The Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands & Mineral Resources;

Honourable Ministers;

Permanent Secretaries and Senior Government Officials;

Distinguished Guests,

My Fellow Fijians,

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I am delighted to be here this morning to distribute these first 2016/2017 micro- and small-business grants to people here in Navua. Today’s recipients are among 11,000 successful applicants.

My fellow Fijians,

One of the most important objectives of the Fijian Government is to see our local enterprises grow and contribute more each day to our nation’s economy. Statistics show that our MSME sector represents around 10-12% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

But we believe this estimate of the contribution of the micro and small businesses is understated. This is mainly because micro and small businesses operate in the informal sector, so it can be hard to come up with accurate statistics. Since the beginning of this micro- and small-business grant initiative we have been able to bring 6,622 micro and small businesses into the formal sector.

Ladies and Gentleman,

The micro and small businesses also develop the community, and they are able to use these micro-grants to establish a new business or expand their existing business. This leads to growth in the community, by creating employment and giving people disposable income to purchase products and services.

Just last month, I distributed grants to 769 people in Savusavu and Taveuni. These were the last of the first group of recipients whose grants were held back due to Tropical Cyclone Winston. It was indeed a relief to finally hand those grants out.

Since its inception in 2015, the Micro and Small Business Grant Scheme has assisted 6,622 entrepreneurs with grant funding to the tune of $6.3 million. These entrepreneurs have used the grant funding to start up or expand their businesses — and those businesses have ranged from cash cropping and poultry farming to tailoring and hairdressing, just to name a few. In addition, it has created a multiplier effect — meaning that these businesses create jobs because they do business with other individuals and enterprises.

So we can safely say that the Micro and Small Business Grant programme has improved the livelihoods — and the lives — of more than 33,000 Fijians.

At this juncture, I would like to reiterate that my Government is very keen to continue its support for the development of the MSME sector. Government has already begun its Budget process, and I assure you that we will continue to fund programmes that will benefit our micro and small entrepreneurs.

We are also grateful for the generous support given thus far by our development partners and other governments who recognise the importance of nurturing and fostering the growth of our micro and small-scale entrepreneurs.

My fellow Fijians,

As mentioned earlier, the Fijian Government will continue to ensure that those who require genuine assistance will benefit from this grant scheme.

Today marks another milestone as we commence disbursement for new recipients that have applied this year. As I have noted before, we have once again received overwhelming interest, with nearly 19,000 Fijians applying, and nearly 12,000 have been successful.

I will be giving out grants to 549 recipients here in Navua, most of whom are from the provinces of Serua and Namosi.

After careful and thorough assessment by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and the Fiji Development Bank, these 549 recipients have proven that they have the ability to make a real difference in their businesses and their communities and positively contribute to the MSME sector, I am confident that these expanded and invigorated businesses will further contribute to improving the standard of living and increasing economic activity here in Navua, and the provinces of Serua and Namosi.

As you all know, for this initiative the Government has partnered with the Fiji Development Bank to facilitate the grants and the application process. This helps to build the client base for the FDB, as these businesses will in the future require further financial assistance as they grow, and through this initiative will already have an established relationship with the FDB. It also contributes to FDB’s mandate of the development of industries and enterprises, and in particular the economic development of the rural and agricultural sectors of the Fijian economy.

To the recipients, you are joining 129 previous successful applicants from your area who have received grants and have successfully established their businesses. We are confident that you will also follow their example and work hard to ensure that your ventures are also successful.

My fellow Fijians,

To ensure that you are successful in your various business ventures, the Fijian Government — through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism — will continue to provide business-development support services to help you solve problems and sustain your businesses.

Further, the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprises Development will offer mentoring and training in areas of financial management and sound businesses practices.

And when you are ready to expand or take on a new business venture, you will find that the Ministry will be there to provide guidance, counselling and support. These, Ladies and Gentlemen, are a few of the many support services that show the Fijian Government’s commitment in meeting its objectives of making our local SMEs the engine of Fiji’s Economic Growth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To share some highlights of this Grant Initiative, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism conducted a post-disbursement monitoring exercise to measure the impact of these grants on the businesses and livelihoods of those that were assisted in 2015 here in Navua and the Serua/Namosi Provinces. It was encouraging to note some positive results after two years:

i. Ms. Shobna Devi of Navua Town was assisted with $1,000 to expand her Tailoring Business. Her business has not only increased its orders but also its profit.

ii. Mr. Marino Lawa of Wainivaka Village, Namosi was provided $1,000 for his canteen business. His customers are his fellow villagers, and his income has increased by one-third.

iii. Ms. Sainimili Narewa of Lepanoni Village, Serua was assisted with $1,000 to expand her business selling frozen food by purchasing a chest freezer and additional stock. The grant assistance has allowed her to expand her customer base by reaching out to the nearby communities, which tripled her profit.

iv. Mr. Krishnil Prasad of Vakabalea Road, Navua was provided with $1,000 for his farming business. With the boost of additional farming implements, he now cultivates five acres as compared to the two acres he used to farm. He is currently planting dalo and other root crops and vegetable produce, and has tripled his earnings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The success stories I have just highlighted are meant to encourage you to work smart towards expanding or starting up your own business and also to take the necessary steps to improve your standard of living.

As usual, I would like to make mention of some recipients who will be receiving their grants this morning. I would appreciate it if you would rise when I announce your names:

i. Ms. Apolonia Nawakarodo of Nakavu Village, Namosi will be given $1,000 for the purchase of crafted items for her handicraft business.

ii. Mr. Jitendra Singh of Nakaulevu, Navua will be given $1,000 for the purchase of materials and equipment for his car-wash business.

iii. Ms. Finau Mareca of Toguru Settlement, Navua will be given $968.00 for the purchase of clothing stock for her second-hand clothing business.

iv. Mr. Elvis Param Siwan of Vuninokonoko Back Road, Navua will be given $998.65 for the purchase of his materials and chicken feed for his poultry business.

v. Mr. Malakai Saudromu of Nabukavesi will be given $1,000 for the purchase of stock for his canteen business.

vi. Ms. Loata Vakacara of Vunibau Village, Serua will be given $997.00 for the purchase of farming materials for her faming business.

My fellow Fijians,

The Micro and Small Business Grant Facility is an important undertaking of the Fijian Government because we firmly believe that MSMEs are a catalyst for economic growth and job creation. We plan to continue this initiative and make it bigger and better in the future. The Fijian Government is also exploring ways to provide further support to micro, small and medium enterprises.

As such, I urge you all to take ownership of this opportunity and use the grant assistance for its intended purposes. Work hard in your various businesses, and never be satisfied with where you are. Always look to the future, and to growth. My Government believes in you, and that’s why we have invested the people’s money in you and placed our trust in you.

My fellow Fijians,

This is an exciting moment for all grant recipients — and for me, too, in a very personal way. I am proud of you, and I wish you well in your business ventures.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank You.