Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It is a pleasure being with you all here today as a part of my Tour of the North. So far my tour has taken me to a number of new infrastructure projects – projects that will bring essential services to our deserving Fijian family here in the North.

I’ve also had the chance to extend one of Fiji’s most popular new initiatives, the micro and small business grants, to even more of our visionary entrepreneurs, and that is what I’ve come to Seaqaqa to do again today.

When we grow our economy we give more resources to the Fijian people. It is the responsibility of my Government to make sure those resources are spread as far and wide as possible. Each of you have done your part in leading Fiji to economic prosperity, so it is only right that you see your share of the benefits we’ve brought to our country.

This grant program is one initiative that has resulted from our growth as a country – but not only that, it is also a program that has continued to drive our economy by giving valuable and timely assistance to our micro and small businesses.

The program is targeted at entrepreneurs just like yourselves who need a helping hand to take their businesses to the next level. It is not a hand-out. It is assistance that must be used for purchases that we have verified will start your new business or expand your existing enterprise.

You have been selected on the basis of merit. Your business plans have been carefully assessed and we have placed our faith in each one of you to seize this opportunity and run with it. Don’t squander it. You have the ability and the talent to become the next generation of business leaders for your communities and for Fiji.

At the coming of the New Year, I told all of you that 2015 was a year of action, but that 2016 will be even better. That starts here and now. This week, I met 480 budding entrepreneurs in Labasa and Nabouwalu who have also benefitted from this program; handed out 72 approval notices for 99 year leases to those living in informal settlements on State Land and opened the 1st floor market extension for Labasa Market. This morning I also announced an advance payment of $2 per tonne on each tonnage delivered by cane farmers to the FSC. This will be paid out this Friday.

Together, you are a reflection of not only the tremendous progress the North has achieved but also on the bright future this region is headed towards.

Fiji today has become more attractive than ever to investors from all over the globe. They are impressed with what we’ve done and confident in what we will be able to accomplish, and here in the North you are an equal part of meeting those expectations and taking our economy to even greater heights.

When you expand or start your small businesses, you drive our economy. By building up your own wealth, you build the nation’s wealth. And this program will give you the opportunity to do just that.

The more Fijians participate in our national economy the better. So here today the Fiji Development Bank is also here to distribute your grants. When you accept that grant, you also have the chance to become involved with the FDB, as my Government has given you the tick of approval. When you want another loan to continue growing your enterprise, you can go to the FDB and begin that process.

So as you can see, the support doesn’t stop here. We’ll be with you every step of the way on your journey to even greater economic successes.

My Fellow Fijians,

The cheque presentation today will benefit 245 individuals who can start up a business or extend their current business. Including these grants provided today, the Fijian Government has invested a total of approximately $5 million towards 4,945 households who have been given the chance to improve their quality of life by jump starting their businesses.

As a champion of the Micro and Small Business Grant, I urge you to be responsible with the grant we have invested in you as the seed that has been planted today will bear great fruits in years to come.

You’ve probably heard that I’ve been all around the country with this program and I wish to share some of the success stories that have been generated from those that have been assisted already.

• Wainisito Katonisiga of Namosi was provided grant assistance to expand his canteen business. This helped him increase his profit to$250 per week and create employment for 2 other family members who are now helping him run his canteen.

• Sheema Wati Prasad of Navua was provided grant assistance for her cattle farming business, particularly to buy fencing materials and posts. As a result, she has expanded her breeding space for cattle. Today she has a total of 6 cattle and will be earning $700 to $800 from the sale of her cattle.

• Ateca Salusalumarama of Navua was provided grant assistance for her roadside selling business. This has helped her increase in her sales from $300 to $400 per week, which has significantly improved her family’s standard of living.

• Matelita Cirimaiwai of Pacific Harbor was provided grant assistance for her frozen food business selling fish each week at the hotels and nearby communities. The grant has enabled her to generate earnings of $1500 per week, and she was able to invest much of that in her rental car businesses.

• Marika Wiliame of Namosi was provided grant assistance for his landscaping business. His earnings have now increased from $50 to $200 fortnightly, which has benefited his family and his village.
These stories show that this program is working, this program is inspiring Fijian entrepreneurs and helping them achieve their dreams. Now it’s your turn. I would also like to mention a few people who will be receiving their grants this afternoon.

• Ateca Tabaki of Naravuka will use her grant to purchase stocks and inventories for her canteen business;

• Deepak Divesh Chandra of Kawakawavesi will use his grant to purchase his fencing materials for his livestock business;

• Iowane Kavou of Nakavika will use his grant to purchase farming implements for his Yaqona farming business;

• Losalini Raua of Natua will use her grant to operate a roadside stall;

• Matavesi Doro of Natua will use his grant to purchase fencing material to enclose his farm.

My Government and your fellow Fijians believe in you and everyone else receiving their grants today to make the best possible use of this opportunity. We are an innovative and hardworking people, and you have chance to showcase those values thanks to this program. Do your best, work hard and work smart, and I know you will do great things.

My fellow Fijians,

These grants are special to me because they have a larger impact that extends beyond our entrepreneurs. It also benefits their families — their husbands, wives and children — who can enjoy better lives and more secure futures. That is the true value in giving our small businesses this boost.

Our families form the very fabric of our society and should always be cherished as a sacred blessing. That is why I am using every opportunity I have available to condemn crimes that are tearing our families apart all over Fiji — the plight of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Look around you today. Many of the deserving entrepreneurs gathered here today are women. Women in our country are equal contributors to our economy and they deserve to live lives that are not threatened by violence in their homes.

If we truly want to grow as country, we need to make sure that our women and children don’t have to worry about their own safety. We need to make sure they can focus on their own futures and aren’t limited by cruel and inhumane actions.

We need to protect our families. We need to shame anyone who dares of thinking of committing such atrocities.

The law is strict and punishes those criminals severely, but the law only extends so far. It is the duty of every Fijian to condemn these crimes. Because if we allow domestic violence and sexual assault to persist, we allow violence to thrive in our communities and damage our people. That is something we cannot accept. So I ask you to join me in this fight to end this scourge in Fiji once and for all.

My fellow Fijians,

I wish you all the very best in your various business ventures and a very successful 2016 to your respective families.

Thank You and vinaka vakalevu.