SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT OPENING ADDRESS AT THE 2ND HIGH LEVEL GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

Bula Vinaka and Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my pleasure to be here today, among so many leaders in the geospatial information industry, to discuss how we can advance the use and understanding of geospatial technology.

I would first like to thank the Geo-Spatial Council for organizing this conference and all of you for attending the conference in its second year. Geospatial technology is becoming a more important discipline, nationally and internationally, every day. And your presence here demonstrates your willingness to address the issues and challenges the industry has yet to face.

I am confident that, together, we can unite industry stakeholders in our quest to map Fiji’s way forward towards the development of more advanced geospatial technologies.

Here in Suva, you are in the centre of Fiji’s geospatial information industry. Since the early 1990’s we have been using geospatial information systems (GIS) in a variety of different fields – including land administration, natural resource management, utilities asset management, disaster assessments and more recently, automobile GPS and web-based mapping systems.

Last year we launched our first national web mapping application, Sugar Web GIS mapping, which shows State and private datasets overlaid with satellite imagery. This mapping system has already become an invaluable decision-making tool for several Government ministries.

We have also restored the role of the Geospatial Council, making it the main body of the National Geo-Spatial Industry. And we are in the process of upgrading the coordinate system of our local Map Grid 1986 to enable safer air, land and sea navigation through the use of GPS. It will also give us a better understanding of the adverse effects of rising sea levels and help us develop strategies that can save lives of Fijians threatened by climate change.

The Fijian Government has remained committed to the wide-spread use of geospatial technologies and to bringing our existing technologies in line with international standards. And we will continue to support the industry in the face of new challenges. We have improved the usability of our geospatial systems by acquiring technical expertise, establishing spatial data infrastructures and relevant software, and introducing more user-friendly interfaces. But while we have been recognized for many of these achievements, there is still more work that can be done.

Being a serious player in the GIS industry, there is a need to shift the focus to the integration of GIS capabilities. This means making fundamental data openly available. The sharing of data among stakeholders is the crucial next step that will foster innovation and creativity in the geospatial market.

As my counterpart, Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull, has said, “The most scarce resource in the digital age is not access to capital or technology itself. The scarcest resource is imagination – disruptive, insurgent and radical imagination.” I can’t agree more.

This kind of revolutionary thinking can only occur if we foster greater collaboration within our geospatial industry. We must recognise that any barriers that stand in the way of this are obstacles to innovation and creativity, and we must commit ourselves to rooting them out.

My Government has already taken the first step by partnering with research institutions, the private sector and academia to harness the potential of fundamental data sharing among consumers and developers of geospatial technology. The next big leap in Fiji’s GIS industry is waiting to happen, but it will never occur if stakeholders don’t have access to the information they need. That is why we are also making valuable data collected by Government available to the private sector—because we recognise the tremendous way this information can improve decision-making in the GIS industry.

Under the Fiji Geospatial Strategy, we will also continue to encourage meaningful communication, collaboration and commitment within Government Ministries to identify public data sets that can be of use.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many developed countries are already enjoying the advantages that an advanced GIS industry can bring. However, these geospatial technologies did not come about on their own– or even by the efforts of a few. They were collaborative projects between Government and the private sector, and within the industry itself.

We all realise the positive impact that GIS capabilities can have. It is time we bring industry stakeholders together to make that shared vision a reality.

Fiji has much to gain from the opportunities GIS technologies can create. And as a Government, we have to do more than simply provide assistance to our GIS industry. We have to make sure our own services are supported by these technologies. We believe that every Fijian deserves the same ease of access to Government services that geospatial information technology is enabling all over the world.

To this end, my Government is supporting the mapping of government assets and exploring the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. We have also recently established a Geo-Spatial Unit within the Ministry for Lands and Mineral Resources to advance the quality and accessibility of Government services.

This conference is about building on these efforts. It is about exploring the wide range of possibilities that this industry has to offer. It is about finding ways to improve the lives of ordinary Fijians through the use of this technology.

Technology is helping Fiji leap forward in development. My Government has made it a priority to make information technology available to everyone in this country, no matter where they live- which has also made Fiji the telecommunications hub of the South Pacific. We have done this through investment in broadband, through the setting up of internationally acclaimed community telecentres to give people access to the Internet around the country, and through a rational and market-based approach to spectrum allocation. The Government through a universal service access program also offers subsidies to commercial operators to encourage them to provide services in areas not considered to be commercially viable. This is to ensure that people living in those communities have access to telecommunications.

Geospatial technology is another critical piece of technology that we must harness as we continue to grow our economy and modernise our society. We know of the applications for government services, for accurate records and for the private sector, and we need to open more.

Please use this opportunity to go beyond mere discussions and take real action to bring more of the advantages that the GIS industry has to offer to our shores here in Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.