Ni sa bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

My visit to Bukuya today is all about water—water that we drink, water that we channel to produce electricity, and water that we must manage. Government has spent nearly $530,000 on three projects involving water, and we are commissioning them today.

Bukuya is blessed with beauty, enough for tourists to leave the comfortable paved highways and spend two hours on more rugged roads to reach these highlands—to walk to the bottom of the waterfall and make the climb all the way back up. That is definitely not for anyone who is weak-willed or soft.

When I was here nearly a year ago, the people of this village told me that heavy rainfall presented a special burden to them. Of course, we have needed rainfall in the West. For the last year, the hills in the West were brown and crops and livestock were suffering. But rain should be a blessing, not a curse.

So when the people of Bukuya told me that it was unsafe for people to cross the road during periods of heavy rainfall, I knew we had to act quickly. Heavy flooding cut off access to the village. It trapped the 562 people of Bukuya. They couldn’t get in or go out. And the children could not get to and from school. And, of course, the road suffered damage.

The solution was obvious: build a culvert to channel rainwater under the road. We were able to do this quickly at a cost of $26,600, funded under the 2015 Small Grants Scheme. This is an investment in the people of this village and in your children. It is an investment in safety.

We are also commissioning today an ecological water purification system. This system has been functioning for a few months, providing safe drinking water to 210 households—nearly 700 people. The system cost just under $53,400, and it fits well within our Green Growth Framework. An ecological purification system uses filtration through sand and rock to purify water, much as water is purified in nature. It mimics the action of wetlands in filtering impurities. And most importantly, it does not require chemicals.

This pure highland village should have pure highland water—safe and chemical-free.

And finally, we have just completed repairs on your local hydroelectric plant, which uses the power of the Ba River to provide electricity to 279 homes in Bukuya, Tabalei and Tabaquto villages—a total of 1,200 people. This project alone cost $450,000.00 and includes repair of the hydro plant, power lines and wiring to individual houses.

Together, these projects are a major step forward for this village and this region because we have cast aside uncertainty. You can rely on a consistent electrical supply. You can rely on pure drinking water. And you can rely on the road, even during heavy rain. You will not be shut in or out of this village.

Equality is the basis of our Constitution and the foundation of my Government. We believe that One Fiji means that government should attend to the needs of all people. And in fact, our Constitution demands it. It guarantees the right to participate in the economy, the right to an education, the right to healthcare, and the right to live in a healthy environment where the natural beauty of our Fiji is respected and protected.

We are all unique individuals with unique gifts to offer the nation. But everyone is the same under our laws, regardless of where they live, how much they earn, where they worship or what they believe. And to achieve One Fiji – to begin to create true equality, government must make special efforts for people who are disadvantaged by the remoteness of their homes or by physical disability or by poverty.

We are in a period of unprecedented economic growth in Fiji, and that gives us the resources to improve our infrastructure and take on projects that improve everyone’s lives and everyone’s prospects for a better livelihood. In our One Fiji, our united Fiji, that means the blessings of the economy must be shared throughout the country. You have all contributed, and you must all benefit.

The Small Grants Scheme helps us fund projects at the village level. And when we put all these projects together, we find that they are not just isolated projects here and there—one here in Bukuya, another in Vanua Levu, another in Kadavu. They are a part of a country that is developing, that is closing up pockets of isolation as we weave a Fiji that is united not just spiritually, not just in our pride in our country, but in developments as well.
They say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So this culvert was a nice idea, but does it work? And I am proud to say that it already did its job this year. A team from my office came here just two days before Christmas and saw for themselves: there was a heavy rain while they were here, and they could see that the access was clear and all the rain water from the mountains was discharging through the culvert rather than flooding the road, as had been the case for as long as anyone remembers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The spirit that drives us to overcome limitations that many Fijians once accepted is remaking this country. We are not only developing quickly and intelligently, we are making our voice known in the region and the world. We are a Fiji that looks confidently to the future. And that is why I am asking the people of Fiji to help us adopt a new flag.

Our current flag has served us well. I know as well as anyone because it has been my flag as a military officer and it is my flag today as your Prime Minister. But we are not the same country that adopted that flag more than 45 years ago. That flag was a transition out of our colonial past, and I would like us to have a flag that speaks to our independent and self-reliant future. We need a flag that reminds us of where we are going rather than where we have been. The new flag—always with our beloved Fiji blue—can represent the kind of people we are, the kind of nation we aspire to be, and the kind of country we will leave to our children.

We have established a transparent process, and I ask you all to participate. We are accepting design submissions until February 29, and then we will select five designs to put before the people. There will be a national consultation during which time you will be able to tell us which design you like best.

Whichever design we choose, it will signify the dawn of a new day. And we will love it because will represent our country. It will tell the world that Fiji is on the move. It will be our banner. We will have created it.

I believe we will love whichever design we choose because we love our Fiji.

These new water projects are the building blocks with which you can further develop your communities. As you continue to progress – and I know that you will – my Government will remain attentive and responsive to the challenges you face. So stay productive and rest assured that we will stay by your side as you move into the future.

Thank you, Vinaka vakalevu.