The Honourable Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism, and Transport;
My Fellow Fijians.
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I am absolutely thrilled to be with all of you today to celebrate our country’s 50th Anniversary. And I am especially delighted to see so many people who have brought their businesses here. You show us the spirit of the Fijian people, the energy and drive and courage it takes to start a business and make it grow. Your success is Fiji’s success, and so Fiji Day is very much your day—because Fiji celebrates you as much as you celebrate Fiji.
This is truly a celebration—not just of our 50th anniversary, but of Fiji’s bounty and the Fijian spirit. You are all here in the midst of this pandemic, which forced us all to make great sacrifices, to show and sell what you have produced and to help create a genuine spirit of community. It is something we have sorely missed, and it is something we need. It’s a perfect addition to the IDC tournament that is happening right next door, and I thank you for making it possible. The lovos, the curries, the games, the entertainment, the candy floss— it is all wonderful to see. So as long as we take care to maintain proper distance, it gives us hope for a time when we can return to normal. Until then, we can enjoy this day in this place, with you.
I know that the measures we were forced to take to protect ourselves from this pandemic have been especially hard for you. I understand the reality on the ground. I understand your sacrifice. But you are Fijians, and I also trust in your ability to be tough in the face of a challenge. But you can’t do it alone.
That is why my Government offered concessional loans to small and medium-sized businesses. We have worked with the private sector, including the Fiji Chamber of Commerce, the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation, Fiji Institute of Accountants, and Women in Business who are working with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport to vet the concessional loan applications. So far, we have paid out more than $15 million to more than 2,500 recipients across Fiji— from the many thousands of applications we have received, and many more are being processed.
I would like to say another word of appreciation to you: I want you to know that all of you who are participating in this Food Fair play a major role in our economy. You create jobs and contribute to your communities, and you provide important goods and services. Before the Covid crisis hit, small and medium-sized enterprises contributed about 18% to our GDP and 60% to our labour force. And that is something to be proud of.
That is what makes the Micro and Small Business Grant Scheme that we have championed so important. With small amounts of money, we have been able to help thousands of entrepreneurs establish or expand their businesses—businesses of all kinds. We know that we are investing in the future, because people who put their heart and soul into their business are a good investment. People who put energy and planning behind their dream have a sound future. And a country that gets behind people like that is a wise country.
I don’t want to dwell on government programs today, because we are celebrating, and I think we all deserve to have some fun. In a short while, Mrs. Bainimarama and I will join a group of almost 50 children to plant some seedlings as part of Fiji’s effort to plant a million trees. We are looking forward to that. Then in 50 years, these children will be able to look up at the trees they planted and remember this day.
But in the midst of the fun and tree-planting, I wanted to remind all the vendors here that while they are small businesses individually, together they are a mighty force for this country.
Your participation here today is a sign of confidence – confidence in your products and businesses, confidence that Fiji will certainly bounce back and grow even greater, and confidence in yourselves. I urge you all to keep striving, to be optimistic, and to know that the future is yours. Keep moving forward, because that is where you will find the rewards of your labour.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today would not have been possible without the initiative of The Rotisserie and the Fiji Sports Council. This event they have provided has allowed us to come together in pride and happiness to celebrate the sacrifice and hard work of our forbearers and the truly wonderful nation they gave us. It is up to us to care for what our forebearers have given us and make it even greater. The work of building Fiji is never done.
I wish you all a Happy and Blessed 50th Fiji Day.
Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank You.