Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here in the River Town to officially open the Legal Aid Commission’s office in Navua – the third such facility I’ve had the pleasure to officially open this week alone to give the Fijian people access to the justice system.
Before I turn my attention to the benefits that this office will bring to the people of Navua and the surrounding region, I just want to briefly mention the role I would like ordinary Fijians to play in the choice of our new national flag that I announced a couple of days ago.
As I said at the opening of the Commission’s office in Nasinu, we want every Fijian to present their ideas on what our flag should look like when we remove the colonial symbols of our past – the Union Flag and the colonial shield. Every Fijian – no matter what their age, background or where they live – will be given a chance to put forward their ideas about what should replace these symbols.
As I had said, we are also going to have a competition in our schools – which will begin later this month and last for two months – so that even our young people – the future of our beloved nation – can have their say. But every Fijian will be given a chance to be heard.
And I personally look forward to seeing what we as a nation can create together. A flag for us all to love and admire as much as our existing flag, if not more so. Because we will replace the British symbols with a design that is authentically indigenous – authentically Fijian – and represents who we are today and the nation we intend to become. Rather than the nation we were 45 years ago at Independence.
We will be hearing a lot more about this issue in the days and weeks ahead. So for now, I just want to tell the people of Navua what I have told others around the country – the Legal Aid Commission never before has provided great opportunities to low-income earners to get access to the best legal advice.
I’m extremely proud that we are giving every Fijian – with an income of $15,000 or less – free legal assistance through these various offices dotted around the country. No longer do you have to worry about the cost of having to pay a commercial lawyer if you have a legal problem. No longer do you have to be scared or intimidated by the justice system.
For no cost at all – if you meet the means test we have set – you can defend yourself against a criminal charge. You can deal with family law matters, such as getting custody of children or enforcing maintenance payments. You can get a Will drafted to leave your possessions to your loved ones. You can take out letters of administration or get help with probate matters and FNPF withdrawals.
As I’ve also said before, I think giving the most vulnerable people in Fijian society better access to the law is just as important as giving them access to free schooling or free medicine. Because this is an example of the FijiFirst Government’s determination not to allow low-income earners, single parents, the elderly and those with disabilities to be disadvantaged.
I urge every person who needs a lawyer and qualifies for this program to use it. I’m also very proud that with these offices, we have created more than 100 jobs for Legal Aid Commission staff.
To the lawyers and office workers here, I have the same message I’ve had to others all over the country. Do your very best to make a real difference in the lives of the ordinary Fijians who rely on you for your expertise. Do your utmost to help them. Please don’t let them down. Because they are relying on you during what is sometimes one of the most stressful – and even fearful – times of their lives.
Over the past few years, we have steadily increased funding to the Legal Aid Commission. From $800,000 in 2012, to $2 million in 2013, to a record $4.4 million last year. This was the largest allocation for legal aid in Fiji’s history. And we have made the same amount available in 2015.
So no one can doubt our commitment to this program, nor our commitment to keep improving our level of services to those Fijians who need our assistance most.
The FijiFirst Government is proud to deliver. We are also proud to serve. And we do so with humility and with the care of the Fijian people at the very utmost of our minds. We are building a better country and a more independent country – just as we are striving to improve the lives of every citizen and strengthen their ability to be independent.
So, my fellow Fijians, it is with the greatest pleasure that I now declare the Navua Legal Aid Commission Office open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.