The Honourable Speaker of Parliament;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Mister Speaker, I’m not here today to make a long speech. I’m not here to play politics. And – unlike we’ve seen from some other Honourable Members –I’m not here to grandstand for a few minutes of screen time. I’m here to get this Budget passed and get Fijian workers and businesses the support they badly need.
I don’t think many on that side of Parliament really appreciate just how important it is that we get this Budget over the line. I think some of us in this Chamber seriously do not realise what is happening around the world right now, and just how bad things are going to get.
This morning, there are over half a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Every day hundreds or more deaths are reported. The entire world has been grounded to hard and fast halt. The global economy is hurtling towards the most devastating economic crisis of our lifetimes. People are losing jobs, industries are collapsing, companies are going under.
Given this grim reality, I know the Fijian people shared my frustration last night listening to the tedious back and forth that delayed hearing what this Budget contained –and the support it provides – before it was even announced by our Honourable Attorney-General and Minister for Economy.
There’s a lot I could say about the conduct of the Members of the Opposition – but I won’t waste many words on them this morning; not when Fijians have their jobs on the line; when they live with the spectre of a COVID-19 outbreak; and when businesses are facing their hardest year in history.
Anyone with a brain –and more importantly, with a heart – knows that we need to turn this Bill into the relief our people need. We need to put money in Fijians’ pockets, now. We need to extend a lifeline to Fijian businesses. We need to get our doctors and nurses more of the life-saving supplies they need to test for and treat this virus.
Mister Speaker, we’ve been working closely with foreign missions to make sure Fijians can get home and expatriates in Fiji are able to return to their countries. There are three final evacuation flights scheduled this weekend. So far, only one is confirmed. It’s coming in from New Zealand to bring Fijians back home and repatriate kiwis and other foreign nationals.
All of these incoming passengers will be placed under compulsory self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Once these flights are sorted, passenger-travel out of Nadi Airport will shut down.
That measure is part of Fiji’s stringent COVID-19 containment effort – a nationwide response we’ve rolled out with break-neck efficiency to stop this virus in its tracks. Just to recap: The Lautoka confined area – the location of our first case – is on total lockdown. Cruise ships are banned. Anyone entering Fiji must immediately shut themselves in self-quarantine for 14 days. Inter-island passenger shipping ends on Sunday the 29th of March. Gatherings of 20 or more people are banned. Non-essential travel should not be happening anywhere in Fiji. The elderly should stay home at all times and so should children.
These measures are saving lives. And we didn’t waste any time going around to every political party in the country asking for permission to put them into effect.
We stepped up and got the job done, because the job needed to be done now.
Mister Speaker, as I’ve said in the frequent COVID-19 press statements I’ve delivered over the past week, we aren’t afraid to ramp up these containment measures if we feel the Fijian public isn’t taking this crisis seriously. When it comes to the type of activities and behaviours that we’ve discouraged to stop the spread of corona-virus – like non-essential travel, close contact, and large gatherings – too many Fijians seem to think that when the sun goes down, the rules stop.
That’s why today, I’m also announcing a new nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am, every night, everywhere in Fiji. This will take effect from next Monday evening the 30th of March.
There’s far too much risk of socialising and unnecessary travel at these hours. If you’re out during these hours, unless it’s for work or another life-sustaining purpose, the Police will direct you straight home. We’ll be announcing the full details of this curfew soon.
Mister Speaker, some of those heading to work in the very early hours of the morning deserve special recognition. While most Fijians are fast asleep, our COVID-19 team at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is starting their day, working to spearhead our response and containment efforts. At 3am, the Minister and his team are up listening to the advisories and assessments coming from the World Health Organisation in Geneva and reviewing the latest on the global situation.
By the time most people are just heading to work, this team already begun compiling our daily COVID-19 briefing and co-ordinating with disciplined forces and other ministries in our nation-wide virus response.
I thank this hardworking team for keeping me, and all Fijians, informed so we can face this fight head-on. And on the frontlines of our war on corona-virus are our doctors and nurses serving in isolation wards, fever clinics and in contact tracing teams to keep Fiji ahead of the spread of the virus.
Mister Speaker, these Fijians deserve far more than just our thanks. They certainly don’t deserve a pay cut. They deserve our help – and every Fijian in this chamber can show their appreciation by backing this Budget and giving these Fijians the tools they need to do their jobs well.
I also want to take a moment to speak directly to the Fijians listening at home. Whether you run a hotel, work in a factory, or sell produce at the market, I know this economic crisis hangs a dark cloud over your future. But none of you are in this struggle alone.
Our economy has endured global recessions and record-breaking cyclones. We are the same people who proved ourselves stronger than Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston. We are the same people who pulled ourselves out of the global financial crisis and propelled ourselves into Fiji’s longest ever economic expansion. We did not beat those challenges alone. We did it together.
Once again, we must find strength in our unity, we must work together in pursuit of one common mission – to keep our people safe, to keep our people employed, and to prepare our economy for its rebound.
Because when the dust settles, tourists will get back on the planes, Fijians will return to work at our hotels, restaurants, factories, call centres, gyms, markets, and shops, and the engine of our economy will get back up and running.
Corona-virus can’t take away Fiji’s pristine natural beauty, it cannot kill the tenacity of the Fijian spirit, it cannot rob us of our ingenuity, and it cannot hold us back from our nation’s incredible potential.
I hope my fellow members today will follow my lead and keep their contributions short and focussed on the Fijians we’re all meant to serve. Our nation needs us. They need us to treat this crisis seriously, they need us united in putting their well-being, their jobs, their health and their future first.
I’ve had to scold the irresponsible behaviour of Fijians who aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously a few times already this week, but now, I feel the need to direct that fire at the Opposition. Cut the nonsense. Jobs are on the line. Businesses are on the line. And lives are on the line.
Let’s be the Leaders our people deserve –and let’s get this Budget passed.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.