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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.