Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

This is a very important day for a great many Fijians as my Government begins the process of securing the futures of the tens of thousands of people living in informal settlements throughout the country.

Until now, you have been squatters occupying State land with no legal status and no security. None of the peace of mind other Fijians enjoy in having a sense of ownership, of belonging, to the land on which they live. But from today, all that starts to change. And I couldn’t be more delighted to be here in Field 40, Lautoka, to hand over the first of the “Approval Notices to Lease” to those who have settled on a portion of State land in this area of the nation’s second biggest city.

The 40 approval notices I am officially handing over today are the first of a total of 144 that will be eventually issued to the residents here. We are planning to hand out another 18 notices within the next few weeks and the rest to follow. I understand the anxiety of those of you who are still waiting and apologise for any delay. But we need as a government to do this properly and fulfil the requirements of the law.

Throughout this whole process, we have done all we can to ensure that none of your homes have to be relocated – that you can stay where you are. And we have also included your religious places of worship in our subdivision plans.

I’m very happy to say that we have achieved all of this for the people of Field 40. But there are still a number of outstanding issues to be addressed for the whole of Fiji in the weeks and months ahead. And key stakeholders in the housing sector will be meeting to consider these issues and finalise our policies on the allocation of lots in squatter settlements around the country.

My fellow Fijians, this is the first of more than 50 other settlements like yours throughout Fiji where my Government is committed to regularising occupancy.
It fulfils a key promise I made to you before the 2014 election. That “FijiFirst will develop more State land for squatter development”. And that “all State land on which squatters have been living will be subdivided and squatters will be given 99 year leases”.

Keeping that promise has been very important to me. Because I know how important security is to every Fijian, and especially the need to feel secure on the land on which you live. All along, we have been determined to give our squatters that security – to empower you and give you the peace of mind other Fijians enjoy. Because we simply cannot claim to have equality of opportunity in our nation – to have any genuine fairness at all – while so many people have been without secure access to land and without a secure home.

I know that some of you have had up to five generations of your family living here with no security at all. Well tonight you can gather for your evening meal and celebrate the fact that from now on, you truly belong. You can sleep soundly for the first time with the sense of security that every human being needs and deserves. And every Fijian can sleep more soundly in the knowledge that as a nation, we have finally done the right thing by you and the many tens of thousands more like you. Our fellow Fijians who don’t have the same privileges others have.

It is also the beginning of a new era in our settlements. The days of the bullies who victimised vulnerable ordinary Fijians are over. Those who set themselves up as landlords but didn’t own the land at all and forced decent, hardworking people to pay them rent they didn’t deserve. We are putting those people out of business altogether and will deal with them harshly if they continue their illegal behaviour.

The days of you paying money to these parasites in the belief that they could ensure your security are over. We have freed you from the hold they had over you. And today, we begin a new story in our informal settlements, one of empowerment and opportunity.

When you have these approval notices to lease, you cannot be evicted. For the next 99 years, the law says that you are entitled to the lots you have been allocated – the land you live on. So you can now work to improve your homes and make them stronger and more comfortable knowing that it is money well spent.

And with this security of tenure, you will be able to mortgage the lease to get loans from commercial banks to build better homes; you will have access to your FNPF to build better homes or apply through Government’s popular housing grant to build your first home.

As you know, we are also redeveloping this entire area, transforming Field 40 to give it proper amenities. The kind of infrastructure that most of us living in towns and cities take for granted – piped water, proper sewerage and electricity.

The work on the Field 40 subdivision is already underway and those within the first stage of development will get their 99-year leases once this work is completed by April next year. The others will get theirs as soon as we complete the second and third stages of development. Again, I ask you to be patient. But I promise you that as time goes by, you will all notice a huge improvement in the life of this community and in the spirit of its people.

My Fellow Fijians, once again, the FijiFirst Government has shown that we deliver. We serve. And I am especially proud whenever we are able to serve those Fijians like the residents here who need it most.

To those of you receiving your approval notices to lease today, I hope that this is the beginning of a new era for all of you – one of opportunity and hope. In giving you this opportunity, I ask you to pay close attention to the terms of your approval notices. Make sure you follow them because you have a legal obligation to do so.

My Fellow Fijians, it is now my pleasure to hand over the first batch of approval notices to lease. And as I do, I ask the recipients to enjoy the moment. Think about the possibilities that this has opened up for you and your families. Think about how you can help build a better sense of community in Field 40.

Because working together – one nation, one Fiji – we are building a place you can be proud to live in. A place to build new futures. In a home to call your own.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.