Na Turaga na Tui Suva;
Members of the TLTB Board of Trustees;
Senior Government Officials;
Landowners and Successful Recipients of the Landowners
Seed Fund Grant in 2020;
Management and Staff of TLTB;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Friends, we all know this has been a very tough year. Because of the deadly coronavirus, the world economy has fallen into the worst peace-time recession in a century. That means – aside from the 1940s when the world was literally at war – this is the worst economic crisis in 100 years.
In the many months since this global pandemic forced the closure of our borders, the Fijian economy has suffered, our businesses have suffered, and our families have suffered. Every one of us has a friend or family member who has lost a job or had their hours reduced. Amid the uncertainty of this crisis, we still cannot say when this crisis will end and when life will return to what we knew.
But we are more blessed than most, because Fijians have our health. Unlike elsewhere, where this virus has killed over one million people, we are safe. Your Government acted quickly to contain this deadly disease and eradicate it from our communities, and we succeeded.
It has been more than 190 days since we have had a case of COVID-19 among the public – a record no nation can match.
The health and safety of the Fijian people is our one great advantage at a time when everything else seems stacked against us. Right now, many countries are locking back down as a result of new outbreaks of the virus. But in Fiji, because we are COVID-Contained, we have the chance to restart our economy without risking our people’s well-being.
We can live life with relative freedom. And we can look to our land, to our own ideas and ingenuity, and to our own sweat and effort to make the best out of a historically difficult situation.
For those who need our support, we are giving it. No Government in Fijian history has ever paid out more in unemployment assistance than we have through this crisis.
To-date, of the $100 Million allocated in direct Government assistance, nearly $50 Million has been paid to Fijians this financial year alone who are out-of-work or who are working on reduced hours. We’ve also provided incentives to the private sector to hire Fijians who have lost their jobs and livelihood, and we have allocated $60 Million in highly concessional loans for micro, small, and medium enterprises.
But we should not settle for short-term assistance, nor will we. Given we do not know when our border will re-open and given we cannot say when the revenues from Tourism will return, we must do more than sit, wait, twiddle our thumbs, and hope for the best. We cannot wait on the world to beat this virus. Instead, we have to create economic activity, create jobs, create development, and create prosperity for ourselves.
That’s what this seed funding grant is designed to do. It is not a handout, it is an investment to empower our landowning communities to tap their assets and entrepreneurial spirit to make themselves financially powerful. Your land is protected for all time by our Fijian Constitution. But unless it is put to productive use, it will only remain an asset. It will not generate income that can feed you and your families.
We know the upfront costs of developing land or starting a business can be high, that is why we are stepping up with funding to help you realise your land’s full potential. Because we believe that your victories are your nation’s victories. When you do well by developing your land, starting a business, or growing crops which help sustain our people, your families do well, your communities do well, and so do all of your fellow Fijians.
In total, we’re handing out $460,000 to 53 successful grant recipients who have put forward plans to lease their land or start or grow a new business project. I’ve read through a few of the applications. We have Fijians here who will be farming dalo and yaqona, others who are in livestock, and others still who are in aqua-culture.
And we have some who are pursuing the development of their land, including through eco-tourism – our borders may be closed today, but that does not mean we should not prepare for the day they re-open.
My friends, when you pursue a new project and succeed, your community members see that happen. Others will 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.
And as you continue to grow your business, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources made available by the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport and, for our farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture is here to support you as well.
You are not the first landowners whose business plans have merited investment. Since we began this initiative in 2017, $1.5 Million has been granted to landowners seeking to realise the full value of their land. These Fijians’ success has been widely shared. Their farms are strengthening our nation’s nutrition security. Their businesses are expanding to hire more people. They are developing their land, creating housing. And they are earning revenue which they spend within our economy. I remember the critics who said back who blasted these seed grants as handouts and freebies.
Since then the hard work and success of those of our landowning entrepreneurs has proved them wrong, as will each of you. And as we plan our next great economic come-back in the wake of COVID-19, I look forward to the role each of you will play.
Work hard, dream big, and I know you will do well. As a direct result, so will Fiji.
Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you, and God bless!