Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
It is a pleasure to be here with you all in the beautiful province of British Columbia and the marvellous city of Surrey. I would like to begin by thanking our gracious host, Mr. Peter Raju, for this wonderful reception in my honour and for his warm introductory remarks.
It is an honour to be amongst one of Fiji’s largest and most successful diaspora communities. And after getting a feel for the city of Surrey, and studying a bit about it, it is easy to see that immigrants have made their mark here, particularly the South Asian community. They have helped build and enrich this affluent city. They have given it their hard labour, their sacrifice, their investment and their hope, and they have helped produce one of Canada’s great cities.
I have come to share with the many thousands of you Fijians who now reside in British Columbia the wave of optimism that is sweeping our island nation. I invite you to join us in our journey to realise Fiji’s potential as a unified and prosperous country. Fiji has a bright future. And it can be made by all the brighter with the inclusion of all members of our Fijian family – regardless of where they reside.
Here in Canada, you all have achieved a great deal thanks to your business acumen and know-how – and there is no finer example of that than Mr. Peter Raju. As President and CEO of Canadian Duty Free Shop, and one of the biggest stakeholders in Canada’s duty free industry, Peter has spent the last 30 years in Canada exemplifying the tenacious and resolute Fijian spirit.
Like many of you, he arrived in a new and unfamiliar land that was very different from his Fijian homeland. Yet he was able to achieve great things. Canada has benefitted enormously from Peter’s accomplishments, and he is just one successful Fijian among many here in Canada. Fiji has paid dearly for losing you all. So I stand before you today, humbled by all you have achieved in your new home, and hopeful that you will heed the call of the new Fiji.
Fiji has certainly come a long way. And our national achievements were only made possible by the cooperation of the Fijian people. United, we have stepped into the future by placing every Fijian on equal footing. By doing so, we have built a democratic and equitable government that our detractors once said was impossible. As I reflect on all Fiji has been able to achieve through our commitment to equal opportunity and equal citizenry, I cannot help but imagine the possibilities of a unified global Fijian community.
Distance is only a minor physical barrier, even the many miles between Canada and Fiji. Travel is easy in our modern world, especially travel within one family. You are still valuable members of our great Fijian family. You deserve the opportunities Fiji now offers, and Fiji needs your talent, your experience, and your investment.
There are many ways to invest in Fiji. We welcome investment in new business, of course. But we also welcome your ideas. We welcome the talent and expertise you can bring to assist my Government in addressing improvements in health, education, protection of our environment and infrastructure development, to name a few. I believe that all Fijians, wherever they are, can work together to build an economy that can compete globally with any other—an economy that gives all the people of Fiji the opportunity to make a valuable contribution, to have a fulfilling life, and to enjoy the blessings of freedom and equality.
Before we discuss the future, however, it is important that we address the past. Many of you – or your parents and grandparents – did not feel welcome in Fiji not so long ago. The selfish actions of a few, who pitted Fijian against Fijian, kept Fiji from fulfilling its promise of becoming an inclusive and prosperous nation.
It is my fundamental belief that the divisive and racist events of 1987 and 2000, which forced many of you to abandon your homeland, are national tragedies. My government is committed to reversing these tragedies. I am here today to tell you that we have succeeded. While there is still work to be done, we have ended the most shameful period in our nation’s history and have instead turned the national conversation towards the values of fairness and impartiality.
That is not all we have accomplished. By embracing our cultural and ethnic diversity, and working together for the benefit of Fiji, the Fijian economy has emerged as the strongest it has ever been. Thanks to economic policies designed to better integrate the Fiji into the global economy, we have – for the first time in our history – enjoyed annual growth rates of 4% or more over the past 3 years. Fiji is on a fast track to become the true regional hub of the Pacific and a leader in investment and trade. And there is no better time than now to ride the investment wave and no better place than Fiji to put your investment dollars.
In Fiji today, you will find infrastructure – roads, communications, ports, and other facilities–that we are constantly improving so that we can sustain our economic progress and protect your investments. You will find an enticing tax regime – only 20% corporate tax, only a 17% corporate tax rate for companies that place their regional or global headquarters in Fiji and an even lower rate of 10% for companies that are listed on the South Pacific Stock Exchange. We have also extended business licenses so as to eliminate stifling bureaucratic regulations.
My government is an active player in the Fijian economy, forging private and civil partnerships that strengthen our competitiveness and foster job creation. We hope that you will take advantage of the economic prospects these policies have created.
It is an exciting time to be Fijian, and I am excited to see what the future holds. I hope that you will take this journey with us – as our fellow Fijians – and share with us your success, your knowledge and your skills. We have a lot to offer you as well. Fiji is your home. And we in Fiji want to reconnect with as many of you as possible. I hope you will return and join us.
Vinaka vakalevu and thank you.