Turaga na Tui Navatu;
Turaga na Tui Nalawa;
Marama na Tui Natauia;
Turaga na Tui Gonesau;
Hon. Premila Kumar, Minister for Housing, Community Development and Local Government;
Chair and Team of Special Administrators for Rakiraki and Tavua;
The Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, H.E. John Feakes;
The British High Commissioner to Fiji, H. E. Melanie Hopkins;
United Nations Women Representative Ms Sandra Bernklau;
Project Architect, Mr. Vijay Sharma from Sharma’s Design;
Contractor, Mr. Sunil Mishra from Super Construction;
Market Vendors; Residents of Rakiraki and friends;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
Over four years ago, the fury of severe Cyclone Winston ripped through Rakiraki, levelling homes, flooding communities and laying waste to your old market. In the days, months and years that followed, we have proved that even our hemisphere’s strongest ever storm was not strong enough to break our spirits as we’ve built Fijian communities back better.
And when we broke ground on this new market in 2017, we saw a glimpse of the stronger and more resilient Fiji that would rise from Winston’s devastation.
This morning that day has come, as we proudly open the doors of the beautiful new Rakiraki market –a $6.3 million-dollar facility that was conceptualised, funded, and constructed as a joint project between the Fijian Government, our Aussie counterparts, and UN Women.
There’s nothing easy about travelling from one of many remote areas surrounding Rakiraki to sell goods and produce at this market. It’s a journey made far more difficult by a lack of proper dormitory facilities, particularly for women, who, at times, risked their very wellbeing sleeping on the roadside just to make a living.
For decades, this was the status quo. But I too held the vision shared by many vendors here today – including the Market Vendors Association – of a safer, more resilient, and more commercially-empowering marketplace for Rakiraki. And now we’ve turned the setback of Winston’s destruction into the opportunity to make that vision a reality.
With 320 stalls, 30 beds, and ample washrooms and showers, this market was designed not just as a more attractive, well-lit space for customers to shop, but as a second home for our vendors in the hours before it opens and after it closes. By providing a hygienic environment, reliable services and a safe place for vendors who have traveled long distances to rest their heads, this market will do more than support livelihoods – it will uplift lives.
This market does more than grant vendors a secure night’s sleep in clean facilities; it is a powerful platform for empowering Fijian women. It helps women vendors not only to start new small businesses, but tap into the full potential of their ventures through on-site training and mentoring. Across Fiji, we’re building an entire network of modern marketplaces, including markets and mini-markets that lifts Fijian commerce to the same operating standard found in advanced economies.
As these new facilities open, we must close the door on the old ways of informal selling. The vendors already selling within the walls of this market should be commended, the remaining vendors in the Rakiraki area must end their selling in informal stalls and make the move to this new facility. It’s not safe, it’s not hygienic, and it’s not legal. Instead, put this market to use; it is where your business ought to run in a modern economy.
And by formalising your livelihood into a small business, you’ll also be eligible for easily-accessible government assistance, opening up new opportunities for growth that you may have never thought possible –so I urge you to seize this chance to tap into your full economic potential.
Friends, while this market marks a full rebirth for Rakiraki since TC Winston, we’re now living through a new storm of a different, but no less destructive, nature: the global coronavirus pandemic. 42 days removed from our last confirmed case of COVID-19, my government’s decisive public health response has spared Fiji from much of the historic human suffering we’re seeing around the world. But this is more than a health issue; it is a global economic crisis that is affecting Fijian industries, businesses, and livelihoods more seriously than any single cyclone or, indeed, anything else we’ve seen in our independent history.
As fierce as these headwinds may be, we cannot allow ourselves to be blown off course from the nation that we’re working together to build, side-by-side. Our progress must press onwards. In the face of this latest crisis, our support for our vulnerable must strengthen. That is why we’re working with FNPF to support impacted Fijian families in a sustainable manner that grants them stability today and without compromising their financial security, years later when they retire.
We must look within ourselves for innovation, and look inwards within our economy for new sources of prosperity. That is why, from next week, we’ll be commencing generous concessional loans to micro, small and medium enterprises, helping business owners not only make it through COVID-19, but find new opportunity in this crisis. As announced by the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy in Parliament last week, more information on these loans will be released in the days ahead.
As the world prepares to welcome a new normal in the near future, Fiji is preparing to enter that new era on stronger footing. Just a few years ago, as homes and businesses in Rakiraki laid in ruin, this new market may have seemed impossible. In times of suffering, the pain of the present is much easier felt than hope for an unseen future – a feeling that Fijians are sharing once again today. But just as Rakiraki rose to its feet from Cyclone Winston, so will all of Fiji rise again from the challenge of COVID-19. And we will rise better, smarter and more capable of taking our nation into its brightest possible future.
I look forward to touring this new market, and doing my shopping here whenever I’m passing through Rakiraki – when I do I’ll be sure to bring my reusable bag with me.
Our campaign against single-use plastics doesn’t pause because of coronavirus, and we can’t accept excuses when it comes to the health of our environment and our oceans. You can follow my lead by purchasing one of the reusable bags from the lovely women vendors offering them right here at this market – by doing so, you will help us set an example to Fiji and the world. While I’m here, I also look forward to our talanoa session; because through these extraordinary times, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak with you, person-to-person, as we chart a path forward together.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.