Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I spoke at the weekend of igniting a spirit of enterprise in Fiji and today we honour a large number of ordinary Fijians who are already displaying that spirit and give them the leg-up they deserve.

I regard our small and micro business grant program as one of my Government’s most important initiatives. So I’m especially delighted to be here to launch it and introduce some of the people who will be directly benefiting.

Many of those before you haven’t been born into privilege. On the contrary, life has sometimes been a real struggle. But with determination and hard work, many are already fending for themselves and their families by setting up their own businesses. And today, we are giving them the means to take those businesses – however small – to the next level. To invest in them. To make them grow. To give them more opportunity to ride the wave of prosperity that our expanding economy is now providing.

The Australian singer Paul Kelly has a song that goes – “From Little Things, Big things Grow”. And that pretty much sums up the philosophy of this program. We are sowing a large number of seeds today. In the nature of things, some of these seeds may wither and die. But we are convinced that a large number of them will take root. And with the assistance we are providing, these businesses will flourish and thrive on the enterprise and dedication of the ordinary men and women you see all around you today.

We know from the experience in other countries that micro, small and medium enterprises are powerful forces for lifting people out of poverty. Of making them more self-sufficient. Of giving them a sense of purpose and fulfilment. And many of those who succeed can not only provide for themselves and their families but can provide employment for others and contribute to the national economy.

To the 330 recipients today, I want to say this: The Fijian Government – on behalf of the Fijian people – has recognised a potential in you – based on your efforts thus far – to do even better. To become part of the army of successful small business people that forms the backbone of every successful country. Every successful economy, wherever it may be in the world.

As a nation, Fiji can’t afford much but we are giving you what we can. And in return, we ask you to work as hard as you can to justify the confidence we have placed in you. We are looking to you to succeed. To gain more skills. To become more competitive. To be an inspiration for others and especially our young people, that with enterprise and hard work, they too can be successful.

Many have gone before you and built successful businesses in Fiji. In fact, small to medium enterprises are a powerful engine of growth in our economy. The micro, small and medium sector contributes roughly 12 percent of our GDP, or $800million.

However small your own business may be, you are already contributing to that growth. But I believe a significant amount of that contribution is going unrecorded. And by putting your own business on a more formal footing, we hope to be able to calculate the real value of your contribution to the Fijian economy.

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises can also be places of great innovation in a modern economy – offering new products, services and production techniques. So I urge you all to give full rein to your imaginations. We look to you – as well as our places of learning – to fulfil our vision of a clever country. To take Fiji – as well as your business – to the next level. To work with Government, larger businesses, civil society and every Fijian to make our beloved nation great.

That is why we announced the Micro Small Business Grant in the 2015 budget. Targeted at the grassroots in Fiji to nurture individuals with special skill sets, whether they are crafts people, carpenters or small scale farmers. Any manner of skills that an economy like ours needs to thrive.

My Fellow Fijians,

There is no doubt about the extent of the interest of the part of ordinary Fijians to pursue a business career. Our original arm with this programme was to provide one thousand recipients with $1,000 each to plough into their respective ventures. But the response has been so overwhelming, we have decided to dramatically expand the programme.

Incredibly, we received a total of 25,789 applications. And after the selection process, we have found that 7,661 of these applicants qualify for the Grant. So it is only fair to assist as many of those people as possible – if not all of them – with additional allocations to the programme. We must ride this wave of enthusiasm in the interests of the wider economy and every Fijian. We must give this initiative everything we can.

Today, the grants we are providing here in Suva to 330 businessmen and women amount to $330,000. And there will be other events like this around the country as we assist those Fijians living outside the capital and its surroundings. If your name doesn’t appear in today’s announcement, don’t be discouraged. There is still a chance that you have qualified. And the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism stands ready to assist you with further information.

My Fellow Fijians,
To give a human face to this wonderful initiative, let me introduce some of today’s recipients. I ask them to stand so that we can acknowledge them and their stories:

Ram Chandra of Vakabalea Navua, is a farmer. On his 1.5 hectares of land, he has planted 16,000 dalo plants that are various stages of growth and also a crop of potatoes. Through this Grant, we will be assisting him to buy farm equipment, seeds and chemicals to expand his business.

Alifereti Cawanibuka of Vuibau village, Serua farms assorted vegetables, root crops, and tree crops. And he will also be investing in farm equipment, seeds and chemicals to increase his yields.

Filomena Roseru from Tokotoko Navua, will use the Grant to diversify her current farming operation and start a piggery. Lots of vuaka for the lovo down the track.

Malia Vave, from Vatuwaqa is a Canteen Operator. Her $1,000 will enable her to purchase additional stock for the Canteen and enable her to serve her customers better.

And last but not least, Mohammed Ramzan from Cunningham has the ambition to operate a bean cart to support his family. For him, today’s assistance is start-up capital. And we can be pretty sure there is money to be made selling bean-peanut in Cunningham or anywhere in Fiji.

To all of you and the other recipients, I offer my congratulations as Prime Minister on behalf of the nation. Use your money well and we wish you every success, not just for yourselves and your families but also your communities.

My Fellow Fijians,
I keep making the point that we can’t base our economic growth in Fiji on slicing off big pieces of the existing national cake and giving them to special interest groups. We have to work together as one nation to grow that cake so that there is more to share and every Fijian can have a bigger slice.

We’re extremely fortunate that the cake has grown by four per cent or more every year for the past three years. And with this initiative, we are giving all of you the opportunity to help grow the cake yourselves and have a bigger slice.

I appeal to all of you not to waste the opportunity you have been given. Use these grants wisely and responsibly to either start your business venture or grow your existing business. It is a vote of confidence in you personally on the part of every Fijian taxpayer. It is an act of trust. So we are counting on you to uphold that trust and behave with honesty and integrity.

We are not just giving you the money and forgetting about you. Through the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and the Fiji Development Bank, we can offer you advice, mentoring, training and support. So here is your chance to grow. To fulfil your ambitions. To fulfil your dreams.

We want as many of you as possible to be in a position to be able to access finance from commercial lending institutions to expand your current businesses. Small businesses don’t always remain small. Many grow quickly to become medium and big businesses. So go for it. Be ambitious. For yourselves and for your nation.
I know this is an important day for all of your but it is also an important day for all Fijians. Because igniting a spirit of enterprise – encouraging more Fijians to be entrepreneurs – is one of the best ways we can speed up our current economic performance. It is a national imperative and that is reflected in the investment we are all making in you today.

From these small beginnings, I am convinced that big things will grow. And I want to leave you all with this final thought: With imagination, an eye for an opportunity and hard work, great things are possible when we empower ordinary men and women. When we give them the kind of leg-up we are giving you all today.

I have no doubt that in this crowd are some of the great Fijian business names of the future. Are you one of them? Your country is certainly hoping so.

So I wish you all the very best in your business ventures and have much pleasure in officially launching the Government’s Micro and Small Business Grant Programme.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.