Bula Vinaka and very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be in Vunisea to officially open the new Kadavu Provincial Council Office. You now have a modern venue worthy of Kadavu’s importance in our national life.
Many decisions vital for the welfare of Kadavu and its people will be made here in the coming months and years. So this is a great day and I am pleased as Prime Minister and Minister for iTaukei Affairs to be here and to meet as many of you as possible.
Firstly, I want to convey my appreciation to the Chiefs and people of Kadavu for the traditional ceremonies of welcome accorded to me and my delegation. Kadavu is not only one of the most beautiful places in Fiji, but these ceremonies show the importance the people here place on maintaining their culture and traditions. You have cause to be very proud. Not only of this, but of the contribution Kadavu makes to our nation as a whole.
I want to also convey my appreciation to the Tui Tavuki of the Vanua of Nacolase for giving his permission to relocate the Kadavu Provincial Office from Tavuki Village to the Vunisea Government Station. The distance of 13 kilometres between Tavuki and the main Government Office in Kadavu has been a major problem for ordinary Fijians who have often faced hardship having to travel such a great distance to obtain various services. Those days are now over and I’m sure that everyone in Kadavu is grateful for this decision.
My Government certainly appreciates the support we are getting from the Chiefs and provincial administrators, especially for our efforts to provide the people with the services they need and deserve.
I am here to repeat what I say all over the country: My Government’s mission is to deliver and to serve. And that is also the mission we have set down for everyone at the provincial and district level.
You will have heard me speak often about our determination to meet the highest standards of good governance – governing with wisdom for the benefit of all Fijians. I keep stressing the need – everywhere I go – for transparency and accountability. Basically, what this means is that everything we do as a Government and at the provincial level should be done with honesty, integrity and to the highest possible standard.
Ordinary Fijians need to see that what we are doing is clean and for the benefit of everyone. We need to fully explain what we do. And we need to account for our spending, to always ensure that the funds that belong to everyone are not siphoned off in a dishonest way.
The old days of certain elites getting more than their fair share of the national cake are over. The FijiFirst Government stands for total transparency and accountability. I will not tolerate any corruption whatsoever at the national level and I will not tolerate any corruption at the provincial and district levels.
We insist on being accountable to the people we serve and to use our resources wisely to provide them with the best possible services. So I urge you all in Kadavu to follow the example we are setting.
Seven years ago, we set up a leadership and management program here in Kadavu for members of the provincial council, the district councils and the village headmen in the districts of Sanima and Nakasaleka.
To date, all 14 members of your provincial council and 187 members of your district councils have undergone this training. And there is a plan to extend this program to all the villages in Kadavu this year.
Through these workshops, we are passing on the skills our traditional leaders need to properly look after the interests of those they serve. So the people of Kadavu can now be more confident that they are being governed well and their interests are being soundly managed.
The Chiefs of Kadavu have been better equipped with the leadership skills they need to serve the people better. And we can already see the benefits of this improvement through a number of important decisions.
These include the bans you have put on more than 50 of your fishing grounds in Kadavu to prevent over-fishing and maintain this important source of food for all of us. At the same time, you have introduced measures to protect your reefs for the benefit of your people now and for future generations.
There is now a much better understanding of the link between development on land and its effect on our marine ecosystem. We have made everyone more aware that unless we make the correct decisions on land use and our sea resources, their future sustainability is threatened.
As I do all over Fiji, I want to tell every person on Kadavu that the livelihood of everyone depends on us working as hard as we can to protect our resources. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to future generations not to squander these resources for short term gain. Just as we owe it to ourselves and future generations to govern with wisdom and integrity.
So I urge the Chiefs and other leaders in the community to put the training we have given you to good use to continue to seek new and better ways to serve our people.
My fellow Fijians, I’m very proud of the long list of improvements that my Government has been able to make to benefit the people of Kadavu. Whether it is upgrading your roads and jetties, installing solar energy, improving hospital and health facilities or empowering our women so that they can improve their lives and the lives of their families, the FijiFirst Government is serving the people of Kadavu.
We’ve also given many of our young people access to the Internet for the first time through our Telecentre in Vunisea, which is opening up a world of knowledge and connecting the island with the digital world for the first time.
My fellow Fijians, I also want to say something today about our new democracy and especially the highly negative attitude being taken in the new Parliament by the Opposition.
Rather than look to the future and the great opportunities that the Government is providing through such things as its education revolution, SODELPA keeps summoning up the past and preying on the fears of the iTaukei people about the security of their land and their way of life, even now the election is behind us.
It is divisive. It is offensive. And it simply isn’t true. I repeat here today what I said before the election and at every opportunity I get when I meet the iTaukei community face to face. There is no threat to we iTaukei – to our land, culture, institutions or religion.
The iTaukei own about 91 per cent of the land in Fiji and iTaukei culture and institutions have a cherished and proud place in our national life. They are protected for all time by very clear and strong provisions in our Constitution. And yet these Opposition members are trying to trick you all into supporting them with their lies and their scare mongering.
Do not listen to them. Turn your backs on their message of fear and division and embrace the future with confidence and in the knowledge that your position is protected and always will be.
Here are the facts: The Constitution recognises the unique culture, customs, traditions and language of the iTaukei and protects our ownership of the land. Under the Constitution, all iTaukei land will remain with its customary owners and no iTaukei land will ever be lost, whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange.
Other benefits to land owners include the right to a fair share of royalties for any minerals found under your land or under the seabed in waters where you have customary fishing rights.
Also for the first time in any of our Constitutions, the Bill of Rights says that any land leased by landowners must provide them with a fair and equitable return. And again for the first time, if iTaukei land is used by the State, then it must be returned to the landowners if the State no longer requires it for the purpose it was acquired for.
So those are the facts. The rights of the iTaukei are protected in our supreme law and there is nothing whatsoever for you to worry about. I give you my solemn promise on this. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Read it for yourself in the Constitution – which we translated into iTaukei so that everyone can understand it – and you soon will realise that you are being fed lies.
The truth is that we are improving the ability of the iTaukei to benefit from their land. In fact we’ve just put ads in the newspaper with details of our $10 million grant program to provide landowners with the means to install utilities and infrastructure such as electricity, water and roads in land sub-division projects to increase the benefits they can get from them.
All this is to improve the lives of the iTaukei and set up a better future for our children and future generations to come.
As you will have heard, we are also changing our national flag to replace the British colonial symbols that are on it with ones that are indigenous and uniquely Fijian.
Once again, the Opposition is trying to get in the way of this initiative. They seem to prefer British symbols to our own. They do not want indigenous and uniquely Fijian symbols. They want us to continue to salute British symbols, not Fijian symbols.
Whereas we want our children – none of whom remember the colonial era – to gaze upwards at a flag that embodies our own symbols and values, not those of the British.
So what we stand for is looking to the future – a Fiji that stands tall and proud in the world as a truly independent nation. Whereas the Opposition looks backwards and treasures those symbols of the colonial past that are no longer relevant.
They need to realise that change is inevitable. That we are doing this for our people and their future and the future of our beloved nation.
So my fellow Fijians, I urge you all to look to the future and not the past. To embrace the ideals of service that my Government embodies and reject the negativity and fear mongering of our political opponents.
As I say all over the country and repeat here in Kadavu today, great days lie ahead. Our economy is growing at a rate of more than four per cent a year, which means that the lives of ordinary Fijians is improving. And it is happening because of the forward-looking policies of my Government.
I urge you all to join me as we continue to build the new Fiji. And I have great pleasure in now declaring the new Kadavu Provincial Council Office open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.