Nadawa na Turaga Bale na Takalaigau;
Naiviqeleqele Gone Turaga na Ratu;
Turaga Lewena na Tui Vanuaso;
Teachers and Staff;
Parents, Guardians and Students;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I am very happy to be here in Gau with all of you, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of Gau Secondary School. It is a special day in the history of your School, as well as Fiji’s history.
Before the Gau Secondary School began in 1971, parents had to send their children to urban centers an ocean away, such as Suva, to pursue their secondary education. Your predecessors worked hard to change that –– they cut sugarcane and planted pine trees at the Nabou Pine Station and sent the money they earned back here to fund the building of this wonderful School.
It is important that we never forget the people and the values that made this school a reality. Hundreds of students have passed through these classrooms over the last half a century – were able to receive an education that allowed them to pursue their dreams and make important national contributions. The foresight and sacrifice of the past generation enabled you, its current students, to be educated right here on Gau without having to be separated from your families.
Ladies and Gentlemen, those same values held by your parents and grandparents have guided my Government 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 pleased to share that I will also be officially handing over a 7-tonne truck, post peeler and 4×4 vehicle here today, to the Narocake Pine Scheme on behalf of the Ministry of Forestry. As many of you will know, under the Lomaiviti Pine Schemes, the Narocake Pine Scheme – which includes Lovu, Vadravadra and Yadua Villages – is a tikina-based scheme owned by the Tikina of Sawaieke.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced my Government to pool resources to support Fijians who were most affected by the pandemic. The vehicles purchased for your scheme were among those that were re-deployed to assist with the COVID-19 operations. Your 4×4 vehicle was used for house visitations and vaccinations, while your truck was used to deliver root crops and vegetables from restricted areas to the market. I wish to acknowledge your patience with the re-deployment of these vehicles and machines. I am advised that you have one of the most successful pine schemes in Fiji, and so I hope that these vehicles will help further that success.
Let me also add that in this financial year, the Ministry of Housing and Community Development will be raising rural awareness about the imperative of resilient housing and cyclone standard constructions. This is part of Government’s new Social Housing Assistance Policy where Fijians can now access a Category-Four certified house plan free of charge to all Fijians with a material list for the house.
The new programme will provide 10,000 Dollars’ worth of assistance for the procurement of materials and material transportation.
After my time with you here, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will be heading to Sawaieke District School, where I will hand over a 23ft Fiberglass Boat and 40 Horsepower Suzuki Outboard Engine so that students there will be able to access reliable and safe transport to school from now onwards. Additionally, they will also receive much needed school furniture and building material. The assistance to the school was made possible through the Small Grants Scheme within the Office of the Prime Minister. I had made these commitments previously and I am here to ensure that we follow through on the promises I have made to the school.
I have a long history of achieving development together. In 2019 I launched the solar power system for the two nursing stations in Nawaikama and Narocake. Later that year, the new footbridge in Nawaikama was also completed allowing people to cross safely.
In 2020, in Nacavanadi Village, we funded and commissioned a water project and Solar Home Systems project to give community members relief from generations of struggle and disappointment with previous Governments who had turned a blind eye to their needs. There is more we can do together as Fiji makes a powerful economic recovery from the pandemic.
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 Gau 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.
I wish Gau Secondary School a Happy 50th Anniversary!