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PM Vows to Protect Our Ocean and Combat Climate Change for Every Fijian at Kadavu Meet

Vakaturaga i Nacolase na Turaga na Tui Tavuki; Nakoroisoso na Turaga na Tui Naceva;
Koroinadave na Turaga na Tui Nabukelevu; Nabala na Turaga na Tui Nakasa; Namanusa na Turaga na Tui Ravitaki; Nalavani na Turaga na Tudrawe; Valededeiga na Turaga na Tui Yawe; Natawalevu na Turaga na Tui Dravuwalu; Nakoroijoma na Turaga na Tui Joma; Naivibaji na Turaga na Tui Yale; Koroivabea na Marama na Tui Vabea.
Ni sa Bula vinaka.
I am honoured to be here with you this morning. But more importantly, I am very happy to be back in Fiji, among the Fijian people and in the country I love. I just returned from two UN meetings abroad, and while I am happy to carry Fiji’s flag to these events, my presence is far more important than simply making sure that Fiji is among other nations. I attend these events because they are critical to defending and advancing Fiji’s most vital interests. The fact is that every Fijian needs a healthy ocean and climate like we need food to eat and air to breathe. All of our global advocacy is built around those over-riding objectives.
 I participated in discussion and debate at the recent Oceans Conference in Portugal, where I spoke for the entire Pacific community as well as Fiji. That conference is always close to our hearts because I presided over the first Oceans Conference in 2017.
 We made several commitments with the solemn purpose of protecting our ocean.  It is hard to imagine a more vital interest for our country than that. While I was there, I had Kadavu firmly in mind, because you depend so heavily on the ocean for your livelihoods. And having crossed the ocean from Suva to Kadavu this morning (July 4), the expanse of sea that I crossed reinforced my unshakable belief that every minute we spend challenging the rest of the world to stand up to its responsibilities to protect the ocean and combat climate change serves every woman, man and child in Fiji—and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
For the past few months, I have attended eight Provincial Council Meetings—in Serua, Namosi, Cakaudrove, Nadroga/Navosa, Bua, Lau, Lomaiviti and Naitasiri. In all those meetings, my story has remained consistent: I lay out with facts and figures what the Government has accomplished in each place and what we will do next.
‘We promised, we delivered’

Although my opponents have criticised us at every turn, they have never offered an alternative.  They have never offered a different vision. They have stood by and complained even while Fijians from all Provinces and all walks of life have reaped the advantages of a Government that has kept its promises. We promised equal treatment for all, and we delivered. We promised development, and we delivered. We promised free education, and we delivered. We promised improved healthcare, and we delivered. We promised to protect iTaukei land, and we have. We turned criticism into innovation. That enabled us to vaccinate an entire nation and carry Fiji through the worst economic crisis the world has ever seen caused by COVID-19.

So let me turn your attention first to our economy.
We all know that COVID-19 hit us hard, and Fiji was one of the worst-affected countries. We lost a total of $4.6 billion (bn) in GDP over the last two years – total GDP in 2020 was at levels similar to 2014. But COVID-19 took our economy six years back. We lost around $4bn in foreign exchange from tourism earnings.
Government tax collections declined by 50 per cent on average, losing around $2.8bn in tax revenues. Over 100,000 Fijians were either unemployed on reduced hours. Socio-economic conditions became challenging, and the Government had to provide around $500million (m) in income support.
We knew that our country had to recover as soon as possible. There was simply no room for delays. Yes, we did what most countries did during the pandemic; we borrowed strategically to safeguard our economy for an eventual recovery. We were able to do that at concessional rates because our lenders – the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and some friendly governments – were confident in our prudent financial management and sound macro-economic policies. We received direct budget support from Australia and New Zealand for the first time, which they do not easily give. But they believed in us then and they believe in us now.
Why did we have that timely access? Because we sought it aggressively and because the nations and organisations that could provide vaccines had faith in us—in our seriousness, in our ability to conduct a complex campaign, and in the quality of our medical professionals. None of you who have been vaccinated paid a single cent for those vaccines, and neither did Government because we strategically levered diplomatic support. We only paid the costs of administering the vaccines throughout our over 100 populated Islands.

Update on economy
As a result, Fiji’s economy is projected to grow by more than 12 per cent in 2022. Our tourism industry has quickly gotten back to its feet. By May 2022, visitor arrivals were about 55 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
We did well in our primary source markets in May. Australian arrivals were 90 per cent of pre-COVID, while New Zealand arrivals were around two-thirds pre-COVID. And June and July bookings look much better.
Fiji’s most productive sector and biggest strength is Tourism. We should – and we will – continue to build on it.  We will not forget the other sectors, which we are also strengthening, but we need to keep that economic engine in tip-top shape.
The fact is that we were decisive, and we acted quickly and with imagination to secure Fiji financially and economically. My Government has always shown confident and decisive leadership. We listen to the Fijian people, we listen to the counsel of the best minds available, and we act. When I took up our country’s leadership, I said I would spend a lot of time listening. That’s what I’ve done over the previous 15 years, and that’s what I’ve done at the last eight provincial council meetings as well.
That means listening to every person in Kadavu and every Fijian everywhere, not just to vested interests and the selfish pleas of a select and privileged few. We want to hear your opinions. We want to hear your frustrations. We want to know what you need. Your opinion matters. Your views are very important as we make every effort to reach and assist everyone, especially those who are farthest behind and need help most.
Fiji is a much better place to live than it has ever been before, and I venture to say that Kadavu is as well. We are more connected. We have a strong economy. We have more resilient communities, and we are making more communities more resilient every day. I tell you with all modesty that that is not a boast. It is an indisputable fact. And all along, we have been guided by the belief that Fiji belongs to all Fijians. That all Fijians should have equal opportunities. That we should lift up those who are less fortunate. And that Government should work for all the people.
And that is why my Government invested over $55.6m in your Province from 2014 – 2021.  The major investments were focused on roads, bridges and jetty networks. We listened to your concerns on the condition of our roads and devoted over $23m. With these we are able to conduct a Monthly Routine Maintenance Cycle of existing road network for Tavuki, Ravitaki, part of Yawe District, Nabukelevu, Sanima District, part of Naceva District and part of Nakasaleka District.
We upgraded the rural road at Yawe District with the construction of the New Road from Nakorovou to Naqalotu and the Upgrade of Nabukelevu District from Kabariki to Nabukelevu-i-ra. Today, you can also enjoy the Vunisea Vacalea Access Road for Naceva District and Part of Nakasaleka District together with the Yawe Road Construction from Richmond Road to Nakorovou village.
 But Fiji is a maritime nation, and it is not enough to fix the roads if we want to unite the nation. We recognised that maritime islands rely heavily on other means of transportation, and the jetties are as critical as the roads. That is why my Government installed Mooring Buoy at Vunisea Jetty, which keeps the community safe.
 We believed from the outset that education is one of the keys to a modern, democratic society where knowledge is the key to prosperity. But our system of education was woefully unequal. So we have invested $8.63m in the Ministry of Education programmes in your Province to provide free education, boat and engine assistance, school. Construction and building grants. Our young people are our most precious resource for the future, and we have always stressed that it is important to support their physical, intellectual and psychological development. Government has invested a total $1.6m for youth and sports initiatives.
We have invested in young people’s livelihoods in the Province through our Youth Farm Initiative programme, which supports the need to develop and utilise land in the Province. In addition, plans are in the works to improve the Vunisea Sports Complex, which will give our young people better opportunities to develop sports skills, become fit and adopt all the character-building traits that wholesome competition in sports encourages.
 Building a smarter Fiji that empowers Fijians of all ages has also been a high priority for my Government.  For the first time ever in Fiji, there is now free education from pre-school to secondary school. Gone are the days when children were sent home for not paying their school fees. Gone are the days when parents had to buy text books. And gone are the days when high academic achievers of modest income were shut out of university and other post-secondary institutions. That is why in 2014 we introduced a major tertiary initiative, the Tertiary Education Loans Scheme, which created a pathway to higher education for students that never before existed.
We have also strengthened our social protection system to assist with free education and increase the poverty benefit scheme and social welfare allowances. Through the Ministry of Women, Children & Poverty Alleviation, a total of $8.3m has been invested in the Province of Kadavu to assist families and individuals who are recipients of Social Protection allowances such as Poverty Benefit Scheme, Care and Protection Allowance, Social Pension Scheme, Disability Allowance that are administered by the Department of Social Welfare.  In Addition to the Social Protection Programmes, My Government strongly believes in empowering women economically as entrepreneurs and business leaders. And we invest in women-led business endeavours here in Kadavu through Income Generating Projects funded by the National Women's Machinery. 
Ladies and Gentlemen, as I have mentioned, I am here today to show you how the Government has invested in Kadavu and what this means for real people. The dollar amounts only tell the expenditure; they don’t tell the human story. As an example, human beings need access to clean water.
In investing over $2m in the Kadavu Rural Water Scheme, we have made sure that villages have an uninterrupted piped water supply. Nabukelevu–i–ra, Muani and Tavuki villages are amongst those that bear testament to this.
We have also invested in Ecological Purification Systems to improve your access to clean water ­­–– which is an obvious way to improve your health and well-being. Our investment of $200,000 installed purification systems in six villages – Kavala, Lawaki, Namajiu, Nakoronawa & Nakaugasele and Mataso to the benefit of 602 Fijians. 
My Government has also seen the need to make it easier for people to access Government services. So we invested $1.2m for the construction of the Kavala Government Station. You may recall at the commissioning that I had mentioned bringing essential services to you, so that the residents here could avoid unnecessary travel and the expense and inconvenience it entails just to get basic service from their Government. And we have delivered just that.
Of course, all these expenditures do not include the vast amounts we have spent after natural disasters for rebuilding schools, health centres and other public infrastructure. When communities have been battered by terrible storms, we have been there to support you, rebuilding 86 house frame after severe TC Winston, and another 576 immediately after severe TC Harold in 2020.
I don’t need to review all those investments because you can all attest to this. It is more important to speak about the future – on “what is next” for Kadavu and for Fiji.
We have all become painfully aware that the prices of certain foods and of fuel have increased. This situation affects everyone, and it has two major causes. 
One is a lag in supply chains, which are still crippled in many ways due to the pandemic. The second is Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine together account for 30% of the world’s wheat supply –– from which we make flour, cake, bread, babakau, roti, and panikeke ­­–– and that supply is now cut off by conflict or sanctions. Fiji has condemned the war as a matter of principle and basic morality. We see how devastating it has been for the Ukrainians, and as a small country we can sympathise with a country that is being bullied by a powerful neighbour.  I know how hard this is for our families and for families around the world. I would like to be able to tell you that there is something we can do in Government to change this situation quickly, but I cannot. Fiji did not invade Ukraine, so we can’t end the war. But I tell Putin directly over a video conference call that his conflict is costing us all and that it must end. In the meantime, here at home, we are willing to do whatever we can to ease the burden.