Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m very pleased to be here with you this morning to officially open the National Security Forum 2015. As you know, this Forum has been convened specifically to begin work on a National Security and Defence Review, which will underpin Fiji’s overall security effort across a broad front.
Part of that review will guarantee civilian oversight of our security and defence sector through our Parliament and the new democracy that we put in place at last year’s election. At the end of this review, Fiji will have a new national security system in place that will make it suitable for the challenges we face in a rapidly evolving regional and global environment.
Like other Pacific and developing countries, we are extremely vulnerable to the expanding global networks of crime, terrorism and other illegal activity.
Our isolation as a Small Island Developing State can no longer protect us from forces that would seek to undermine our national security, whether it is transnational crime, border security, or biosecurity – which is vitally important, of course, to protect our agriculture and our food security as a nation.
To counter these threats, we need to be vigilant and we need to be smart. We need to boost our capacity to fight these threats ourselves and also work closely with our neighbours, our development partners and global agencies – such as INTERPOL – to deal with these threats in a more concerted and effective manner.
The fact that Fiji is now an integral part of the global economy provides us with immense opportunities to improve the lives of our people. But globalization also means that we are more vulnerable to those elements in the world who either wish us ill or want to exploit us for their own ends.
We need to redouble our efforts to keep Fiji safe – to bolster the security of our people, the security of our sovereign nation, and the security of our resources. Fiji is determined not to become an easy target. We will defend ourselves with all the force we can muster. And I want to send a strong message to the world of our determination to do so.
As I speak, we are in the process of conducting a National Risk Assessment on our exposure to terrorist threats and money laundering. We may be less vulnerable to terrorism than some of our bigger neighbours, but no country is immune in the current volatile global environment.
And in the case of money laundering, we know that it is already happening in Fiji and the threat is increasing. Criminals are using Fijians to open bank accounts in their names to launder the proceeds of crimes – to put that money back into the banking system and make it clean.
With both money laundering and the threat of terrorism, we need to identify the holes in our present security arrangements and plug them. I want to thank the Asian Development Bank for funding this National Risk Assessment by an international consultant, who is due to report at the end of April.
We are not only being more vigilant ourselves about national security across the board, but we are also expanding our cooperation with other governments and law enforcement agencies. No one country can operate in isolation. So it is even more important than ever for us to work closely with neighbouring governments and the rest of the international community in a unified and holistic manner.
An example: The increased cooperation we have now forged with the Australian Federal Police in which we are working closely together to counter the trafficking in illicit drugs.
We all know that Fiji has become a transit point for drugs from other parts of the world into countries like Australia. It was our cooperation with the AFP that resulted in the recent seizure of 30 kilograms of pure heroin being transported through Fiji for the Australian market.
This case is currently before the courts and so I cannot canvass the details. But this huge shipment of heroin came through Lautoka from South East Asia bound for Australia and was only intercepted because of the close relationship between the Australian and Fijian police forces. We intend to make that relationship even closer and I want to thank the AFP for its assistance, most notably in donating computer equipment to the Fiji Police.
With the improvement in our relationship with the Australians and the New Zealanders since the election, we are also working more closely with New Zealand. The recent joint maritime surveillance exercise that Fiji carried out with the Royal New Zealand Air Force using one of its Orions is a great example.
Obviously, aerial maritime surveillance is one of the most effective ways to secure our borders and prevent such activities as illegal fishing. So, of course, we appreciate our bigger neighbours giving us a capability we simply don’t have ourselves because we can’t afford it.
As well as drug trafficking, we have also seen cases of human trafficking, which is as much a threat to our national security as anything else.
Since 2010, Fiji has had seven successful prosecutions in three cases of human trafficking. Heavy sentences have been handed down as a deterrent, including a sentence of 16 years with a non-parole period of 14 years. So we are sending a clear message to anyone who wants to traffic in human beings.
Whether it is for sex, cheap labour or trafficking in children, Fiji will come down very hard on you. As with anyone dealing in illicit drugs, we will punish people traffickers with the full force of the law.
This practice is growing throughout the world. It is one of the biggest moral challenges the international community faces. Because selling or exploiting any human being is despicable and will not be tolerated.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are also taking Fiji’s biosecurity very seriously. It is a matter of vital national interest that diseases or pests that could threaten our agricultural base are kept out of Fiji.
You will all be aware that we are sending troops from the Fiji Military Forces to clean up several islands in the Northern Division that have been invaded by the American Iguana.
This species was introduced to Fiji by an American who thought that it would solve a mosquito problem on her island. So now the mosquitos are gone but we have iguanas that pose a threat not only to the ecosystems of that island and the surrounding islands, but could have a devastating impact on the ecosystem of the entire country were they to travel further.
We have to kill them before they spread and it is all because one person took it upon herself to introduce this invasive species to our country. Even if this person had been prosecuted, she would have only faced a small fine. So we also need to dramatically increase the penalties for breaches of our biosecurity laws to act as a bigger deterrent to those who threaten our ecosystem.
As you know, we have introduced new scanners at the airport to try to intercept any breach. But a $400 fine for those who make false declarations and are caught is, in my view, totally inadequate. Especially when you consider the potential to damage or destroy our agriculture and the food on which we all depend. So biosecurity is undoubtedly one of the most important national security considerations of all.
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, this Forum and the National Security and Defence Review as a whole is vitally important for the security and wellbeing of every Fijian. As our development and prosperity as a nation increases, so too does the threat. So we all need to give this effort our maximum attention. I wish you well in your deliberations and have great pleasure in opening the National Security Forum 2015.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.