Na Yavusa Nanuka, Ki Vua na Turaga na Tui Labasa;
Yavusa Burenilau, Ki Vua na Turaga na Tui Vaturova;
Management and Staff of Fiji Roads Authority; Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka, and good afternoon to you all.
Earlier today, I had the great pleasure in opening the new Nakorotari Crossing that now links Siberia Road to Nakorotari Road.
This new multi-million-dollar project has now linked remote Fijian communities with resilient, convenient access across the Labasa River.
But this morning represented more than just the commissioning of a single crossing; it marked the beginning of a wider Vanua Levu Resilience Programme that will see the Fiji Roads Authority provide more direct, resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective travel all throughout the island.
Just a few hours later, I now have the pleasure to further build upon this new initiative by officially commissioning the Dreketilailai to Lekutulevu Rural Road Project.
At an investment of $3.3 Million Dollars, this new, fourkilometer road has three crossings.
It will serve as an invaluable connection for the Tikina of Labasa and the Tikina of Vaturova, and provide access to all villages and settlements along Bulileka Road, including our most remote farming communities –– immediately opening up new markets and new opportunities that I hope you take advantage of.
All in all, it is a project that will undoubtedly prove critical to linking the people of Lekutulevu to surrounding communities, the rest of Vanua Levu, and indeed, all of Fiji.
Previously, Fijians living in Lekutulevu had to endure a very different and difficult journey to leave their community – and in times of heavy rainfall, this journey became particularly perilous. The previous splash crossings that were used by the once-isolated people of Lekutulevu were all too often inundated by rushing floodwaters, forcing men, women and children to wade through rushing rivers to reach Dreketilailai Village or Labasa.
And, my friends, the dangers posed by these types of journeys should not be endured by any Fijian. No parent should have to risk their life every time they cross a river to seek food, supplies or services. No child should have to cross through churning rapids to attend school.
My heart breaks every time I hear news of a Fijian – especially a Fijian child – drowning in floodwaters, another life needlessly cut short.
While those living in Lekutulevu no longer have to worry about making the difficult choice of whether to stay or swim, there are many hundreds of communities scattered all throughout Fiji where, undoubtedly, Fijians will continue to wade through dangerous waters. Sometimes, they’ll do so for convenience, sometimes they have no choice. Sometimes still, they do it for fun. Some might argue that it’s part of our culture, and a dip in the river is part of life in Fiji.
But as we live in a world where climate change is making storms worse, our rivers are even more unpredictable. The same stream or river that you or I may have swum across as children poses a very different risk today than it did when we were young. I urge all Fijian parents to exercise extreme caution, and to always choose the safer option. It is simply not worth the risk.
This is why I take time to personally come to see projects like this one firsthand – because I know that the impact it has on your communities will not only be life-changing, but life-saving.
Taking 20 months to construct, this ambitious project has been no small undertaking. Throughout the construction period, the FRA team faced many challenges – but by pulling together, they were able to overcome all obstacles to provide what we see today.
Their insistence on quality and uncompromising attention to safety will ensure that this road will have a long-lasting impact on Lekutulevu that serves your community for decades to come.
In commissioning this hugely impactful project today, we are reaffirming my Government’s dedication to providing access and connectivity to each and every Fijian, no matter where they reside.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you, and God bless.