announced that they’d be easing the import restriction on yaqona, so it’s certainly an exciting time be in the yaqona business. We’ve funded the construction of ice plants, biofuel mills and new district offices to extend the reach of essential Government services.
But what brings me the greatest pride, is that – from 2016 to 2018 – we’ve given over Seven Million Dollars to fund free education, free textbooks, subsidised transportation for students throughout the islands of Lomaiviti. That, friends, is an investment that will pay dividends for generations, as your children are receiving education that will empower them throughout the course of their entire lives.
Delivering this level of development is only possible because we’ve unified the country. It is only possible because we’ve consistently grown our economy. It is only possible because we haven’t left any Fijian, in any region of the country, outside the fold of our national progress. Now, we all know how rumours can catch fire across Fiji.
And I’m sure we’ve all heard some unbelievable bits of gossip in our time. But the latest and craziest rumour that I’ve heard going around is that the Government is somehow running out of money. That somehow our soaring GDP has dried up the resources available to our people. Friends that is a total lie. How do we know? Because the funding towards your communities isn’t going anywhere.
We will continue to provide free education for your children. We will continue to provide free textbooks and subsidise transportation to school. The development of the new Gau Sporting Complex, new health facilities, new school buildings, and new roads, bridges and jetties will all press forward.
We will continue to provide social welfare assistance to those most vulnerable in society, including rural pregnant mothers, the disabled and our pensioners. We will continue to upgrade informal settlements and create opportunities for landowners to develop their land and realise financial gain. Now, we’re always tracking trends in global growth and development to keep our economy competitive.
And, yes, we are making cuts to reduce wasteful spending in Government. But that’s for everyone’s benefit, as it makes Government more efficient and frees up more resources that more directly benefit our citizens. But seriously, if politicians try and tell you that there isn’t any money in Government’s coffers ask them: So, who is paying for my children’s education? Who is providing low-income families with free water and who is subsidising our electricity?
Who is paving the new roads and who is building the new solar projects? Trust me: It isn’t SODELPA – that credit goes to your FijiFirst Government. But that’s not the only lie being peddled by politicians. They’ve chosen to play an even dirtier game. They’ve chosen to prey on the deepest fears of our people by claiming that iTaukei culture – our culture – is somehow under siege. Friends, there are indigenous people in countries around the world who have watched – helplessly – as their entire lands have been lost forever and their culture has been erased.
Those experiences represent some of the greatest tragedies in human history. But Fiji is not those countries. That is not the experience of the iTaukei. By even suggesting that our people face such a threat, politicians belittle the very real suffering and heartbreak of those persecuted indigenous peoples.
Friends, I’m a proud iTaukei. I’m proud of our unique culture, I’m proud of our special way of life and I’m proud of the history that forms the most intimate piece of our identities. Welcoming new development hasn’t meant saying goodbye to who we are as a people. Progress doesn’t weaken our culture or our traditions, it actually strengthens them both. Because of our progress in technology, we’ve permanently enshrined 24,000 words, images and audio files on the iVolavosa app. With that information stored online, it can never be lost or erased.
Because of our progress towards the 2013 Fijian Constitution, iTaukei land can never be permanently alienated or taken away, and iTaukei culture and traditions are forever guaranteed and protected. Because of the progress of our growing economy, we’re able to fund the development of iTaukei land to help our landowners see a profit from their land and resources.
Because of our progress in education, teachers of the iTaukei language are accessing new opportunities in professional development to empower them in growing the knowledge and understanding of the iTaukei language among young people.
Irrespective of student’s ethnicity, conversational iTaukei is being taught as a compulsory subject in every Fijian school, as mandated under our Constitution. And because of our progress on the global stage, our cultural traditions have been showcased on some of the grandest stages in the world.
Millions of eyes have been upon our culture, upon our traditions, upon everything that makes us proud to be iTaukei people. Because of our progress, our culture is being preserved for all time. Because of our progress, our culture is being carried to the highest levels of global prestige and understanding.
And because of our progress, our children, their children, and their children after them will know our history, they will practice our traditions and they will carry the iTaukei people into an even more prosperous future. We’re planting the seeds of that legacy today, by empowering landowners to make productive use of their land to earn themselves financial gain.
Through our Land Bank, we’re giving landowners the opportunity to lease out their land at market rates through the Ministry of Lands. And when that land is leased out, landowners see 100 per cent of the lease monies. The Ministry will not take single cent, it all goes straight into your pockets. And I encourage any interested landowners to speak with my delegation to learn how you can earn your own slice of our national prosperity by developing their land. Page
Friends, the most important aspect of our progress is that it is benefitting all people on an equal basis. The iTaukei people operate from a position of strength unrivalled in our history, as do all other Fijians from all different sorts of backgrounds. It isn’t a competition where anyone has to fight for a greater share of our success at the expense of their fellow citizens.
Regardless of background, gender, ethnicity or social status, all Fijians are being empowered equally to make a larger contribution to our development. Because we realise that when Lomaiviti, or any other province does well, the Fijian economy does well, more money comes into our economy, and we all benefit. I was seriously alarmed that many of my opponents campaigned in the last election on the same old “us versus them” mentality by trying to divide our people on the basis of ethnicity and religion. That way of thinking serves no one.
When politicians tell people that our Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters should return where they came from, they’re not only being deeply hateful, they’re also dead wrong. The ancestors of Indo-Fijians didn’t come to Fiji by choice. Their ancestors were brought here under false pretenses by British colonialists as far back as 140 years ago. They were forced to work under slave-like conditions. When their work was done, the vast majority were too poor to leave Fiji at all, much less return to British India.
They had no choice but to make lives for themselves in this country. For their children and their generations of descendants, Fiji is the only home they’ve ever known. They worked their entire lives to build this country up and make major contributions to our development; contributions that have benefitted every Fijian. But even then, they were cruelly treated as outsiders. They were denied their rightful citizenship; their voices were silenced; and, in the violent coups of 1987 and 2000, many were forced to flee from our country.
Those are dark chapters are stains on our national history, not only for our Indo-Fijian citizens, but for all Fijians. Our entire nation was made weaker and our progress was halted; all because we failed to build bonds of unity among our people. Friends, great nations are built by people who stand united in purpose. The United States of America has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a global leader because they recognise every citizen – irrespective of ethnicity, gender, religion or background – as an American and treated them equally.
The USA has harnessed the passion of every one of its people by uniting them in a common mission: To build a better nation. Fiji must do the same. Yes, our ancestors may hail from different parts of the world. Yes, we may practice different religions. In fact, even among Christian we hail from different denominations. But what we share is a love for this country. What we share are visionary aspirations for our children, and their children after them. And only by working together can we realise those great ambitions.
Only together can we build a better and stronger Fiji and secure a brighter future for the generations to come. Just think about it. Say your mother were to fall ill and be in need of medical assistance; would you insist she be treated by a doctor of your same ethnicity? Or would you want the most qualified doctor available to assist her? Say your child was trapped in a burning building; would demand they be rescued by someone who practices your same religion? Or would you accept assistance from a person trained to quickly come to your aid?
The answers to these questions are obvious. What matters – above all else – is that our nation is served by people who are qualified and capable of doing the best job possible, whether that is working in our hospitals, in our law enforcement agencies, or teaching in our schools. That is how you build a strong and inclusive economy. That is how you better the lives of all people. As for our rights as iTaukei, our land is protected for all time: We have nothing – I repeat, nothing – to fear.
The only real threat to our progress are those who seek to undermine the unity of the Fijian people and those who seek to divide us and make us weak. That is politicians’ one and only tactic. They don’t have a vision. They don’t have ideas. All they have is the fear they try to manufacture. And it is high time that we – the Fijian people – stood firm and told them: enough is enough.
As for the progress delivered by my Government, we plan to stick with the recipe for success that has delivered the record growth of our economy and the historic levels of development being experienced across the nation. We will continue to make sure all of our people can access clean water, electricity, education and other essential services; services that make life better and that give us all a better chance at building the lives we’ve always dreamed of living.
As your Prime Minister, I can promise you this: the years ahead will see more of those dreams realised every day. They will continue to be filled with great achievements for Fiji, and you – our fellow Fijians in Lomaiviti – will be walking alongside us every step of the way. I’m grateful for the invitation to address this Council and I thank you all for the wonderful welcome. I wish you a very productive meeting. Vinaka vakalevu.