Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s Speech at the Opening of the Rakiraki Legal Aid Office

Bula Vinaka and good afternoon to you all. I was in Nadi this morning, where I officially opened the Legal Aid Commission’s Nadi Office.  Having done that, I am here this afternoon to preside over the opening of the new Rakiraki Office of the Legal Aid Commission.

The recent natural disasters have caused deep personal losses and injury as well as property damage. They have caused a great deal of sorrow.

Through these difficult times, we all have stood together, united. But we can leave all this behind today. This is a moment of joy for you all as we open an office in the heart of this town that will serve the people of Rakiraki.

This is a moment that the entire country shares with the community of Rakiraki. You may feel isolated from the others by being far away from other cities and towns, but you are always in our heart.

The opening of an office of the Legal Aid Commission in Rakiraki stands as proof that my Government remains firmly committed to providing equal access to justice for every Fijian, in particular for those Fijians who are unable to afford the services of a lawyer. This is a Government for all the people. It should also reassure you that we will never neglect Rakiraki, and we certainly have not forgotten you.

I understand that all these years, the people of Rakiraki have had to travel to Lautoka or Ba to access the services of Legal Aid. Not only was this time consuming, it was expensive and at times a hindrance.

With the opening of this Office, you will no longer have to travel far to seek the services of Legal Aid.

It is now available practically at your doorsteps. And this means that you are more likely to seek the expert legal assistance that you need.

You will not have to leave your families and farms for the better part of a day each time you need to get legal advice or assistance.

During my tour of the country in 2010 including my visit to Rakiraki, you raised concerns, amongst other things, that there was little assistance offered to the community of Rakiraki in the area of civil law.

I took immediate steps to satisfy their concerns, and as a result, the Legal Aid Commission began providing legal assistance in areas of civil law such as drafting of Wills, taking out letters of administration, probate matters, and assisting with FNPF withdrawals in absence of nomination.  The people of Fiji now receive these services free of charge from Legal Aid.

Over the past 6 years, as the need for legal services in the community has increased, my Government has steadily increased its funding to the Legal Aid Commission, which now employs 25 lawyers, and 28 corporate and support staff.

The total number of staff, I am told, will soon increase to more than 64.

This new Rakiraki Office of the Legal Aid Commission is a part of that expansion. It is modern and well resourced. It has facilities to accommodate clients wishing to make legal aid applications as well as separate interview rooms for clients to protect their privacy and ensure confidentiality.

The Legal Aid Commission has permanent offices in Suva, Ba, Lautoka, and Labasa. The Nausori office has opened doors and shall be officially opened by me within the next month. This morning, the Legal Aid Commission opens its doors in Nadi. This afternoon, a new Legal Aid Commission office opens its doors in Rakiraki. And we have plans to open an office in Sigatoka in the new year.

I am pleased to tell you that the Legal Aid Commission is also reviewing its current systems and procedures to improve service delivery. With the review of the eligibility criteria, more Fijians will become entitled to Legal Aid assistance, and applications for legal aid will be processed more expeditiously.

Some talk about the rule of law without necessarily understanding that a key component of this principle must include equal access to the justice system. Conversely how can we talk about substantive justice when there is no access to the justice system for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable?

The opening of the Rakiraki Office represents a firm commitment by my Government not only to provide quality legal aid services to those in need, but to seek ways to guarantee those services. We do that by bringing those services to as many local communities as possible. If legal services are easy to find and use, people will use them.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Attorney-General and the Solicitor General’s Chambers for their commitment to seeing justice expanded in Fiji, and to the Legal Aid Commission Board and the staff for their passion and dedication in serving Fijians.

I now have much pleasure in opening the Rakiraki Legal Aid Commission Office.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Thank you.