The Minister for Housing, Community Development and Local Government, the Hon. Premila Kumar;
Chair of the Special Administrators for Sigatoka and Nadi, Mr Adish Naidu;
Na Kalevu, Ratu Timoci Vosailagi;
Commissioner Western Mesake Ledua;
Chairman of Tappoo Group of Companies, Mr Kanti Tappoo;
Chairman of Fiji Rugby, Mr Conway Begg;
Acting Divisional Police Commander, Pita Keni;
CEO for Fiji Rugby, Mr John O’Connor;
Dr Salik Ram Govind.
Bula Vinaka and a good afternoon to you all. This week I had two great bits of news to share.
This Thursday not only marked 180 days since our last case of COVID-19 was confirmed among the Fijian public, we also cleared the last two of our active border quarantine COVID cases. That means there is not a single active case of the virus anywhere in Fiji.
Friends, the fact that we can gather here this afternoon without the spectre of a COVID-19 outbreak hanging over us is a remarkable feat. Despite the more than one million lives claimed by the virus overseas, the Fijian people are safe.
And I am grateful to be here today to unveil a monument which will forever symbolise Sigatoka’s celebration of 50 years of Fijian independence.
We named this nearby bridge the Melrose Bridge in honour of Fiji’s first World Cup win in Sevens rugby. We had earned our rightful recognition as a formidable rugby nation, a force to be reckoned with in international sport, and it was fitting that the bridge that leads people to and from Sigatoka Town carry that name. Sigatoka—and more broadly, Nadroga—have produced some of Fiji’s finest rugby players, including several players on our glorious gold-medallist team from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. And here, close to the Melrose Bridge, we dedicate today; this stallion statue, which has great symbolism for this part of Fiji.
The perennial powerhouse Nadroga rugby team is the Stallions, and it came by that name, firstly, because of the horse-breeding tradition here.
And second, well, because rugby in Nadroga is a sport of stallions. It is a sport for athletes who are fast, strong and agile. It requires stamina, will and determination. And I might add, now that the Fijian women are claiming their rightful place in our rugby tradition, you will have to come up with an equally appropriate nickname for them. This stallion is one of the official monuments we have unveiled – or will soon unveil – around the country to mark our 50th Anniversary of Independence. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend marking the occasion, wherever you had the chance to celebrate.
I was in Suva, where I had the privilege of unveiling our FIJI-50 monument dedicated to the healthcare heroes who served us so well this year. But today it’s Sigatoka’s moment. From now on, people approaching Sigatoka Town will be greeted by this marvellous stallion.
It will stand as a symbol of the town and its surrounding area, and it will invite travellers to explore what Sigatoka has to offer. It will remind them that Fiji punches above its weight not just in rugby, but in everything we set out to do. On the world stage, in the South Pacific, in sports and in the struggle to make this world a better place, Fiji counts. It is something we can be enormously proud of.
This 12-foot stallion holds a six-foot tall rugby ball beneath its hoof to demonstrate the town’s dominance in rugby. Like the stallion, and like all of Fiji, Sigatoka has a big heart and will always stand tall. Though we may have to make room for a soccer ball under those hooves as well, given Nadroga’s rising star on the football pitch – and I congratulate the Stallions on their recent senior division title.
This project was funded through a grant from the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Housing and a generous contribution from the Tappoo Group of Companies.
And I would like to thank the Tappoo Group, and particularly my good friend Mr. Kanti Tappoo, for stepping forward, as they always do, to support efforts by Fijians to improve their communities.
I also would like to recognize the fine work done by Kanta Construction and Sigatoka Electric to build, place and illuminate this statue.
And while we are talking about the stamina required of rugby players and what that means for Sigatoka, I want to remind everyone that we are also here to recognize 20 local businesses that have been operating for at least 50 years. They are at least as old as we are as an independent nation.
It takes real stamina to stay in business that long, but it also takes brains, courage, sacrifice and an ability to manage risk and adapt to changing consumer tastes and economic conditions.
I would like to congratulate all recipients of the certificates of appreciation and recognition that we will award today and ask you to stand and be recognised.
Thank you all, and congratulations once again.
Vinaka vakalevu and thank you.