• The Chief Justice, Honourable Justice Anthony Gates
  • The Acting Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa
  • The President of the South Pacific Engineers Association, Mr. Pratarp Singh
  • The President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Dr. Marlene Kanga
  • The Guest Speakers
  • The Sponsors and Partners of the South Pacific Engineers Association’s International Engineering Symposium
  • Distinguished Guests
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.

 Ni sa bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the coordinators, the South Pacific Engineers Association, for inviting me to open the inaugural international engineering symposium in Fiji.

I also extend a warm Bula Vinaka to our international speakers, participants and guests. Outside of this intensive one-day symposium, I hope that you will get to experience our Fijian hospitality, and get a glimpse into both our rich culture and the pristine environment that our leaders are working so hard to protect.

Some 30 countries representing Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas and Oceania are represented here today. This meeting of engineering professionals and representatives from key stakeholder organisations is, in fact, the first of its kind to be hosted in Fiji, making it even more distinctive. It was also in 2010 that Fiji’s then Head of State, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, launched the South Pacific Engineers Association, which now consists of six National Chapters.  Eight years later, I am honoured to be here in your midst in what is another milestone achievement for the Association.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the 20 school students who were invited to be a part of this symposium. The initiative to expose our young and potential engineers to high-level gatherings like today is highly commendable. You, the bright young minds that will help shape the future, are precisely what we are working to promote and protect.

Ladies and gentlemen, the theme for the symposium, “Sustainable Infrastructure Successful Economy – The Modern Day Challenges in Infrastructure Development and Delivery”, is appropriate in light of the realities exposed by an increasing changing climate that we are experiencing the world over.

We recall the devastation that the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston left in its wake across a large part of Fiji in 2016, causing close to three billion Fijian Dollars in damages and displacing 45,000 of our people.  Fiji’s roads, bridges and jetties, providing access to essential service facilities, were damaged or destroyed, posing a danger to safety and crippling the movement of people and transport on land, sea and air. But we vowed to build back stronger than we were before the storm — and ladies and gentlemen, we are doing just that. Our schools, our infrastructure, and the whole of our society is being engineered to a higher, more resilient, and more sustainable standard.

I am pleased to note that the Acting Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management will be sharing more information especially on Fiji’s experiences from Tropical Cyclone Winston and the other recent cyclones. The lessons from these cyclones will be of significant value to this symposium.

Ladies and gentlemen, developing sustainable communities is no easy task. It’s not the quick and easy route. But we must remain committed to ensuring that livelihoods are met, that children have a stable and reliable place to learn, that people are able to visit a health centre, and transport their produce to trading centres. All this, in addition to sustaining economic growth, requires the strengthened partnership of the private and public sectors. Sound infrastructure is a vital component of economic growth.

In fact, a country’s transition from a developing to a developed state depends heavily on the infrastructure that supports that nation’s citizens and that spurs growth across every sector of the economy. Infrastructure growth can be achieved through concerted efforts by Government, by the private sector, and through public-private partnerships. The latter has now driven significant infrastructure progress in many countries, and has helped reduce poverty and raise standards of living. This public-private partnership model is also a very important aspect of today’s symposium.

Ethics and integrity are paramount to the engineering profession. With safety and integrity, there are no short-cuts. The existence of regulatory measures ensures that standards are met and aligned to internationally accepted codes of practices.

The Fijian Government, through its comprehensive 5-year and 20-year National Development Plan, is transforming Fiji’s socio-economic landscape to allow more Fijians to fulfil and realise their full potential, a key to how that is achieved is through expanding access to reliable infrastructure. Through the NDP, the Fijian Government envisions climate resilient water and electricity infrastructure projects that cater for our growing population and more severe climate impacts in the years ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen, the energy sector infrastructure development is extremely vital as it propels growth in all other sectors. Green Energy is now the marketable demand of today’s world, with investments in solar projects and geothermal energy, among others, taking the lead.

I have been informed that there is a shortage of engineers worldwide and that the numbers are not enough to meet the current market demand. This shortage is more pronounced and felt in small and developing economies. To a great extent, it is affecting the accessibility to affordable engineering services that are compliant with the existing standards, especially for the low and medium income earners. We not only need more engineers to cater for the market demand, but we also need more economical methods that meet the minimum standards.

And speaking of standards, I am pleased to advise that Fiji is also revising its own National Building Code with the view towards upgrading and strengthening it. Fiji is also working on the practicing engineers legislation that will not only help raise the standard of engineering, but will also strengthen support for the engineering profession.

Ladies and gentlemen, in light of the shortage of engineers, there is a real need to offer quality engineering education that is internationally benchmarked, which will also promote the cross-border sharing of engineers to fill the shortfall of engineering professionals in any given location. Consistent with this, there is also a need to encourage and build the capacity of our youths to move into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Thorough market research conducted by tertiary institutions can contribute to reducing these gaps.

For the Pacific, it is encouraging that discussions are now being explored with the University of the South Pacific towards the possibility of introducing a Civil Engineering programme to complement the engineering qualifications that the university currently offers. I understand that discussions are also ongoing with the Fiji National University.

Research and the availability of reliable data to formulate technical standards, which are vital to the industry, with the capacity to review these standards when required, are also needed. Gender balance is another issue that needs remedying in the engineering profession, which is predominantly male-oriented. We clearly need to do our part in encouraging and assisting more women to enter this profession.

It is reassuring that we already do have some women engineers who are leading the way, and I would like to acknowledge the presence of Dr. Marlene Kanga who is the President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, in addition to several other prodigious achievements and awards that she has received. Dr. Kanga is testament of the height that women can achieve in the world of engineering, and I hope her example inspires many more young girls to join this very important profession.

Ladies and gentlemen, no nation develops without the necessary investment in infrastructure required to facilitate and spur economic growth by providing better connectivity and enhancing productivity and efficiency. Professional symposiums like what we have today will auger well in terms of enhancing opportunities for participants to share knowledge and skills, and learn from each other.

I congratulate the South Pacific Engineers Association for organising such a symposium and I further thank the association for affording Fiji the opportunity to host the symposium. I once again welcome all the participants from abroad and on behalf of the Fijian Government and people, I take much pleasure in declaring your symposium open.

Thank you and May Almighty God bless you all.

Source: DEPTFO News.