Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
Few things give me greater pleasure than to get together with my friends and other Old Boys of the Marist Brothers High School.
And I’m especially pleased to be here in Nadi tonight for a gathering of the local chapter of our Old Boy’s Association.
We’re fortunate that one of our number has done well enough in life to host us in such a great setting. So first off, a special thanks to Nitin Hirelal for organising this wonderful occasion at the Grand Melanesian Hotel.
As you all know, Nitin is a Captain on our Fiji Airways fleet of A330’s. So he flies high most days of the week, we’re flying high tonight, and I’m especially proud to say that Fiji has never flown higher than it is this weekend.
Of course, all eyes tonight are on Hong Kong and how our boys perform in the Rugby Sevens. Like all of you, I’m hoping for a win. But I have to tell that win or lose, this has already been a great week for me personally and for the country. So tonight I’m feeling especially cheerful not only to see you all again but because of the wonderful week I’ve had as Prime Minister.
Last Monday, I started the week by launching our Free Milk Initiative for Year One students in our Primary Schools in which we are giving milk and Weetbix to more than 20,000 Fijian schoolchildren.
I can’t tell you how much it meant to those kids who received their free milk. And I can’t tell you what a thrill it was for me to launch something that will make such a difference to building their bodies, building their minds and building their lives. All school children in class one everywhere in Fiji now receive free milk and Weet Bix on a daily basis. Thanks to another old boy Sandeep Patel, who unfortunately passed away in December last year, Weet Bix has been included in this scheme because of his company’s initiative.
Then on Tuesday here in Nadi, I launched the local campus of the Fiji Technical College, one of ten we are opening up across the country to give our young people more access to trade qualifications, increase their skills and give them satisfying livelihoods.
I always say that our education revolution is the proudest of my Government’s achievements. And to see those young people here in Nadi so eager to learn the trade skills we all need to make our nation prosper was also a great thrill.
Then on Wednesday, I opened another stage of the Lagilagi Housing Project in Suva, in which we are giving new homes to people who’ve been squatters and, invariably, underprivileged all their lives.
Again, I was delighted to be able to give these people a leg-up, new homes and new hope. We need to step up our efforts to give every Fijian a decent roof over their heads and with God’s help, we will. Because we can never be truly satisfied as a nation while a single Fijian is left behind.
The next day on Thursday, I had the great pleasure to hand cheques to some families who’ve lost their homes and possessions in house fires. And who either didn’t have insurance or couldn’t afford it and had no chance of rebuilding without our assistance.
Their smiles told me that we are making a difference in people’s lives. And as long as that happens, I know I will keep the trust of the Fijian people that they so generously gave me in the election last September.
And then yesterday, I had the added pleasure of opening a school dining room for the benefit of students at the Naitasiri Secondary School. Here too, it was great to see the enthusiasm of our young people, who are getting the best chance any Fijian has ever had to get an education, get a worthwhile job and achieve fulfilling lives for themselves and their own children when they eventually have them.
So as you can see, I’m rather enjoying being Prime Minister- even on those days when I have to face a rowdy Opposition in the Parliament.
Because we are delivering basic services to the Fijian people that they need and deserve and we are finally serving them in a way that they have a right to expect from Government. We must all – you and I must all make sure and work together to ensure that this momentum continues.
After a week like that, I really didn’t deserve anything more. But then the Attorney General – another Marist Old Boy – called me from Geneva with some wonderful news. Last week, the Human Rights Council praised Fiji for its UPR report and recognised the enormous strides that we have made in our development of human rights – political, civil and socio- economic rights – for all Fijians. But top of that, the AG reported that a Commission of inquiry into Fiji by the ILO had been averted. And a tripartite agreement had been signed between the Government, employers and the unions.
On the Government side, we approached the negotiations in Geneva with goodwill and I’m delighted that the FTUC rose to the occasion. In reaching an agreement, we not only averted an ILO inquiry which wouldn’t have been good for anyone. But we also resolved to work together- Government, unions and employers – to move our beloved nation forward.
I hope that spirit of goodwill shown in Geneva will continue. Because it is only by working together as one nation, as one people, joining hands to resolve any differences cooperatively, and looking at things anew that Fiji can really achieve its full potential. We must all ensure, employers, unions and the government remove the old ways of thinking and bring new ideas and methodologies to put into practice because it will be for the betterment of Fiji and all Fijians. If we put our country first, everything else will follow.
My fellow Old Boys,
We are so blessed that having gone to Marist Brothers, we had instilled in us the virtues that our nation also needs. Integrity, honesty, teamwork, understanding, non-discrimination and treating everyone equally a love of learning and a love of country.
The values we learned at school are the values we take to the nation in our daily lives, no matter who we are or what we do. We deliver. We serve. And we passionately believe in the notion of teamwork, of every Fijian working together to make our nation great and make our nation count.
It’s a wonderful time to be a Marist Old Boy, a wonderful time to be Fijian. So we deserve to celebrate, especially after a week like this.
Enjoy the rest of the evening and I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can. And let’s hope that the Marist spirit also takes hold in the Sevens team in Hong Kong.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.