Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I am very happy to be here with all of you today for the commissioning of these brand-new classrooms.
I am even happier that 230 students and 20 teachers finally have their classrooms and living quarters back, after the terrible destruction wrought by TC Yasa.
Some of you may know that this project has been quite historic for Fiji as a whole. It was the first time that an entire contingent was deployed to work on a project and in which four different Forces worked together: the Australian Defense Force, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, the New Zealand Defense Force and the French Defense Force.
I extend our deepest gratitude to the Government of Australia for their unwavering support through the TC Yasa response effort and the Vuvale Partnership Exercise. Australia continues to prove itself a close friend in both the good times, and the rough.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is important that we never forget the people and the values that have helped rebuild this school.
Thousands of students will now be able to continue passing through these classrooms – receiving an education that allows them to pursue their dreams and make important contributions to our beloved Fiji.
The international efforts that have gone into reviving Lekutu Secondary School demonstrate how much your Government values your education and the principles that guide us as we continue to build a brighter, more equal future for all Fijians.
We have prioritized the education of Fijians of all ages, introducing the Free Education Grant, Free Bus Fare and Free Textbooks to name a few. I am proud to say that we are the first Government to provide free and compulsory education for every child.
We have made sure that all students are supported from elementary level to tertiary level education; and you can be guaranteed that this will continue – with an increase of almost $43 Million Dollars being allotted to the Ministry of Education under the newly announced Budget.
This increase is concrete proof of Government’s ongoing commitment to each one of you.
From 2014, the Government through the National Toppers Scheme has awarded 4,565 students with scholarships while 165 students have received Special Needs scholarships.
This has enabled students with financial difficulties to further and complete their tertiary studies and find meaningful employment after graduation. Most of these students would not have completed their studies without Government assistance.
I understand that these are tough times we are living through. From the global COVID pandemic to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and of course the worsening climate crisis – all these events have an impact on our economy; our livelihoods; our education and our health.
As a responsible Government, we have introduced numerous initiatives in the recently announced national budget to support our people cushion some of these shocks. We have announced that households earning $50,000 or less will receive one dollar per day, which is seven dollars per week or 30 dollars per month, over a six-month period. This applies to any child from birth to Year 13.
In total, that adds up to $180 per child as direct assistance, after which we will review the global situation to determine where food prices stand at that time.
Additionally, all Social Welfare recipients and those in the After-Care Fund, Government-funded pensioners, and tertiary students will also receive a payment of $180 for six months.
Further, my Government has doubled the number of scholarships available to students to 1,200. We have added 770 awards in areas vital to the national interest, including Nursing.
We’ve also allocated 165 new scholarships for teacher training in Maths and Physics, Industrial Arts, Primary Education and Computer Science.
Teachers who have the relevant educational qualifications will now qualify for a salary raise to ensure that our teachers are constantly seeking to raise their game and provide our students with better education.
I am happy to confirm that in the next financial year, we are also projected to spend $5.87 Million Dollars in rural and maritime location allowances for civil servants living and working in these areas. That will benefit just under 5,000 civil servants across 954 locations.
Single officers will receive $1,200 per annum, while married officers will receive $1,800 per annum.
I am not able to cover everything that we have included in this Budget. However, I encourage you to have a look through the materials, which are online, and see for yourself that we are a Government that listens to our people and that is prepared to take any action necessary to ensure that no Fijian is left behind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to be able to officially open these blocks of rooms here at Lekutu Secondary School. The half a million-dollar facility will cater to the children of the 13 communities of the Lekutu Tikina; including the maritime communities of Yaqaga, Tavea and Galoa, and nearby settlements.
I want to emphasise that my Government is not satisfied simply with being the first to provide free, compulsory education for every child. We have always said that every Fijian student must have access to an equally high standard of learning, no matter where they live – whether in an urban city or in a rural maritime community.
Lekutu Secondary School is now equipped with a modern education facility that is built to cyclone-resistant standards and fully solar-powered, allowing teachers and students reliable connectivity.
I am told that there are plans in the pipeline for further upgrades of the dining hall and kitchen; the student dormitories; teacher’s quarters; staff quarters; and admin and restroom blocks. These are the high standards our children deserve. Facilities that enable every student to grow to their fullest potential, preparing them to be valuable Fijian and global citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to end by reminding students, teachers, and guardians that your Government believes that education is the greatest investment we can make in our future.
Education makes us more resilient –– by allowing us to create solutions that we once could not imagine. It brings us together by levelling the playing field of Fijian society.
And it sets us a lifelong journey of self-improvement that better our lives and better Fiji.
To the teachers of Lekutu Secondary School, keep up the good work and take pride in your work. To the students, keep working hard, listen to your teachers and always strive for excellence.
And to everyone in the communities nearby, please support your children and their ambition in life. Education happens at home as much as it happens in classrooms. Providing your children with good examples and values will ensure that they have a better life, and it will make Fiji a better place to live in for generations to come.