Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here this morning to formally open another stage of the Lagilagi Housing Project- a major initiative by my Government to create homes for ordinary Fijians living in informal settlements around Suva to increase their security, happiness and to give them dignity.
Sixteen months ago – in November 2013 – I launched the opening phase of this project, in which we built the first 33 units at a cost of almost Three Million Dollars. 24 two-bedroom units, four three-bedroom units and five units specifically designed for the elderly and disabled.
Talk to those families and individuals now and they will tell you that being able to move into these modern, spacious units has transformed their lives. They were Fijians who’d grown up in the toughest circumstances and had never had proper roofs over their heads.
Many of their previous dwellings were barely habitable and for years, they were plagued with all the insecurity and uncertainty that comes from living as squatters.
For the first time in 2013, we not only gave them proper housing and security of tenure, but we also gave them a sense of ownership and pride. Because this wasn’t a handout. We required everyone to contribute financially to their homes within the limited means available to them. And in doing so, we empowered them and have given them an immense feeling of satisfaction.
Because when you pay for your home, you value it. And when you value it, you look after it. And everyone is also more inclined to take care of their surroundings and build a sense of community. Which is what has happened here in the Jittu Estate.
I can still remember clearly the sense of excitement here 14 months ago when Father Barr and I toured the new complex – marvelling at the quality of what had been achieved. These weren’t just roofs over people’s heads and homes that many Fijians would be proud of. They were the beginning of a new way of life for those people fortunate enough to have become residents.
Just as importantly, we instituted a new legal framework in which these residents were able to use their properties in a way they could never have done before.
Because they were permanent structures built to a high standard and with secure title, they could use them as security to obtain loans for other purposes – not to go to a money-lender.
It was a bold approach to improving the lives of Fijians living in squatter settlements and a radical departure from the mindset of the past that has held many poorer people back. And I’m very proud that in so many instances, this holistic approach is working and ordinary people are better off.
My Fellow Fijians,
I said at the time I launched the first phase that this was just the start of a mammoth task to provide proper and decent housing to more than ten thousand poor or squatter families in Jittu, Wailea, Nanuku settlement and other settlements within Suva City.
It is a work in progress and may take many years. But I want to reiterate our commitment today to fulfilling our objective and improving the lives of all these people.
Today, we open an additional 44 units – built at a cost of 4-Million Dollars – making a total of 77 units so far in the Lagilagi Housing Project, with many more to come.
I’m pleased to report that the next phase of construction has already begun. But we can do much more if the Government can forge more partnerships to speed up the process. And I want to make an appeal today for those partners to come forward. More donors. More development partners. A bigger coalition of the willing to achieve our objective of modern housing like this for everyone who needs it.
To get the first stage off the ground, we already forged a valuable partnership through the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Environment, The Peoples Community Network and Misereor, the German Catholic Organisation.
But obviously the need is far greater than our existing resources can meet. So I ask others to come forward, whether it is from the private sector or from our development partners or from other non-government organisations. It is the most noble of endeavours- to provide decent and affordable housing to every Fijian as we continue our mission to build a modern nation-state.
My Fellow Fijians,
The prospects for our national economy have never looked brighter with our growth rate of four per cent. But we must leave no-one behind as we build the new Fiji and that includes meeting our Constitutional obligation to provide every Fijian with adequate housing and sanitation.
Fiji’s homeless deserve roofs over their heads and my Government is determined – working in partnership with those who share our vision – to provide them. In any event, our Constitution compels us to meet this objective and we will.
We have already made great strides in recent years. We made housing a national priority when we endorsed the National Housing Policy and its implementation action plan four years ago.
This was based on the premise that people are capable of addressing their own housing needs given the right policy settings. And since then my Government has introduced a number of innovative measures aimed at providing more decent and affordable homes.
We established a Land Bank to provide land including for housing development. We facilitated competitive, low home loans from commercial banks and financial institutions. We provided tax refunds for new homeowners to build their homes up to a value of 12,000 Dollars. We put price controls on building and construction material. And we encouraged more lending for homes through the FNPF. We have also provided $10 million as a grant to those Fijians who want to build or buy their first home.
But above all we targeted our efforts at providing decent homes and security of tenure for Fiji’s poorest communities, and that is what we continue to do through the provision of residential units like this – the result of the partnerships we have already forged.
I want to again pay tribute to the Peoples Community Network for working with us on this wonderful project. I also want to thank the contractor Fortech, Mr. Umendra Kumar and his workers for their commitment, AAPi Designs and the many consultants who have been part of this new development.
My Fellow Fijians,
With the creation of these new homes, we re-dedicate ourselves today to the task of providing ordinary Fijians with the quality, affordable housing they deserve.
To the new residents I say: Treat your new homes with pride. Look after them and they will give you and your families many years of shelter, comfort and happiness.
Thank you once again to everyone who has worked so hard to bring this project to fruition. And I now have great pleasure in declaring this new phase of the Lagilagi Housing Project open.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.