Turaga Na Tui Nadi;
Vanua Na Bukaiviti, Nodra Tikotiko Na Buli Na Vere;
Teachers and School Children;
Parents and Guardians;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I just arrived back in the beautiful North this morning, and it is a pleasure to begin my tour of your division here in Nasavu Village.
I know every Fijian living in Nasavu and anywhere in Bua remembers the devastation of super-storm Cyclone Winston. To this day, it remains the strongest-ever storm to strike on our side of the equator. Whole buildings were ripped to the ground, livelihoods were washed away, lives were lost. In some areas, there wasn’t a leaf left on a tree –– if any trees were left standing at all.
When Winston struck, your children were among the many who watched their school –– a place they had known as their home –– reduced to a ruin overnight. The sad fact of the matter is that the Nadi District School was never built to withstand a storm like Winston. Most schools in Fiji at that time were constructed decades ago, and almost none adhered to building codes.
In Winston’s aftermath, we knew we could never risk such devastation again. Day by day, we gave meaning to our rallying cry “Stronger Than Winston” by fulfilling our promise to build back better, putting in the time and resources to rebuild in line with cyclone-resilient standards. We never gave up, even in the face of new cyclones like Keni, Josie, and Gita and, more recently, cyclones Sarai, Tino and Harold. Each new storm we have endured has only fortified our resolve to build the resilience of Fijian communities.
Seeing the smiles here in Nasavu Village, I know every dollar spent and every day of hard work was well worth it. For more than two years now, the new 1.1-Million-Dollar Nadi District School has been a home that its students can count on. Every building — including the Dining Hall, Hostel, Teachers Quarters, and School Block — has been rebuilt to withstand the winds of future storms as part of our national commitment to rebuild better.
While the doors of this new school have been open for some time, I am grateful you have asked me here to celebrate this development for your communities. But I am not only here to open this new school –– I am here to spend time with your community. I am here to understand the obstacles you face and I am here to learn about how you can work with your Government achieve your community’s greatest aspirations for yourselves and ––most importantly –– for your children.
I have never led a Government that is content with making all of its decisions sitting in offices in Suva. Since day 1, our ears have been open to our people. We listen to your ideas. We take on your concerns. But we do not stop there. We do more than just listen –– we deliver development that changes lives for the better. And more often than not, we make those decisions here, directly in the communities we’re committed to serve.
Of course, not everything can be built overnight. We cannot settle for slap-stick solutions or gimmicks. Real, resilient development takes time. But as we see today –– it is always worth it.Friends, Fijians are not contending with a cyclone like Winston today, but our people are still threatened by a very serious crisis: The coronavirus pandemic. Overseas, this deadly virus has claimed nearly one million lives. In many countries, even a gathering like we are taking part in today would be a deadly mistake. Fiji acted quickly to stop the virus from spreading in our country and Thank God we did. Now, we can live with some sense of normalcy. But the economic pain of border closures and lower demand for exports all around the world have proved devastating for our economy.
Every Fijian’s life is touched in some way by the sadness this year. We all know someone who has lost their job or had their hours cut. We all know someone who is having a difficult time fetching the usual prices when they bring fruits, vegetables and seafood to market. We all know someone who has moved back to the rural areas to ride out this economic crisis.
But we have our health, we have each other, we have fertile land to provide us with food, we have our ideas, we have our ingenuity, and you have a Government that genuinely seeks to assist in every way we can to weather this storm. We are providing relief to those who have lost their jobs or had hours cut. We are ensuring life sustain services like water and electricity are not cut off. We are supporting those looking to start new businesses of their own. We are pushing ahead with construction to provide people with jobs, all while extending life-changing services to more of our people.
We will rise above this crisis. Yet again, we will prove our resilience and the power of positive thinking, and we will do more than recover; we will emerge from this crisis even stronger.
My friends, we have a vision for our country, a long-term strategic game plan for the Fiji ten, 20 and 30 years on from today; it is a vision bigger than any cyclone or even a challenge as serious as the coronavirus pandemic. It is a vision of a Fiji of equal opportunity. Once where every Fijian child –– no matter where they are born or who their parents are –– can rise to whatever station in life they work hard enough to earn. A Fiji where everyone can access high quality services, like water, electricity, and telecommunications. A Fiji defined not by petty squabbles among our people, but by the united purpose of becoming a better nation that benefits all people.
Today and every day, our sights remain set on that future. No challenge will deter us. Like we have so many times before, we will deliver once again.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.