Bula vinaka a a very good morning to you all,
I’m delighted to be here with the people of Waivaka to officially celebrate the opening of their new pedestrian bridge.
And I’d like to start by thanking you warmly for your traditional welcome.
These ceremonies remind us of the central place of i’Taukei customs in our national life and always make me very proud as Prime Minister. Especially when we see the culture of the people of Namosi so vibrant and strong and reflected in the special way you perform your own ceremony. Vinaka vakalevu.
My Fellow Fijians, this is a bridge to the outside world that was severed when the old structure was damaged by flooding way back in 2004. When it was swept away, the people of Waivaka were forced to cross the river as best they could, picking their way through the water and across the rocks.
It was difficult, it was wet and it was sometimes dangerous, especially in times of heavy rain. And naturally, the villagers here were especially worried about the vulnerability of young children trying to cross the river.
Well, today we celebrate the fact that those days are well and truly over. Waivaka has the link to the outside world it deserves and one that is sturdy and safe – a new pedestrian bridge constructed at a total cost of more than $320,000.
$275,000 of the total amount came from the Fiji Roads Authority. But another $46,000 Fijian dollars was provided by the Australian Government through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
And on behalf of the Fijian Government and the people of Waivaka, I want to thank Australia for its generosity.
There was an additional Australian contribution through a joint partnership between RMIT University in Melbourne, the Centre of Water and Energy Engineering at the Fiji National University and the Reach 4 Your Future Foundation – a charity initiated by Ganesh Sen that assists in education and infrastructure projects in Fiji.
Students from FNU and RMIT designed the bridge under the supervision of a local structural engineering firm, Engineered Designs. So this has been a joint project involving a number of people and organisations – all of them coming together for the benefit of the people of Waivaka.
I keep talking about the importance of Team Fiji. Well this was teamwork that also involved some members of Team Australia. And the fact that everyone worked together so well is a shining example of the special relationship between the Fijian and Australian peoples.
I wish to single out Ganesh Sen a Fijian living in Melbourne. Ganesh was the driving force behind this project. He brought all the parties together. He also single handedly overcame the many bureaucratic hurdles that was put in his way. He was driven by passion for the country of his birth and his passion to help those in need. We will work with him in a similar project which is the Korotari bridge in Vanua Levu..
I also wish single out Hamish Currie and those students from Fiji and Australia who have worked so hard to bring this project to fruition. You have done a wonderful job. And I am sure that the 90 students from Waivaka who use this bridge to attend school every day are especially grateful. They have waited a long time but that wait is now over.
As well as making this river-crossing safe for our young people, the new bridge has already improved the lives and transformed the economic prospects of everyone in the village. The sick and the elderly now have better and quicker access to medical assistance. Those who grow crops have better and quicker access to markets. And everyone in Waivaka stands to benefit for many years to come because of the excellence of this design and the quality of the work that has gone into the project.
When I opened a new bridge in Rakiraki a couple of weeks back, I described it as a bridge to the future for the people of north-west Viti Levu. Well this is a bridge to the future for the people of Waivaka – reconnecting them to the world after a gap of more than a decade.
As I keep saying, I will not rest as Prime Minister until every Fijian – no matter where they live – enjoys the same services as people living in our cities and towns. It will obviously take time to fulfill this ambition. We cannot get such things as electricity, clean water and better roads and bridges to every Fijian overnight. But rest assured that the FijiFirst Government is working on it.
All over the country is the evidence that we are fulfilling our promise to deliver and to serve. Fiji is on the move. We are in the throes of one of the longest running periods of economic growth in our history. Our free schooling is giving Fijian children the best chance to get a proper education than at any other time in our history.
Our nation’s prospects have never been more promising. But it all depends on us remaining united. Turning our backs on the voices of division among us and working together for the benefit of every Fijian, whoever they are or wherever they come from in Fiji.
My Fellow Fijians, great days lie ahead. We are building bridges to the future for all Fijians, allowing them to cross into a new era of development and prosperity. As I keep telling our young people. It is a wonderful time to be Fijian. So take advantage of the many benefits my Government is providing, whether it is free schooling or scholarships and tertiary loans to give ordinary people better access to higher education. Or whether it is our micro and small business grants to encourage our people to either establish new businesses or take their existing businesses to another level.
All this is designed to empower ordinary Fijians and provide them with the opportunities that their parents and grandparents could only dream of. To give all our young people a proper stake in the future and take everyone with us. Because above all, I am committed to the principle of leaving no Fijian behind. One nation. One people. Moving forward. Together.
Thank you again to all those who built this magnificent structure. And I now have great pleasure to officially declare the Waivaka Pedestrian Bridge open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.