Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Members of Landowning Units;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
We’re here this morning for the third distribution of funding under the Landowners’ Seed Fund Grant. Here today are the latest round of our landowners, each of whom are set to grow their role in our economy and their share of Fijian prosperity by receiving an injection of financial capital to back compelling ideas in business and development.
By themselves, some of these individual projects may seem small. They may only support a single family or a small community. But together, across Nausori, Tailevu, Bua and Ba, these projects are cogs in a much larger engine of economic growth and development. As hard-working Fijians such as yourselves use this seed funding to start or expand your farms or launch other income-generating projects, you are creating economic opportunity and prosperity for yourselves, your families, your mataqalis and our nation as a whole.
This initiative was borne from intimate discussions held between myself as Chair of TLTB and landowning communities at the provincial and village level across the country. With the security of iTaukei land forever enshrined in the Fijian Constitution, our landowners were ready to seize new economic opportunities. But they were sending us a clear message: While they wanted to pursue new businesses and bring big ideas to life, they lacked the up-front capital to make that happen.
Three years ago, we delivered this funding initiative to back the resourcefulness and abilities of you – our landowners – with capital investment, giving you the resources to leverage the full value of your land resources and turn your dreams into reality.
In 2017 we began this initiative with a total allocation of 200,000 dollars. Last year, that amount grew to 350,000 dollars. This year, we’re distributing 500,000 dollars in seed funding to 56 landowners and landowner groups. And this initiative is funded directly from the profits of the iTaukei Land Trust Board. Anyone who has run a business will tell you: Smart leaders don’t let profits go to waste, they re-invest them to spur greater productivity. I can’t imagine a smarter use of resources than investing in you, the women and men whose sweat and ingenuity are building Fiji’s future.
In addition to this, my Government is also funding the subdivision of iTaukei land to help realise bigger profit margins and community-wide gains directly to landowning units and wider community gains, creating economic opportunities for all Fijians. Apart from developing your own land, I also urge iTaukei landowners to also lease their land out for 99-years. Under our Constitution, you will attract market rates for the entire tenure of these long-term leases. There is a big opportunity on the table for long-term leases for agricultural purposes and other economic sectors which position our country for greater economic growth and secure a steady flow of cash and long-term prosperity– for you, as landowners, and for your future generations.
Since becoming Prime Minister, I’ve made my definition of national progress clear: Progress only counts when every Fijian sees the benefits. Not only the elites. Not only those from certain provinces, with certain parents and with certain friends in high places. None of you are sitting here because you knew the right people. You’re sitting here because you brought a bold idea to the table, you saw an opportunity, and the TLTB is giving you means to turn your ambition into a livelihood.
But the value of this project goes deeper than the short-term cash you’re able to accrue. By opening access to seed funding, we’re creating a culture of sustainable economic development, the benefits of which will build momentum over generations. That’s why we call it “seed funding” in the first place –– government is planting and watering a seed with the hope that it will grow and flourish into something bigger and more beautiful.
My friends, when you pursue a new project and succeed, your community members see that happen. Young people in your mataqalis see that happen, and they want to follow your lead. The precedent you set – your single, breakthrough success story – can go on to inspire generations of business owners who have seen what success looks like first-hand, and hunger to taste it on their own, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship that transforms Fiji into an economy of job-makers rather than job-takers.
I want to make an important point: there are critics out there who will lie and say these seed-funding grants are handouts or freebies. When they say that, they think they are insulting my government. But really, they’re insulting you – the hard-working people who want to make the most out of this opportunity. When those critics make those claims, what they’re really saying is that they don’t believe your ideas merit investment. But that’s not my government’s mentality; we believe in you. That’s why we’re funding your ventures. That’s why we’re matching equity for large-scale projects in your communities. And that’s why we will continue to stand by you, the small drivers of our larger economic growth, as we take Fiji forward.
I encourage all landowners to start to think differently – and bigger – when it comes to your development and nosiness ventures. Our economy is diversifying, our industries are evolving and new opportunities are arising.
Just because something hasn’t been done before in your community, or even in all of Fiji, doesn’t mean that it is a bad idea – in fact, some of the biggest breakthroughs come from trailblazers who are willing to challenge the status quo.
Outside of this funding program, we’re helping young Fijians launch especially innovative ventures through the Young Entrepreneurship Scheme – the YES program. Because as our entrepreneurs – of all ages – succeed, so succeeds the Fijian economy, and so succeed our fellow Fijians.
I look forward to watching the seeds we plant today grow in the months and years ahead. You, my friends, now have the opportunity to take ownership of your future, improve your communities, and prove, now more than ever, the Fijian dream is alive and well.
Vinaka vakelevu. Thank you.