The Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished Guests,
My Fellow Fijians,

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

The Micro and Small Business Grants Scheme is one of my Government’s most important initiatives.
Because we are empowering thousands of ordinary Fijians by giving them the means to start their own businesses.

Since this program began at the beginning of 2015, we have done a great deal to trigger an enterprise culture in Fiji. We have given the recipients of these grants the means to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. And we have also provided an important boost to the Fijian economy as a whole. Because as these business grow from the seeds which we have sown with this scheme, the benefits flow to the wider economy.

There is increased activity across the board. More people are being given a leg-up and the means to help themselves. More jobs are being created as these people hire others to help their businesses grow. And that means this scheme is an important way in which Fiji is combatting poverty and improving the living standards of our people.
It represents a great deal of bang for our buck, as the Americans say. For every dollar spent on this scheme, more wealth is being generated through the hard work of the recipients. All which is why I am so delighted to be here in Valelevu this morning in the biggest population corridor in the country, to roll out the next phase of the Government’s Micro and Small Business Grants scheme.

The 903 men and women who will be receiving their grants of $1000 each this morning are among the 7,744 successful applicants last year. I must apologise that it has taken so long to reach you and another thousand or so who have yet to receive their allocation. But the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston has required a lot of time, energy and resources to assist those most in need. And I want to begin by thanking you all for your patience.
Your wait has ended. And now that you are receiving your money, you can start investing in the businesses that you have approval for without any further delay and I know that you will all be very keen to do so.

As I have said before to previous recipients of these grants: the Fijian people through their Government are placing their trust in you to use these funds for the purposes for which they are intended. They are placing their trust in you to be honest, not to cheat and to use the money wisely. And in return for that trust, we look to you to work as hard as you can to make your businesses work and play your part in growing our economy.

You are not alone. The Government through our Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, is here to assist you with practical advice and I urge you all to take advantage of that service. Because if you do, you will have a much better chance of succeeding. Starting a new business or investing in an existing one isn’t easy. You will face many challenges. But I want you to know that my Government is with you all the way. I am with you all the way.

Today is the 14th such disbursement across the country at a total cost so far of $5.5-million. It is money very well spent. Because we estimate that for every Fijian we help, an average of five family members benefit. So the total number of people to benefit now stands at nearly 30-thousand, with many more to come. And as I have also said before, we intend that this scheme will continue as an important component of the Government’s overall effort to grow the national economy.

The way the scheme works should be pretty well known by now. Your application has been approved by the Ministry for Industry, Trade and Tourism and the Fiji Development Bank. You don’t get cash but a cheque made out to the supplier of the goods you have asked for. And in this way, the system is much more transparent and much less open to abuse.

As I have also stressed before, you are now part of the Fiji Development Bank’s system. The FDB knows that the Government has given you a tick of approval. So down the line, the possibility exists to raise a loan with the FDB to expand your business even further. It’s an important way that we are opening up the mainstream banking system in Fiji to people who were once excluded. And keeping them out of the clutches of loan sharks and other unscrupulous people.

Before I introduce some of the successful applicants today, I want to make an important announcement about people who may have already received Micro and Small Business grants but who suffered damage because of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

This includes recipients in Ovalau, Koro Island, Vanuabalavu, Savusavu, Taveuni, Rakiraki, Tavua, Lautoka and Tailevu North – all areas which were hit hard by Winston.

The Government recognises that you may now need additional assistance. Some, or in some cases, all of what you invested your $1000 in may have been damaged or destroyed. And so we are currently working on a way to assist you by providing you with the financial relief you need to get back on your feet again.

Teams of assessors have toured the affected areas to gauge the extent of the damage to these recipients and the Attorney General and Minister for Finance will have more to say on this in the Budget. But I want to stress again that we are relying on people to do the right thing and not try to rip off their fellow Fijians. So there will of course be heavy penalties for those who try to make fraudulent claims.

But if you have honestly suffered a setback in the cyclone, we intend to give you a further leg up. Because having invested in your business in the first place, it is in the interests of the Government on behalf of every Fijian for you to succeed. And we are going to give people who need it a second chance to do so.
Ladies and Gentlemen, before we proceed to hand over the cheques to the 903 recipients today, I want to introduce some of them and ask you all to give them a big round of applause.

• Mr. Abu Talib of Lami will utilize his grant to purchase electrical appliances for his existing Electrical Workshop Business;

• Ms. Rusila Vaseremudu of Raiwai, will purchase food stocks for her existing Food Vending Business;

• Mr. Tevita Vakacegu of Waibau, will utilize his grant to buy farming implements and stock for his Market Vending Business.

• And Ms. Sunila Devi Prasad of Nausori, will use her grant to purchase a deep freezer for her canteen business.

Please give all those wonderful people a round of applause. We wish them every success. And please put your hands together for an even bigger round of applause for each and everyone of you!

My fellow Fijians, even though this is the 14th of these occasions since the beginning of last year, I still get a huge thrill out of them. Because I can see on the faces of our people just how much this leg-up means to them. One step closer to achieving their ambitions. Their dreams. And in the individual success stories that are coming through, our nation is taking another step forward to achieving our vision of a thriving, prosperous economy in which every Fijian has a stake.

We’re planning to have a function at which our micro and small business champions are properly recognised and have their stories told. And I’m sure those stories will be an inspiration to other Fijians to follow their lead. Because they are already proving the truth of what I said when I first launched this scheme last year. That from little things, big things grow.

We’ll also soon be announcing the next phase of the Micro and Small Business Scheme. So if you want to start a business or expand an existing one, look out for the advertisements for the new round of applications in the coming weeks.

But to all our recipients today: Congratulations on having had your ideas and proposals approved and all the very best as you put those ideas into practice. Every Fijian joins me in wishing you the very best of luck. But remember that the most important thing in business is to work as hard as you can and constantly be on the lookout for opportunities. Here’s to good business for all of our 903 recipients today and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

• Furthermore, I wish to confirm that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism will be soon advertising for the next phase of the MSBG. Whereby, MSB that are interested in expanding their business or Fijians who wish to start a business will be able to apply. The dates for new applications will be announced in due course.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.

Editors note: Photographs from this event can be accessed at the Fijian Government Facebook page.