Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa Bula vinaka and good afternoon to you all.
I have many responsibilities as Prime Minister. But visiting schools always seems more like a pleasure than a duty. I love being with our children, in part because I love children and in part because everything we do is in some way for them—to build a country that gives them opportunity. To make sure they have the chance for a better life, a healthier life, a safer life, a richer life in both spiritual and material ways.
I think about what they will become, what they will accomplish. I look into their faces and wish very much that the joy and optimism they show today will be with them their whole lives.
Government’s job is to give them the ability to turn those wishes into reality. And that starts with the schools. Proper schools, with good teachers, open up the world to children. Without good schools, children might never see the possibilities that the world offers to them if they are prepared to take advantage of it.
That is why I have made education a top priority for government. I have said that I want education to be my legacy. I want to be known as the prime minister who finally made education free, who finally told parents and children, “This is your right. We provide education as a community, and we will not charge you fee after fee after fee to give your children something that is so basic, necessary.”
I am particularly concerned about the schools in our rural areas, where children don’t always have the same access to information and technology as their urban counterparts. We have to make extra efforts here.
The Ministry of Finance just released the initial results of its Household Income and Expenditure Survey, and it shows that rural poverty is steadily decreasing. That is very good news. I want to accelerate that. And, ladies and gentlemen, we know that education is a key factor in lifting people from poverty. That is because education gives us the means to harness the drive and spirit we hold inside us to lift ourselves up. It expands our horizons and shows us possibilities. God created us all equal, in His image and likeness, but he left it to us to make ourselves good and productive people. He left it to us to teach our children and help them become strong and contributing adults.
My Government’s philosophy is also that we are all equal, because how can any government worthy of the name deny the equality that God has ordained? In today’s Fiji and tomorrow’s Fiji, all citizens are equal. Your religion, your ethnicity, your occupation, your social status or whether you live in the capital or the most remote island or remote village do not matter.
Today I am happy to dedicate a new, two-room block building to support the students of this school and their dedicated teachers. Your old building is gone, and you have this new one in its place. The total cost of this project was $48,000.00, and it includes what the builders and planners like to call an ablution block for the hostel. I like to call it a washroom, a bathroom, or even a loo. We all need a place to bathe, to wash up and to do the other things that nature requires us to do every day—and to do that with dignity and in a clean, healthy environment. We have to help children learn to take care of themselves. And learning good hygiene is as important as learning from books.
Another $12,000 will go to the early childhood education program at this school, bringing the total expenditure to $60,000. We have learned that early childhood education can be a major factor in a child’s later development. It puts children on the proper path to learning by helping them develop reasoning skills and social skills. And once children start to love learning and feel successful, they can carry that love of learning and that confidence throughout their school years and beyond.
We are investing in our school facilities throughout the country. We want to have the best possible teachers throughout the country to inspire our children, better facilities for our children to learn in, and better equipment and other educational materials for our children. So we are supporting our teachers with training and incentives, we are working in partnership with the schools and communities to give them what they need, and we are working with the best experts we can find to improve the curriculum and the resources available to our children and teachers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our country is on the move. There is a different mindset today in Fiji. We are making our own future, determining what kind of nation we will be, what kind of people we will be. Equality of opportunity will be the defining element of that 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 have served under it with pride as a military officer and your prime minister. But much has changed in Fiji and the world since we adopted it more than 45 years ago. But while that flag took us out of the past, I would like us to have a flag that takes us into the future—to where we are going rather than from where we have been. The new flag—always with our beloved Fiji blue—can stand for the kind of people we are, the kind of nation we aspire to be, and the kind of country we will leave to these 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.
Someday, and sooner than you think, our new flag will say to the world, “We are Fijians, and we believe in our future. Watch what we can do.”
Vinaka vakalevu, and thank you.