Developing the nation, Empowering our people and Protecting the vulnerable: PM Assures All (Part II)
CONTINUED FROM PART 1
Landowners should not be manipulated by private sawmillers. Some can exploit you. You may think you are making some money, but some of these private sawmillers may not be giving you a fair share of the money they are making. And it is far better for you if that pine is harvested by Fiji Pine. Fiji Pine is your company committed to you be betterment–– its record shows exactly that.
Let me review some of the advantages landowners have today that they have never had before:
1. Since the start of this year, lease rental is now $14 per hectare;
2. Stumpage payment at 12% of net revenue—that is, revenue less direct cost of logging, cartage and roading;
3. What used to be the Forest Base Levy and Forest Trust Levy is now consolidated and is referred to as “Landowner Community Development Fund” at 5.5%. This was implemented last year as part of the reforms to root out instances of abuse within the Forest Base Companies and Forest Base Trusts. While Fiji Pine was paying levies to these entities to pass on to the landowners, some funds were not reaching our landowners. Following the reforms, our landowners now see real benefits –– one example being solar power projects in communities throughout your Province.
4. A lease premium of $20 per hectare – this is on lease renewals when offer letters are received from TLTB;
5. Lease Security Bonus Payments, which are based on the company’s performance after the annual accounts have been audited.
6. Remember, we allow landowners to make a choice on how they would like their funds delivered. They can choose which percentage of the funds go to equal distribution or to projects.
7. Through equal distribution, there is no deduction of any fees by TLTB. Fiji Pine group pays TLTB’s service fee separately. Should you choose to do a project for your community, it can include things like housing, sanitation, bore hole, water pumps, boats, boat engines and generators.
It has been our goal to ensure that the benefits out of the LSBP go to all of the Mataqali members, either through equal distribution or through projects that they choose on their own. When considering a capital project, you should consider what you believe are the best interests of the Mataqali. You are best suited to determine that as the masters of your own destiny. And you must take ownership of those decisions.
No government has ever made the Lease Security Bonus Payments (LSBP) so democratic. No government has ever empowered every single person in the community to decide how their funds will be used. No government has ever favoured the people over the elites, as we have.
But this is how a democracy must work. A democracy is not just an election. It is a way of life, and it must extend throughout our society.
Before 2013, landowners did not receive a cent of this money. Trust in the system was crumbling –– but we have replaced mistrust with confidence. My opponents see their political doom in the success we’ve created together in partnership with your communities, so they lie, twist and distort the facts. But nothing speaks louder than strong and consistent returns on your resources. For eight consecutive years, we have achieved massive returns to the landowners. No one can argue with that.
We can’t risk this success. Because it could easily be undone if the nation were ever steered by politicians who are uncaring and who only make short-sighted decisions that serve the elites and the corrupt.
history of Bua Provincial Company shows us how bad things can get. Not so long ago, your
Provincial funds, which
your people worked
hard for years to collect,
were wasted. Do you remember when $350,000 disappeared
into thin air? Who can forget
that shameless episode?
We cannot fall backwards to those dark
days of incompetence and outright corruption.
Track record of delivering for ordinary Fijians
My Government has a track record of delivering for ordinary Fijians. I know I say this a lot, but I see no shame in repeating that after years of recession, we delivered nine consecutive years of economic growth. When we recognised that our most clear and present danger – climate change – is threatening to destroy us, we took the fight to the world and took a global leadership position that no small island nation had ever had before. And when cyclones have struck us, we have committed to build back better to more resilient standards.
When the needy feared that they would be marginalized forever and forgotten, we strengthened our social protection system to assist with free education, poverty benefit scheme, social welfare allowances, and free bus fares. When we were assaulted by the strongest cyclone ever to hit the Pacific, we marshalled the resources of Government to provide relief in an efficient and well-coordinated way, including international relief. And Bua continues to benefit from those efforts. When COVID-19 ground our economy – and the global economy – to a halt, we responded with measures that were tailor-made for Fiji’s situation. Frankly, we did better than most other countries, including countries that were much larger and richer than Fiji.
When we saw that landowners like you were treated unfairly under a lease distribution system that benefited only a few, we changed it to an equal lease distribution system. When iTaukei lands were allowed to be lost under previous Governments through some ill-conceived legislation, we strengthened the protection of iTaukei lands under the 2013 Constitution.
When red tape prevented iTaukei landowners and lease owners from receiving efficient services, we streamlined TLTB’s services to better service you. We are also now covering the upfront capital costs for iTaukei landowning units, or even individuals, who seek to subdivide their iTaukei land, which is not only putting larger sums of lease monies directly in their pockets but also increasing their land’s value. I had the pleasure of doing ground-breaking ceremonies on two of these projects in Vuda and Tavua last week.
‘Let us not be distracted’
I can stand here all day and tell you all the positive things we have done for Fiji and how Bua has benefitted from them. But that was yesterday. Today, I want to tell you that there are people in Fiji who want to undo the great work we have done together—because it threatens their interests and, most importantly, it threatens the unfair privilege they thought they and their descendants, and their cronies, would wield forever.
Nevertheless, I look forward to the future because there’s so much we can do together to take your Province forward, to take Fiji forward. Let us not be distracted.
Already, I have mentioned that work on the Nabouwalu township will resume by August this year. Nabouwalu Town will surely benefit every farmer, every business owner for every business of any size, every entrepreneur, every fisherfolk, and indeed every Fijian in this area, adding to the benefits they already receive from the sealed road.
Cogea Village, which was severely damaged by TC Yasa, is an urgent priority for us among the over 40 climate- vulnerable communities in Fiji in need of relocation. Many people and groups have an important stake in this project, and they will all have a voice in how the relocation will be carried out. And I know the relocated Cogea Village will be a sight to behold.
We are considering more ways to assist farmers with their produce, such as yaqona and dalo and other crops. The answer is to increase the supply so that consumers and farmers both benefit. That matters now more than ever as the price of imported food continues to skyrocket due to forces beyond our control. We must grow local and eat local. It is healthier and more nutrition secure for the country. And so we are further strengthening our integrated rural development machinery to address the needs of your farmers, among other things.
The ban on the harvesting of beche-de-mer will soon be lifted, and you will be allowed to harvest it. This should help traditional harvesters regain lost income and open opportunities for others without jeopardising this resource. If we do it right and sustainably, beche-de-mer will be an economic resource for this area more years to come.
To capture the potential of sustainable tourism in the North, our Attorney-General and Minister for Economy is working with the World Bank to develop a well-resourced and ambitious plan to make Vanua Levu a case study for sustainable development. Our plan includes a new airport that widens access to the North –– creating opportunities for sustainable tourism and in other sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. A team from the World Bank was recently on the ground in Vanua Levu soon to lay the groundwork for this important project.
Across the nation, people are returning to work thanks to the re-opening of the economy. The National Minimum Wage and sectoral wages –– which my Government introduced –– are rising as part of an ongoing review. VAT is also now zero on 21 basic food items. And as we continue to put momentum behind our economic revival, we have planned a final round of unemployment assistance here on Vanua Levu to kick-start the North’s recovery.
As our Attorney-General announced yesterday, Fijians on Vanua Levu whose livelihoods continue to be affected by the pandemic can apply from next week to receive a one- off payment of $100. On top of that, we will pay out an additional one-off $50 payment in the next round of social protection payments to anyone who is receiving cash social welfare payments, such as rural pregnant women and pensioners. Details on that will be on the Fijian Government Facebook page, on radio, in Government offices and will be advertised as well.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to conclude by appealing to the vanua that vacant chiefly and customary seats must be filled as soon as possible. This is very important to ensure that development initiatives are properly conceived and executed. The Provincial Office to explain the procedure to anyone who needs to understand it better. Gather your people, and together make a difference for Bua in partnership with Government.
It is now my pleasure to formally open your 2022 Provincial Council Meeting, and I wish you all the best in your deliberations.