Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Signing of the BeMobile Deal

Bula vinaka and a very good morning/afternoon to you all.

It’s a great pleasure for me to be here with the Fijian trade delegation for the signing of the historic Joint Venture Partnership between Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Under this arrangement, Fiji’s national superannuation fund, the FNPF, will take a significant stake in PNG’s majority locally owned mobile telecommunications company, BeMobile.  At the same time, the management of BeMobile passes to Vodafone Fiji and becomes part of one of the world’s largest mobile operators, with 440 million customers in 80 countries.

This is a major investment on behalf of the Fijian people and I would like to congratulate the FNPF, along with the other stakeholders; the Government of Papua New Guinea through the Independent Public Business Corporation, PNG’s two superannuation funds – NASFUND and Nambawan Super – and the Asian Development Bank.

This is an exciting venture and an important milestone in the new relationship that Fiji is building with Papua New Guinea. We are pursuing closer economic ties with a view to eventually creating a single market for the countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. And we are leading our Melanesian partners and the rest of the Pacific into a new era of development and prosperity for all our peoples.

This investment is in an industry that is transforming the lives of people the world over, including our region, and in which Fiji is taking a prominent role. Fijians are benefiting from a telecommunications revolution that is empowering our people and providing them with enormous opportunities. Fiji’s mobile penetration rate is more than 110 per cent –yes, more mobile phones than people – compared to around 35 per cent in Papua New Guinea. So there is huge scope to grow this market, not only with mobile phones but a range of digital telecommunications services.

In Fiji, 95 per cent of the country is now covered by 3G technology – increasing the usage of “smartphones” and Internet access through wireless broadband – and we will in the next few months call for bids to introduce 4G. We have also introduced competition in the industry that has given ordinary people affordable access for the first time. And a national network of Telecentres – established by my Government – is providing free access to the Internet and other services for students during school hours and the surrounding community after hours.

This revolution is already producing a transformation in the lives of our people. Mobile technology now has the capacity to bridge oceans and mountains and end the isolation of rural and maritime communities. Peoples’ horizons are being extended. People are being empowered. Being connected means better social interaction and better economic opportunities. Business thrives when telecommunications are reliable and affordable.

Through this investment, we are extending that revolution to some of our island neighbours and playing our part in improving the lives of our Melanesian brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Aside from the core business, there are other important spinoffs. As the employees of BeMobile forge a closer working relationship, we can expect a sharing of knowledge and a transfer of skills. It also has the capacity to further boost trade.

I wish to thank the PNG Government and Prime Minister O’Neill for providing Fiji with the opportunity to gain a stake in one of Papua New Guinea’s telecommunications providers. As you know, Fiji is a relatively small market of under a million. This opportunity has enabled us to tap into your far larger market of seven million and work together in the common interests of our peoples.

By any standards, this is a large investment by the FNPF, the only superannuation fund in Fiji – one that is owned by all Fijians and is charged with safeguarding and expanding their assets. We’re proud that the FNPF has recently received a prestigious international award and acclaim in recognition of its performance on behalf of all Fijians. BeMobile joins FNPF’s growing portfolio that includes major investments in Fiji itself, especially in our biggest industry and export earner, tourism.

For its part, Vodafone Fiji brings to BeMobile its excellent record of service delivery, management expertise, corporate social responsibility and proven record of generating above average returns.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the term “historic” is often overused but not in this instance. The two leading Pacific island nations – Papua New Guinea and Fiji – have joined hands in a joint commercial venture that promises to revolutionise the lives of all our peoples for the better.

Vinaka vakalevu. Tank Yu Tumas.