Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here to officially open the conference and annual general meeting of the FFRA and welcome you all to our capital.
In this room are the country’s main fuel retailers, who operate 72 service stations throughout Fiji – plus a large number of convenience stores – with combined sales of around $40-million a year.
So you are not only providing an important service to the Fijian people but are also an important part of the national economy. And I want to thank you all for the contribution you are making to Fiji.
Many of you are already setting a high standard by providing the people with clean, up to the minute facilities to refuel their vehicles and shop for necessities.
But I also want to make the point that we sometimes fall short of international standards, especially in terms of providing motorists with clean toilets and other amenities.
I appeal to the entire industry to redouble your efforts to give Fijians the proper standards they deserve.
We have a vision to build a modern nation state. But we can only do so if we are all committed to providing our people with facilities that befit a modern nation state.
I want to commend the FFRA for supporting the organisation – Ocean Ambassadors – in their “Fast Track Fiji” program to reduce the plastic pollution that is scarring far too much of our landscape.
The idea of using service stations as a centralised drop-off point for all mixed plastics is a great one. And I urge you all to embrace this program and play your own part in preserving our pristine environment in Fiji.
My Fellow Fijians,
You’ll have all heard me say that our Fiji First Government governs for everyone and leaves no-one behind. Unity, equality, opportunity and prosperity and substantive justice for all are our main objectives. And we are able to deliver because we listen.
We were elected to serve the Fijian people, and so we want to hear their views. We are committed to understanding their needs and ambitions.
And we must be especially sensitive to the issues that sometimes keep them awake at night – their concerns for their livelihoods, their fears for the safety of their families and property, better economic opportunities and their desire to create a better future for their children.
This is why it is an honour to serve the people—because they have entrusted us with their present and their future. And by listening to the people and then acting decisively and thoughtfully, we can ensure that our policies match the needs of the nation.
I want to speak to you all today about the consultations we are having on our five-year and twenty-year development plans.
But before I do, I want to make a brief reference to the way in which we are listening to the Fijian people about the new flag design with our eyes set on raising the new flag in 2016.
Why have we allowed the extra time?
Because the Fijian people need it and we are listening. In our usual vakamalua way, the national flag design has been relatively slow to grip the public imagination. But now that it has really taken off and the submissions are in full swing, I recognise that the Fijian people need more time to mull over the various design proposals.
The national flag feedback teams that have been fanning out all over the country report a very positive response from ordinary Fijians to the idea of embracing a flag that speaks to us as Fijians today and not our colonial past.
In the meantime, I appeal to every Fijian – no matter what their age and background – to join us in this quest for a new “noble banner blue” that will fly proudly in the years to come and genuinely represent the spirit of the Fijian nation.
My Fellow Fijians,
While we are slightly delaying the process of choosing a new flag, development plans are another matter. Because those plans have been put off for too long and the process cannot wait.
Right now, we are conducting broad public consultations on the five-year and 20-year development plans that the Government has embarked on and I want these too to be the subject of intense national input. Because this is a journey that we also need to take together.
As you know, Fiji has not had a national development plan since 1987 – 28 years ago. Until FijiFirst began to govern for everyone, we had too many governments that were more concerned with dividing the people and preserving their power than with building for the future. Collectively it failed our people.
It lacked a strategic vision to propel Fiji into the future. It lacked a transparent strategic plan with achievable targets and benchmarks by which we can make our plans and measure our progress as a nation.
My Fellow Fijians,
Development is not just about wanting to be more modern; it is fundamental to creating the kinds of opportunities that will allow people to prosper.
It is Government’s job to put in place the infrastructure and the policies that open up possibilities, encourage initiative, encourage free enterprise and reward hard work.
That is why my Government has placed so much emphasis on improving the roads, reforming the ports, ensuring that education is free, removing bureaucratic red tape and guaranteeing—as much as we can guarantee it—that all Fijians are equal, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or economic status.
But we cannot plan properly for the future without finding out what the people think and what kind of development they want. Where do we need to put schools, nursing stations, hospitals, jetties or bridges?
Where should we build new roads? Where should we improve existing roads? Do residents and landowners in the interior of Viti Levu want a highway across the middle of the island? What economic, environmental and social impact would this have?
Where do we need to extend electricity and clean water next, and after that? Where do we need to build health facilities, new schools?
What kind of new crops and commodities should we grow? How can we get produce to market? How do Fijians living in cities want to see their cities develop and grow? What do they want them to look like, what public facilities do they want, and what kind of commercial and industrial development should we have?
And the answers to questions like these, and many more, will give us a way forward for the next five years and then the next twenty – as far ahead as 2035.
We can only get there by forging a partnership of every Fijian working together – Government, the private sector, civil society groups and every citizen. And I urge you all here today to spread the message as wide as possible to as many people as possible that we need to get the attention of every Fijian to make this work.
By the time the consultation period is over, we will have held more than 600 meetings all over Fiji. And all of these have been arranged to allow people to tell us what they want to see included in our national development plans.
The five-year and twenty-year plans also give us a basis for going to our development partners—whether they are multilateral institutions like the Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank, IMF and the European Union or the national agencies of countries like Australia, the United States or the United Kingdom.
All of these agencies need to know how to target their programs. And we will have greater collaboration and targeted development if we can lay out a transparent concrete development plan.
I urge your organisation and you as individual entrepreneurs to make your submissions also.
Talking about organisations I must also remind you to ensure that you as an organization must always be democratic and transparent in your processes.
We have seen and continue to see that many associations, representative organisations, including sporting organisations in Fiji tend to be the platform for only a select few, look after the interests of only a select few without considering the views of the smaller players within that sector and the internal processes such as voting is undemocratic.
You must not fall into that same trap otherwise your association will lose its credibility.
My Fellow Fijians,
As we plan for the Fiji we envisage for ourselves and succeeding generations, we face both challenges and opportunities. As I keep repeating, global warming and the resulting rise in sea levels present us with a formidable challenge, not least because we will have to relocate some 45 villages to higher ground.
But even before this crisis emerged, Fijians had already decided that our future lies in sustainable development—development that not only preserves the natural beauty and biological diversity of our country , but that makes them a priority.
With our new Green Growth framework, protecting the environment and limiting as much as possible our contribution to the degradation of the planet—which is already small in global terms—will be an integral part of development planning and execution.
No matter how much we develop, I believe the Fijian people must always place the sanctity of our environment before any other consideration.
My Fellow Fijians,
So today I invite you specifically as fuel retailers to be part of these crucial national conversations. Join with us as we chart the right direction for our country through a planned and strategic approach that reflects the aspirations of the people.
Our robust economy has put more people on the roads, encouraged more people to buy vehicles, and caused more goods to be traded and shipped. And FFRA members have been at the centre of that.
We have every reason to believe that growth will continue, and we know that we will have to fit that growth into our Green Growth plan.
We hope in the future to rely on newer, cleaner fuels, including fuels produced through cogeneration for the sugar industry. And we look to this industry to stay on top of developments in the production of cleaner fuels.
Give us your ideas. Tell us what you think. And by working together with all branches of industry, Government will be in a much better position – using your input – to chart a new course for our nation.
I am aware from my own discussions with some of your members, and from FFRA submissions, that you have ideas about price control and profitability that are certain to be aired in this conference.
Let me simply say that I will personally make sure that at the ministerial level your interests are given full consideration. I can assure you as well that the Minister for Trade, Mr Faiyaz Koya, has an open door. He will always be ready to listen and work with you.
I cannot intervene in the price-control deliberations of the Commerce Commission because it is an independent statutory body. But I can express the hope for an outcome that will meet your concerns and protect the wider public interest. There need not be a choice; if we all listen to each other and respect each other’s interests, we can find solutions that benefit everyone.
So I ask you to join with your fellow Fijians and be part of the discussion. We can’t build a future without fuel, and we can’t build a future without entrepreneurs, so you are an important part of that discussion.
Thank you again for your contribution to our nation and I wish you a productive conference.
Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you