Permanent Secretaries and Government Officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here this morning to open this high-level pledging conference of the Yavusa o Navakavu.
We are gathered here for one reason above all: we are committed to the success of your community. We are committed to your success today, and we are committed to your children’s success, and the success of their children after them. We are here because we recognise that there is immense opportunity in a growing Fijian economy, and we want to put the Yavusa o Navakavu in the best possible position to realise those opportunities. We want you — all of you — to play an even bigger role in our national development – our great journey forward as a nation — and we want all of you to see an even greater share of our country’s success.
Today marks the beginning on your conference to launch the Navakavu Revitalisation Plan from 2018-2022, a plan that builds upon the strategic blueprint laid out in Fiji’s 5-year and 20-year National Development Plan. Your revitalisation plan is a culmination of your vision, your priorities and your wisdom, and it is an incredibly important document. Because real progress takes planning. Like any good team, you need a game plan. You need a guiding light and you need leadership that considers the long-term and that prepares your people for success, now and in the years ahead.
Those same lessons in leadership apply to the running of a government. My Government has a very careful plan in place, we have a vision that stretches far beyond the day-to-day running of the country to a far better and brighter future for our people. We aren’t only focussed on tomorrow, we are focussed on Fiji ten, twenty and thirty years on from now. We are focussed on the legacy we leave for the next generation, the Fiji they inherit and the opportunities they have at their disposal.
It is no coincidence that the Fijian economy is the strongest today than it has ever been, we certainly haven’t stumbled our way into nine straight years of economic growth. We have achieved that because we have finally brought bold and visionary leadership to Fiji. We have steadily managed our economy, we have been innovative and have constantly seized upon new opportunities; we have a proven game plan, and we’ve stuck with it, and that is why Fiji stands so strong and so proudly in the world today.
When our economy does well, our national pot gets bigger, and there is more to go around for everybody, more resources, more and better government services, more jobs and a more solid foundation upon which we can build up every community in Fiji — including the Yavusa o Navakavu. And if you really want to see what a growing economy creates, just take a look around you. You see it clearly in the new policies, the new infrastructure and the new opportunities brought by my Government.
Your children are attending primary and secondary school at no cost at all, with free textbooks, and subsidised transportation to school. We even give free milk and weetbix to class 1 students. We subsidise electricity for low income families. [On that note please, go apply for the free shares that we are giving to you through the Electricity Fiji Limited.] We’ve put in a massive net of social protection to protect and uplift those most vulnerable in Fijian society. And we’re setting up the next generation to do even better. Setting aside record funding to scholarships and our tertiary loans for students so they can afford to go on to higher education. We are building new roads, bridges, ports and jetties, a massive new network of national infrastructure that will support new business, new investment and new jobs for our people. Just this week, I was in Nadi opening our newly upgraded airport, with a magnificent new international terminal that rivals what you’ll find anywhere overseas; that is the kind progress I’m talking about.
Fiji is improving and, yes, it is changing; changing for the better. And because my Government has planned carefully for our success, we are making sure change works for Fiji and that our prosperity reaches every Fijian, including the iTaukei.
That commitment is guaranteed by the sacred law of our country; the 2013 Fijian Constitution. That Constitution cannot be violated, ever. It mandates every action of my Government, and in the Constitution, iTaukei land is protected for all time. Under past Governments, we saw iTaukei land being sold off entirely, lost forever from its rightful owners. Those days are over. Today, 91 per cent of land in Fiji is owned by the iTaukei, and not one inch of that land has been lost under my leadership.
Those protections have put the iTaukei in the strongest and most secure position in Fijian history. We’ve taken down the old systems of control and privilege that kept resources in the hands of the few, and left the vast majority of iTaukei people cash poor, even though they held such valuable assets. Land is no longer a political tool in Fiji, it is source of prosperity, as it should be, and every day we are assisting more iTaukei people to become more financially powerful by developing their land and making the most productive use of it possible.
The work of my Government is making your children better educated, it is bringing more jobs and it is increasing job salaries. It is expanding access to water, electricity, health and medical services, telecommunications and new technological tools. And it is empowering all Fijians, including the iTaukei. Again, this financial year we’ve given another 10 million dollars to fund iTaukei land development. That money is for infrastructure development on new iTaukei subdivided land. This means that iTaukei land owners can directly lease to potential lessees or tenants to make much bigger financial gains.
I applaud your community for coming together to determine how you can capitalise on all the great progress and all the new opportunity that has come to Fiji. Because a government alone can only do so much. It can create a favourable environment, but it is up to individuals to take advantage, and my Government has created the right conditions for your success. We’ve covered the basic fundamentals, the essentials that everyone needs to live in safety, security and stability. We’ve given you a platform of opportunity upon which you can build. But it is up to all of you to make that happen. It is up to you to take the ball and run with it; to build better lives for yourselves and to build better, stronger and more inclusive communities. And that is the challenge I will leave with all of you this morning.
Congratulations on your conference and the launch of your revitalisation plan. Your community has proven that you are very serious about working with my Government and your fellow Fijians to make your full contribution to our national development. And I assure you, that when you do put your ideas into action, my Government will always be there to support you.
With those few words, I now declare this High-Level Pledging Conference open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.