Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today to officiate the grand opening of the McDonald’s restaurant in Lautoka.

The opening of this McDonald’s is a hallmark of things to come, as the decision to open this restaurant by a global franchise, was made because Lautoka’s growth has been recognised as sustainable and continuing. And that should come as no surprise, because as the Fijian economy does well, our major cities will grow and prosper alongside it.

My Government is also keen that Fiji’s second largest city has the right infrastructure and amenities.

As announced in the 2016 Budget, we are providing close to 3 million dollars to upgrade Churchill Park including an all-weather track and to commence ground works for the first public swimming pool.

Having such facilities will mean that the Western Division and in particular Lautoka, can start hosting more and better national and international events that have been traditionally held in Suva. One such event is the Cocoa Cola Games.

On the other hand, the private sector is complementing such government investments. We will soon have the new Tappoo City building completed which will have modern shopping facilities and new cinemas. Only last Friday, there was a ground breaking ceremony of a new 144 roomed hotel and modern conference facilities by P. Meghji Limited.

All of these developments complement each other because if you want to host national events, you need to ensure that you have proper and modern facilities including accommodation to host visiting teams and fans. If you want to host national events, you need to ensure that you have enough places of entertainment, shopping and eatery facilities. That is why the opening of McDonald’s is very timely and fits into the current modernisation of Lautoka City.

McDonald’s currently operates three other restaurants in Fiji – one in downtown Suva, one in Laucala Bay and one in Nadi. So it is only fitting that a location in Lautoka be opened, as this city is also home to over 50,000 Fijians. Our Sugar City plays a huge role in the Fijian economy and – as the name infers – also is the hub of our sugar production. As the Minster for Sugar, I’m well aware of the importance of Sugar as a key element of our agricultural portfolio.

This restaurant will contribute to Lautoka’s economy in more ways than one. Upon its opening, 70 new staff will be employed, many of whom are young adults and first time employees. These Fijians will not only receive full and part-time employment, they will also undergo intensive training and learn valuable skills in the service industry.

Fostering engagement and productivity among our young people is a major priority for my Government. McDonald’s currently employs more than 250 people throughout Fiji. And this McDonald’s will also give our young people the chance to earn an income and get experience in the working world. Here they will develop skills that they can take on to their next profession and earn cash that they, hopefully, will put in the bank to save.

This McDonald’s will certainly improve the employment prospects for our young people, but it will also serve this community in other ways. $4 million has been spent developing this restaurant with the latest modern designs and full Wi-Fi capabilities. This location will offer free Wi-Fi and provide electrical outlets, so that we can charge our laptops and smart phones.

Because of these technological features, this McDonald’s has the potential to become more than just a place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can become an important gathering place for the community. This, combined with the play area for children and large dining area, makes this a family-friendly environment where Fijians can work, eat and play. And you are only a walking distance from Shirley Park.

That is really why I am excited to be here. These types of environments should exist more frequently in the high-tech Fiji that my Government envisions. As we spread services throughout the country that improve our information and communications technology, I want to see more restaurants and other businesses offering these services freely so that we as society can stay better connected to each other and to the world.

I think you’ll find, that as more and more Fijians increase their access to the internet, offering services such as free Wi-Fi will help make your restaurant more popular and more profitable. But it also provides an important public service.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are here celebrating the opening of this restaurant as part of the emergence of Lautoka, as Fiji’s true second city and important commercial centre. Lautoka is growing and becoming more affluent.

And McDonald’s is very much associated with young people and families. This is really a happy occasion, so bear with me as I briefly discuss something very serious that is affecting families. As many of you know, I have undertaken to discuss the problem of domestic violence in this country in my public addresses. And so I want to remind everyone here—and everyone in the country—that we must commit as a people to reject violence against women, children and the vulnerable.

Women and children should be able to go about their day without fear. And the image of the Fijian family should be one of a family happily enjoying home life—and meals together, whether at home or at a restaurant like McDonald’s. But many families are beset by cruelty. It will only stop when we turn our backs on cruel, violent and cowardly perpetrators of such crimes. My Government is committed to stop these heinous crimes from happening and we, including the business community, will all need to work together as a nation to combat them.

So that is my message. I wouldn’t interrupt this happy occasion with it if it were not very important.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be here today, at what I expect will become a new local landmark in Lautoka, to celebrate all the progress that this city has made and all that it will achieve.

McDonald’s has the made the decision to invest in your city because of all this achievement. And I hope you will wear that as a badge of honour. My Government as well, will continue to invest in this city and the people of Lautoka because we believe in Lautoka.

With that, I officially declare this McDonald’s restaurant in Lautoka open.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.