Bula vinaka, halo oloketa and thank you for inviting me to your community.
As you know, I almost didn’t make it here—not only because Tropical Cyclone Ula made travel impossible, but also because during an emergency it is my duty to make sure the government is doing everything it can to protect life and property in the country. Fortunately, Fiji was spared serious widespread damage, and we were finally able to make the journey. We will certainly have to repair some damage and rest assured that we will help those who were affected, but we can thank God for what we were spared.
We need to always be prepared for these tropical storms, which now can happen even outside the traditional season. Communities like yours are especially vulnerable to the forces of nature, and I worry most about our rural and maritime communities when these dangerous storms strike. It is critical for all Fijians to pay close attention to the advice and instructions of our emergency response authorities, so I urge you to listen carefully to your radios and the updates you can get on your cell phones. The agencies responsible for emergency preparedness and response and law enforcement agencies—deserve our praise and gratitude for working around the clock to make sure that all Fijians are safe.
My visit with you here today is very special to me. Officially, I am here to hand over to you a boat and outboard motor so that the highly skilled fishermen of this community can be safe at sea and increase their catch. We need no reminders of how unforgiving the sea can be and we must always be mindful of our safety and that of our loved ones while at sea.
We have in the past few weeks lost four fishermen at sea and my heart breaks for these men and their families. These tragedies are a solemn reminder of the dangers many Fijians face at sea while seeking to provide for their loved ones. It is up to us to do what we can to provide our fisherman with boats and equipment that are modern – and most importantly – as safe as possible.
So I am very pleased to officially turn over to you this 23-foot fiberglass boat, with its 40-horsepower outboard engine, life jackets and safety kit. I know you will use it well to lift up your community and to stay safe. The cost was about $17,500, which was provided through the Melanesian/Vasu I Taukei Development Fund that is administered by my office and I know this will make a big difference in the life of this community.
And I am especially proud that this project was requested by this community through your District Advisory Council representative and was championed by the Provincial Administrator Cakaudrove. A Government must hear from the people to know what their needs are, and then it is Government’s job to respond in a responsible and equitable way—favouring no one and making sure that the people’s money is spent wisely.
But I am also here to deliver a message to you, our Melanesian brothers and sisters, and to all Fijians. Your days of suffering discrimination are over. Your days of being told that you are outsiders are over. Your days of not enjoying the full rights, privileges and responsibilities of Fijian citizenship are over.
Equality is the most basic principle of my government. We are all equal citizens of this nation, no matter what our gender, ethnicity or faith. We are all Fijians no matter how long ago our ancestors first set foot on these islands. We all deserve equal treatment by Government and equal access to good infrastructure, no matter how we vote. We all deserve to share in the pride of being Fijian, in the beauty of our country, and in the opportunities that spring from our land, our seas, and the divine spark within us. God created us all in his image and likeness, and He frowns mightily on us if we do not treat each other with dignity, kindness and respect.
Your ancestors came here from Solomon Islands during the colonial era and helped build this country with their sweat and toil. You have lived in this land, raised your children as good Fijians, and worked hard. We can look with pride at the way you have adopted Fiji as a home and you are Fijians in every way.
Yet you were often denied land and the full benefits of Fijian citizenship because our laws made distinctions by ethnicity or race as was called then. It was hard for you to obtain rights to land, and you even had to apply for scholarships and other benefits under a special scheme because by law you were considered “other”—in other words, not really Fijian.
Today there are no more people in Fiji whom we can call “other.” There are only Fijians. That means each of you as individuals have the same rights to government services and programs as anyone else. I urge you to exercise those rights, to insist on those rights, and to wear them proudly. Our rights are like our muscles: We have to use them to keep them strong and vigorous.
My brothers and sisters,
Our economy is in a period of tremendous growth. I believe that a rising tide should lift all boats. By that I mean that when the economy grows, all people should benefit, all should be uplifted. So we are committed to using the money generated by our booming economy to improve the infrastructure throughout the country, and especially to help develop our rural and maritime areas. We are improving roads, schools, jetties and health facilities. We are extending electricity and clean water. And we are creating better conditions for people to build businesses, get jobs, and help themselves. And that is the ultimate goal: not just to distribute government benefits, but to use those benefits and to use government services to help our people build better lives. The Fijian people are intelligent and hard-working; if we continue to build the right environment, they will build the country.
I know that you will do your part.
Before I officially turn this boat over to you, I want to say a few words about a subject that is very important to me. You probably all know by now that I am deeply concerned about the problem of violence against women and children in Fiji. I am talking about rape and domestic violence.
My government has strengthened the laws to protect women and make it easier to punish anyone who commits these crimes. But this will only end when we as a society shame the rapists and the abusers and turn our backs on them.
Together, we can stop the violence and embrace the kind of civilisation that God expects us to uphold.
And now, it is my pleasure to officially hand over to this community of Fijians this new boat. May it help you prosper. May it help your community grow. May it keep you safe at sea.