Developing the nation, Empowering our people and Protecting the vulnerable: PM Assures All (Part I)
One month ago, I was here to open the Nabouwalu Fire Station –– bringing life-saving services that used to be more than 100 kilometers away in Seaqaqa directly to your communities.
That development, like so many before it, embodies the philosophy of the Government I lead to place services you need in the communities where you live. We are guided by a belief that no Fijian should have to travel hundreds of kilometers by land, or even by sea, to access essential services.
$250m investment in Bua province
That is the reason, since 2014, we have invested a quarter
Billion Dollars into developing your beautiful Province.
In 2016, I opened the Nabouwalu-Dreketi Highway –– a 70 kilometres stretch of sealed road connected by 14 bridges. It was a $228 Million project that we completed in three years—and that one development, that one highway, has transformed the North. Residents along the highway, from Nabouwalu to Dreketi to Labasa, are more connected to the country and to opportunities. Bus companies now operate more confidently, and their buses no longer suffer the wear and tear caused by the rough road surfaces, ruts and potholes, and poor drainage and safety features they once had to endure. So they spend less on repairs and maintenance, and that means better and more reliable service for the people. School children reach school in less time, which gives them more time to sleep and to play, which children need. Farmers can transport their produce faster, and that keeps their produce fresh so they can sell it for a higher price.
And investors are more confident investing in the region due its network of reliable infrastructure. A road, Ladies and Gentlemen, is much more than asphalt and signage and railings. It is a direct route to a better future.
We’ve spent another $6 Million to provide energy to communities through the Nabouwalu Rural Electrification Programme. We’ve seen how vital that assistance has been for your Province. After the sun sets, vendors can continue selling, children can continue studying, and everyone can enjoy the feeling of security provided by well-lit communities.
Another $5 Million has been provided for rural water projects. I still recall visiting one of your local communities some years ago to open their water connection. I had a long conversation with one of the village elders, and he told me that past governments had totally ignored their need for clean water. I heard him loud and clear.
These stories are always painful to hear because I believe so firmly that it is a basic responsibility of Government to make sure that every Fijian has these essential services. As much as it is within our power, we will hear and respond to the needs of our people. I believe that is why the Fijian people have twice elected my Government –– because they know we care. Because they know we will go beyond what any past government has done for Fiji. Because they know we will leave no one behind.
Just under $4 Million has gone towards new facilities for the schools that teach our youngest children. In addition, we’ve made education support a pillar of our foreign policy, and we have received assistance to build new facilities and repair or rebuild storm-damaged facilities from friendly governments and international financial institutions. Our strong and strengthening partnership with Australia is a good example, and it produced results right here, when Australia helped us build new facilities at the Lekutu Secondary and Primary Schools.
The Northern Development Programme assisted Bua with nearly $4 Million in equity grants –– providing start-up funds to your entrepreneurs. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services undertook a major renovation and upgrading of Nabouwalu Hospital at a cost of just over $3 Million.
The Department of Town and Country Planning spent $1.75 Million on the Nabouwalu Township development and foreshore development. And we are not finished. Government is currently reviewing this project to adjust it where necessary. We’ve taken our time preparing for this project because we know how important it is that we get this development right from the beginning. And I am pleased to announce this morning that the Nabouwalu Township work will resume by August this year. Soon, your dreams of moving this town to a prosperous and sustainable future will become a reality.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the development we’ve delivered for your Province has been possible because of our steady and successful management of the Fijian economy. We have created stability and implemented smart policies for the benefit of every Fijian. I say that not as a boast, but as a fact. And that fact is sustained by the praise of our economic performance by the major international financial institutions and the Fijians and foreigners who continue to invest their hard- earned money in Fiji. Before the pandemic, we had achieved the longest stretch of economic growth in Fiji’s history – nine straight years. By relying on the same fundamentals, we responded and are now recovering from the pandemic.
I prioritise Fiji’s sustainable economic growth above almost all else because I know how valuable it is for the well-being of our people –– particularly Fijians in rural areas. When our economy is strong, so are our people. We can keep extending the reach of electric power, clean water, high- quality education, and so many other life-changing essentials.
And because we acted decisively to protect our people from the virus and open our economy, we are on track for double-digit economic growth in the year ahead. While other countries are still stuck in the worst of the crisis, we are pressing ahead. Developing the nation. Empowering our people. Protecting the vulnerable.
There is another important point I wish to make, and it is important that everyone hear this. Our economy is strong today because it stands on the unshakable foundation of our Fijian Constitution. It enshrines common and equal citizenry for all Fijians. It guarantees equal votes of equal value. These protections –– which are fundamental to a united Fiji –– are allowing us to realise our greatest national potential.
‘iTaukei land protected’
More than 90% of all lands in Fiji today belong to the iTaukei, and our Constitution guarantees that can never change. Never. It is well known that many parcels of iTaukei land were lost through land swaps under the SVT and SDL Governments headed by Rabuka and Qarase, respectively. Some landowners in Nadi and Nadroga lost their prime lands forever under a system that allowed them to be legally dispossessed of their land. That can never happen again because this Government saw the need for legal protections that prevent landowners from ever being permanently alienated from their land—and we now have those protections enshrined in our Constitution and, as a result, in other laws.
And under the FijiFirst Government, resource-owners have been given what previous do-nothing Governments denied them. Take pine, for instance, which Bua has in abundance. From 2018 to date, the economic returns for local communities in Bua were $15,099,060.43. This is simply unheard of.
Landowners now have a much more advantageous situation, one that allows them to make money and ensures the health of the Pine Industry.
I first want to speak on a question I know some of you may have. When land was, in the 60s and 70s, leased, the lease boundary systems did not rely on the advanced technology we have today. We planted pine in line with the boundaries of that time while they grew to maturity. But now there is new GPS technology which can pinpoint land boundaries to the millimetre. We are aware that some private Sawmillers are moving around with GPS devises to find areas that have lightly deviated from the charted leased area. Often, these private millers will pay off a few Mataqali members to cut this pine for themselves. Let me be clear: These resources belong to Fiji Pine Limited. We acknowledge that this pine has been planted outside of the boundary due to technical issues relating to boundary demarcation. So, we’ll be paying a substantially increased stumpage of 40% to compensate for any pine in areas outside of the boundary.
To be continued on Part II