Vakaturaga e Vugalei Vua na Vunisalevu na Turaga na Tui Vugalei;
Vakaturaga e Burenitu Vua Na Vunivalu na Vosaibaleni;
Vakaturaga e Matanikutu Naivisere Vua na Turaga Na Qaranivalu;
Turaga na iTalatala;
FRA Board and Staff;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and good morning.
It’s wonderful to be with you in Waidra to welcome a development that is already changing lives for the better in your communities.
Over the years, my Government has steadily delivered infrastructure that connects the country and establishes a foundation for a modern Fijian economy. We have persevered through cyclones and other climate-related catastrophes. We pushed through the COVID-19 pandemic to put our economy back on track so that we can continue to deliver the projects and infrastructure that our people seek. From here in Waidra, to the West, to Vanua Levu and the North, to the outer islands, to the highlands, and to rural parts of Fiji, our national infrastructure network is more robust, resilient, and reliable than it has ever been, and it is further developing as I speak.
The old single-lane timber bridge that crossed Waidra Creek was not suited to the ambition of your communities. In heavy rains, it would flood and become uncrossable. But even on a day with clear weather, heavy vehicles could not make this crossing. Instead, farmers had to make multiple trips on smaller trucks to transport their produce and poultry. More trips mean more fuel which means fewer profits.
This new two-lane Bailey Bridge is a permanent fix to that problem. It represents a $3.3 Million investment in your communities –– one which you sought and your Government delivered. The pandemic added nearly a year to the construction process due to supply shortages. But we persevered. Today we have a bridge that is certainly worth the wait.
This bridge is strong enough to support the weight of heavy trucks and it is safe enough to serve as a reliable connection between your communities and the rest of the nation because it is built to a climate-resilient standard.
Since 2016, 14 cyclones have hit Fiji. The strength and frequency of these storms are unparalleled in recorded history. The world is warmer, storms are stronger, and the construction standards of the last century are no longer good enough. Amid the rubble of storm after storm, the only rational choice is for us to build back better. This bridge is a testament to that commitment.
Baulevu, Koroqaqa and Waidra together represent Fiji’s second salad bowl –– and now your agricultural produce such as ginger, vegetables, root crops, and poultry, can travel reliably on heavy trucks to markets in Nausori, to exporters, and municipal markets.
Improving access to local crops has never been more vital to the nation’s well-being. The world is facing a “price-increase crisis” brought on by inflation, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and lagging shortages because of the pandemic. Together, Russa and Ukraine produce one tenth of the world’s calories. With those nations now at war, some of the world’s poorest countries are facing a humanitarian disaster as tens of millions of people are pushed to the edge of famine. Even in developed countries, rising food prices have been described as apocalyptic.
We have felt these prices rise in Fiji. Fuel is more expensive. My Government has taken drastic action by raising the minimum wage and lowering VAT to zero on 21 essential food items. But our most effective long-term solution to the price-increase crisis rests with farming communities like your own. Local food isn’t only healthier –– it is more secure. It can’t be cut off by wars in foreign countries or delayed by disrupted supply chains beyond our borders. Your produce goes from your farms to the markets to our people’s plates, via roads and bridges such as this. That is why we are helping farmers to boost local crop production –– by providing seeds, equipment, advisory services, and other support. We are adhering to the old adage that you reap what you sow –– and Fiji will reap the benefits of our investment in our farmers for generations to come.
My Government not only delivers better infrastructure and services, we have provided the security, consistency in policies, and stability that is essential for the development of a great country. We strive for unity among our people by serving all people and all communities equally. We have enshrined every Fijian’s right to equal protection under the law, and we see that protection is enforced for all Fijians. Because no matter who you are, where you live, or your background, every Fijian is equally deserving of their Government’s total commitment. That is the great promise of our 2013 Fijian Constitution we introduced. And that is the record of the Government I lead.
As always, I am here with my ears open to your ideas and vision for the progress of your communities. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.