Bula vinaka and a good morning to you all.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you all to wrap up the first week of my Tour of the West. It’s been a great week seeing infrastructure, projects and services spread to the Western region. It’s been such a productive, rewarding week that I decided this week to extend my tour and stay here in the West for another week.

Every Fijian has helped build our economy into what it has become, so every one of you has earned the development my Government has undertaken. You deserve it, and our Constitution demands it – because every Fijian is entitled to equal opportunity and equal attention from my Government.

When building a bright future for this region, there is no better investment we can make than in our children. Our Fijian students – who are today in the classroom – will one day be successful farmers, in the halls of Parliament, arguing in the courtroom, serving in our hospitals, and leading Fiji in business. They also will be parents making everyday decisions for their families and contributing members of the community. We need to make sure they are prepared for those responsibilities.

When my Government made education free for every Fijian family, we did so because it was the right thing to do, and also as a way to fulfill the right to education that is guaranteed by our Constitution. We put forward great efforts and money to make that happen, because it was something worth sacrificing for. When every Fijian student has the opportunity to reach their full potential, all of Fiji benefits. Talented students make for a talented workforce. And a talented workforce gives a boost to our existing business, and makes Fiji more attractive for new business from all over the world.

My Government was not content just to make education free, we also have embarked on a campaign to improve and upgrade our schools. When children learn in a modern, clean environment, they feel appreciated and important. That translates into productivity and a greater interest in their studies.

So that is why I’m back here in Sorokoba at the Ratu Filimone Memorial School. In 2014, your school requested fencing to stop farm animals from getting on the school grounds and damaging property.

Today, I am opening the newly constructed perimeter fence, a covered walkway, an upgraded staff restroom facility and a few other maintenance works to keep your school functioning safely and efficiently. In total, these improvements have cost $65,096 – a worthy investment in your 189 students and your teaching staff.
The new fencing will keep your school grounds safe and give your students a stronger sense of security as they play and go about their studies. The Ratu Filimone School can also plant and grow their own vegetables – a sustainable and nutritious advantage for your students.

The new walkway will also keep you dry on rainy days and allow buses to drop students off right inside the school compound instead of out on the main road. These conveniences will make a big difference for your students. It’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about, and we want our students focused solely on their studies.

And it is a shame that some civil servants in the Ministry of Education failed to ensure that our children receive their text books from day 1 of the new term in the New Year. This is a serious matter. First, it not only deprives children of the books they need, but it infringes on their constitutional right. Second, it undermines the people’s faith in the institution that is charged with guaranteeing that right. And that is why we have launched an investigation into the matter. We want to make sure that this kind of inexcusable failure—or anything similar—never happens again. I am happy to announce that we have made special arrangements and therefore all text books should be ready for distribution, at the latest within 4 weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When our children grow up, they should enjoy a Fiji that is strong, prosperous and proud. We are making that happen every day through our economic policies, infrastructure development and through our search for a new national flag.

We are looking for a flag that stands for what we truly are as Fijians. A flag that encapsulates our history, our people and our future. Our current flag has served us proudly, and will be remembered well, but is time Fiji flew a flag that showed the world how we see ourselves and what we believe we can achieve.

We have extended the deadline for design submissions until 29 February. In March, we will announce five final designs, and then choose a final flag through national consultations. On Constitution Day, which is 7 September, Fiji will fly our new national flag and say to the world, “This is Fiji”.

I hope you all will make your voices heard in the upcoming months and contribute to this important national effort. In the meantime, study hard, focus on your studies and be the best students and teachers that you can be.

Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu