Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism
Minister for Local Government, Housing, Environment, Infrastructure and Transport.
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
The Deputy Representative of UN Women,
Turaga na Tui Vuda and Turagi na Tui Vitogo,
The President of the Lautoka Market Vendors Association.
Distinguished Guests,
My Fellow Fijians,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

This is something of a first – two very important ministry events rolled into one. The opening of the new Lautoka Market shed and the launch of our micro and small business grants in the Sugar City.

We’ve combined the two because they both have the same underlying objective – to empower ordinary Fijians and give them what they need to gain a bigger economic stake in our nation’s future.

In the case of the market shed, we are improving conditions for about 300 vendors by giving them and those who buy their produce a roof over their heads for the first time. A clean, modern facility that protects them from the elements – the western heat and the rain and the storms that vendors have had to contend with here for the past 40 years. And in the case of our micro and small business grants program, we are giving ordinary people – some of them already market vendors – the ability to either start new businesses or take their existing businesses to another level.

Today has already been a day of empowering the people of Lautoka and the surrounding region. Because I have just come from Field 40, where I handed over the first batch of the Lease Approval Notices, that will give our squatters 99 year leases on State land.

So it is a wonderful day for Lautoka and a wonderful day for the West. A day to celebrate the fact that as we move forward together as Fijians and our economy improves, we are able to pass on the benefits to the people who most deserve it. Decent, hardworking people who are the backbone of our nation and who I take great pride in serving as Prime Minister.

I love these community events. Because I can see from the smiles of our people and the warmth of their welcome that we are making a difference in their lives. And there is nothing more satisfying for me than the feeling of being able to deliver. Being able to serve. Whether it is making people without their own land feel secure in their homes for the first time. Giving people proper facilities when they take their produce to market. Or of giving them the leg-up of $1000 in assistance to invest in a new business or build the strength and capacity of a business they already own.

Because it is all about equipping ordinary Fijians with what they need to lead satisfying and fulfilling lives. Government doing what it should do. Create the conditions for people to prosper so they can contribute to the prosperity of our nation. And for us all to work together to build the new Fiji. One in which the present generation can earn decent livings, our children can be equipped through our education revolution for even better futures, and we are able to set aside enough to help the disadvantaged. To leave no Fijian behind.

My Fellow Fijians, I will soon be handing over micro and small business grants to many of the 216 recipients here in Lautoka. This will take the total number of Fijians who have so far received grants to 3,122 after our other ceremonies around the country. And because we estimate that a further five family members benefit from each grant, the total number of Fijians who’ve benefited now stands at around 15,700.

But before I proceed to the grants ceremony, I am going to speak about the importance of the new market shed for our vendors in Lautoka and officially open it. Many of the people who come here every day – rain or shine – come from far away. And many are women – who my Government will always strive to especially serve and protect. You were all entitled to better facilities here and now you finally have them. And I want to thank you all for your patience, as well as thanking those who have made this new structure possible.

Of the total cost of $1.5-million, $500,000 has been provided by my Government, just over $395,000 has come from United Nations Women and the balance has come from Lautoka City Council. So this has been a wonderful partnership to benefit our vendors and the customers who buy their produce. And on behalf of the Government, I especially want to thank UN Women for its continuing support for our women market vendors in Fiji.

So a big vinaka vakalevu to everyone who has played a part in bringing this project to fruition. This is wonderful addition to the city of Lautoka – which is already forging ahead on the back of other developments – the upgrade of Churchill Park, the construction of Tappoo City and the new McDonalds. Now the city has a new market shed and I have great pleasure in officially declaring it open.

I will now cut the ribbon but ask everyone to stay in their places so that we can move on to the micro and small grants ceremony afterwards.

Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now to something that always gives me the greatest of pleasure – coming face to face with our micro and small business grant recipients – this time those of you in Lautoka.

I’ve said before that I get a tremendous kick out of handing out these certificates, whether it is in Suva, Navua, Savusavu, Taveuni, Rakiraki or Ba. Because I can see from the faces of our people how much these grants mean to them. The opportunity to get equipment or other assistance to the value of $1000 to use for their businesses. The fact that the Government has confidence in them. The fact that their fellow Fijians recognise their hard work and are putting aside some of their taxes to encourage them to grow our economy further.

These aren’t handouts of money. I’m handing over a certificate that you take to the Fiji Development Bank officials over there. And they then give you a cheque to take to the supplier of the goods you have asked for and that we have approved.

As a Government, we are trusting you to do the right thing and use these items in the way they are intended. But this is also a wonderful way to provide people with $1000 they would otherwise have trouble raising. And fuelling not only an enterprise culture in Fiji but adding fuel to the economy generally.

It is also giving many more Fijians a leg-up into the banking system. Because when you receive these grants, it is an endorsement from the Government that you can use to raise commercial loans to further expand your business.

We’re starting to get some wonderful success stories coming through the system about what these grant recipients have been able to achieve. And here are two such people from Nadroga who are here with us today. I would like them to come and join me on the stage:

• Nirmala Devi of Cuvu was able to grow her sewing business by using her grant to upgrade her manual sewing machine to an electric one.

• And Udey Sen of Bilalevu settlement used to have to share his farming tools with his neighbours but now owns his own tools and has been able to improve his crop production.

My fellow Fijians, these are real people like you in just one area of the country whose lives are being transformed by this program. So there is no doubt whatsoever about its value or the impact it is having for ordinary Fijians. And because of that – as I have said before – we are going to continue making these grants indefinitely to people who qualify on merit and through transparent process.

So now to the Lautoka grants. And as usual, I want to mention some of the people who are benefitting here and ask them to come and join me on the stage also.

• Apisai Nawai who will use his grant to buy tools to increase production from his farm.

• Wali Sher Khan of Lautoka. Wali has been in the fishing business from a very young age. And he will use his grant to purchase additional fishing gear to expand his business.

• Asena Laqelaqetabu Vurabera. Asena will use her grant to start a handicraft business. And she will be engaging members of her family in Naviti, Yasawa in this new venture of hers.

• Mohammed Azeem of Lovu, Lautoka. Mohammed has been operating a window tinting business for vehicles, offices and shops for the last six years. He will use his grant to expand his business and meet the growing demand for his services in the west.

• Lilly Powell, she will use her grant to buy materials to grow her flower business.

• Emele Kuila who will use her grant to buy materials to further grow her Fijian made handicraft business.

To all of you, congratulations. Please give these recipients a big round of applause… and an even bigger round for all of you!

My fellow Fijians, whether you are a market vendor benefiting from the new shed, a grant recipient or maybe even both, I urge you to not only live up to the trust that has been placed in you. But to also seize the opportunities you have been given. And use you imaginations to think of new ways in which you can grow your businesses.

It is a wonderful time in Fiji. Our economy grew by 5.3 per cent last year during one of the longest running periods of expansion in our history. And as I keep saying and will say again here today: It is a wonderful time to be Fijian. Great things lie ahead for our beloved nation if we can stay united as a people and focussed on the task ahead. Of working together as one nation and building the Fiji we all dream off. Confident and strong. A nation of opportunity for everyone.

Thank you to you all for being here. Thank you to all those who have made this such a wonderful day. And I look forward now to presenting our Lautoka recipients with their certificates.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.