Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I can’t think of a better place than the Garden Island of Fiji to plant the seeds of a program that I hope will lead to the growth of a great many new businesses here.

So it’s a very special pleasure for me to be with you in Taveuni this morning before more than 400 recipients of our grants to small and micro businesses.

It’s wonderful to see you all on what is a great day for Taveuni and a great day for the Eastern Division. As we empower you all to start new businesses or take your existing businesses to another level.

As I’ve said before when handing out grants in Suva, Navua and Savusavu, this is one of my favourite government programs. Because I can immediately see in the faces of the Fijians we are assisting just how much this means to them. To enable them to buy new equipment or material to strengthen their own financial base. And in growing those businesses, to carve out more of a stake for themselves in the economy and help contribute to the welfare of every Fijian.

For every one of you getting your grant today, we estimate that another five members of the average family also benefit. So with 411 direct recipients on Taveuni today, more than 2000 people on the island are also being assisted indirectly.

What a wonderful leg-up that is for ordinary Fijians. We are recognising you for the initiative you have already shown to pursue a career in business. And we are lighting a fire with these grants that we hope will spread. That you will inspire many others – and especially our young people – to also start businesses.

As I said when I launched the program: “from little things big things grow”. And I have been amazed by the enthusiasm of ordinary Fijians for the assistance we are giving them with these grants. We got a staggering 25,000 applications in the first place and after sifting through all of those, selected more than seven thousand people who met the criteria we set. But it’s clear that the fire we lit is catching on. The spirit of enterprise that we were hoping to ignite in Fiji has taken off.

There are tens of thousands more people – hardworking ordinary Fijians – who are seeking the same opportunity. So yesterday, in Savusavu, I was very pleased to be able to announce that this round of grants is just the beginning. We intend to make this an annual event with an allocation in the annual budgets. So we intend to empower a lot more small and micro business people in the months and years to come.

Why has it taken off so strongly? Because we are filling a need. Every one of you knows how hard it is – as a small operator – to save $1000 yourself and be able to set aside an amount of that size to invest in your own business. There are so many expenses you have to meet already, that getting more capital to plough into your business can be very challenging.

My Government recognises this and so to help you help yourself, we are giving you this capital injection. To be able to use the money to start a business based on the idea you’ve put forward in your application. Or to use the $1000 to grow your existing business in line with the proposal you have also put forward.

Today, I am handing each of you a certificate that you will then take to the officers of the Fiji Development Bank who are with us today over there. They will then give you a cheque from the FDB made out to the supplier of whatever equipment or materials you asked for in your application. You then take that cheque to the supplier and pick up the goods.

We’ve involved the FDB for a particular reason. You are now part of the Bank’s processes. So that when your business grows bigger and you want a loan, you can go to the FDB and ask for one. And they already know who you are and that the Government recognised you as being worthy of a grant. That you have got our tick of approval.

So you are not only getting a capital injection of $1000, you are getting a leg-up in the banking system. We are recognising you as someone who has demonstrated a sense of enterprise. You haven’t waited for a handout. You’ve shown initiative and a determination to help yourself, your family, your community and Fiji as a whole. So you thoroughly deserve the leg-up the Government is giving you.

Whether you are a small farmer, a tradesperson of some kind or a stallholder or market vendor, this Government values you very highly. You are role models for our young people. And we are also trusting you to be honest and use these goods for the purposes they are intended.

I also repeat my call for the local business community to get behind this initiative and to join my Government in helping these businesses grow. Whether it is by buying their products and services, giving them advice or taking them in and teaching them new skills. It is all about working together – Government, businesses and every Fijian – to grow our economic strength as a local community, a province and a nation.

My Fellow Fijians,

This is a great boost for the local economy in Taveuni and I’m very proud of the way in which my Government has been able to develop the island and improve your lives. Whether it is the new schools we have opened, the new correction centre or the $15-million electricity project that I know has made and will make a huge difference to many of you. And I pledge before you all today that my Government’s program of service delivery in Taveuni and the rest of the Eastern Division will continue on the back of our growing economy.

I have a fundamental belief that every Fijian – no matter where they live – has a right to the same access to such things as sealed roads, electricity, water, education, health and telecommunications. None of this can happen overnight. But wherever you look in Fiji, the FijiFirst Government is getting things done. We are steadily reversing the neglect of past governments and their failure to develop our nation in the four decades since Independence.

I also strongly believe that development is for everyone. The FijiFirst Government doesn’t discriminate. Unlike our opponents, we don’t become subservient to vested interests or the elite. We look for areas of need wherever they may be in Fiji and make them the priority. Development based not on who you know or who you voted for but on genuine need.

My Fellow Fijians,

I want to say something in Taveuni about the lies that are being spread here and elsewhere in Fiji by SODELPA. They lie that this Government is actually doing little of nothing at all. And they keep telling this lie to cover up the fact that when their members and supporters were in government, they did little or nothing except for themselves. The rest of the nation was left to fend for itself.

The biggest lie of all that SODELPA keeps spreading is that we are eroding the rights of the I’Taukei when the reverse is true. We have strengthened those rights and made sure they are protected for all time. And I urge every i’Taukei to read the truth for yourself in our Constitution – our supreme law – that we had translated into I’Taukei.

Not a single inch of I’Taukei land has been lost under my Government before the election, under the Constitution or under the FijiFirst Government. In fact it is because of this Constitution and the Government that the I’Taukei today are more empowered than ever before. And their land is more secure than ever before. Nor has for that matter, iTaukei culture and language been eroded. In fact, if anything it has been enhanced and given more exposure locally and internationally.

Hear me carefully. There is no threat. And not only are we protecting i’Taukei land, we are helping the i’Taukei to benefit from it a lot more when they lease it to other Fijians. You don’t earn money from leaving your land idle. You earn money from using it yourself for productive use or letting someone else use it and pay you the cash. And if that land needs upgrading before you can lease it, we now have a $10-million fund that the I’Taukei can access to make improvements on that land. To add more value to it. So the landowner can make more money. Not some developer who leases a piece of land cheaply because the landowner couldn’t afford to make the necessary improvements to get a higher price.

You won’t hear that story from SODELPA but it’s true. I’Taukei land secured for all time. And money from the Government to improve it so the I’Taukei can build more wealth. Why aren’t they telling you the truth? Because, my friends, they think the Fijian people are stupid and can be manipulated into supporting them with their pathetic scare campaigns.

Always remember that many of these liars were among those who brought the nation to its knees in 2000. They have nothing to offer but more of the same.

While we deliver the basic services they couldn’t deliver, they promote more fear, more suspicion, more hatred. While we have united the nation, they promote division. While we serve the people and offer them a vision of a better future for everyone, they serve themselves. While we are outward looking and want to give Fijians a bigger role in the world, they are inward looking and stuck in the past.

With their constant complaints about nothing, they treat everyone like fools. Whereas I lead a government – the FijiFirst Government – that respects the intelligence of the Fijian people and values their common sense.

My Fellow citizens,

Fijians know who is really standing up for their interests because they are smart enough to see things for themselves. To read the Constitution and see the protections of i’Taukei land and the i’Taukei way of life and the social and economic rights that are there for the first time.

They see their children going to school for free – also for the first time. Plus the opportunities they are being given to get a higher education and fulfil their dreams and the dreams of their families. They see the free medicine and free water we are providing for low income earners. They see more Fijians getting access to electricity and other basic services, more people with access to mobile phones and the Internet.

Fijians are not stupid. They know that mine is a Government that listens. A Government that cares. A Government that has the interests of every Fijian at heart. And also a Government that is managing the economy in a way that has never been done so successfully for so long. Five successive years of economic expansion – the most sustained period of growth in our entire history since Independence.

There are new roads – like the upgraded Buca Bay Highway I opened yesterday and the Nabouwalu to Dreketi Highway. And new development of all kinds targeted where it’s needed most. So Fijians know their nation is finally on the move. And they also know that if we can stay united and focussed, nothing is impossible.

They also know that when these liars in SODELPA had the chance to govern, our nation lost its way. But under FijiFirst, we are back on track – comfortable with ourselves and confident on the world stage. And now united, one nation and on the back of our growing economy, we finally intend to fulfil our destiny. For Fijians of future generations to say “that was the turning point. That’s when we really started to make Fiji great. At last, the way the world should genuinely be”.

My Fellow Fijians,

I cannot tell you how proud I am to be among you today, to see your faces filled with hope and promise. To be able as Prime Minister to give you the leg-up your deserve. You are the backbone of this nation – hard-working people who are working for yourselves and to build the new Fiji.

Before I go to the handover ceremony, I want to single out a few of the recipients. Not only to acknowledge them for their own achievement but as role models for the rest of Fiji. Please come forward as I read our your name and join me up here at the front.

Please acknowledge Visheel Michael, who is investing his $1000 to expand his DVD shop.
Please acknowledge Monika Devi, who will use her money to expand her hawker business.
Congratulations Mere Ravuci, who intends to improve her screen printing business.
Congratulations Josephine McComber, who is using her grant to expand her tent business.
And last but not least, Congratulations to Aseri Natoma, who intends to grow her fuel retail business.

Please give these wonderful people another round of applause.
And now an even bigger round of applause for all of you! Because you are all winners and you deserve it!

My fellow Fijians,

I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be with you all in Taveuni this morning or how grateful I am for the wonderful welcome you have given me.

Thank you again for your efforts on behalf of yourselves, your families, your community, the island of Taveuni and our nation. And I now have great pleasure in launching the Government’s Small and Micro Grants Program in this beautiful part of Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.