Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
It’s always a great pleasure for me to preside over the opening of any new factory in Fiji. But I’m especially delighted to be in Ba today to launch this one – the latest manufacturing facility of one of the great names of Fijian business – the RC Manubhai Group.
It’s a special occasion for a number of reasons, not least because of the Patel family’s long history of service to the Fijian people and their contribution to the national economy. But this new complex is also a potent signal of the renewed confidence that local investors have in the new Fiji we are all forging together.
We are currently in the throes of the longest running period of economic expansion in Fijian history. We have had six years of continuous economic growth and an expansion rate of four per cent or more each year for the past three years.
So as I told my fellow Melanesian leaders last week, Fiji is on the move. Fiji is open for business. And there are wonderful opportunities for local and foreign investors to capitalize on the renewed optimism that has accompanied the birth of our new and true democracy.
The Patel family of Ba has always had confidence in Fiji. And first and foremost today, I want to congratulate them on the expansion of their business that this new factory represents. And to thank them on behalf of their workers and the nation as a whole for the employment opportunities they have provided for the Fijian people – 600 jobs at the present time throughout Fiji. (I think that deserves a round of applause).
My Fellow Fijians,
I want to go into some detail today about the family and its history because it is a wonderful story that is worth telling. And because I think it is important for me as Prime Minister to remind the nation of the spirit of enterprise that drives the Patels and families like them. The vision, the hard work, the risk taking, the dedication. Plus the national pride – the patriotism – that either kept them in Fiji during the wasted years of our development or has encouraged their return to contribute to building the new Fiji.
No Fijian should ever forget that the health of these businesses is linked to the wellbeing of every citizen. Whether it is the jobs they provide, the tax they pay or the export income they earn. So they deserve to be celebrated. Because they are Fijians prepared to put their money where their hearts are – with our nation – expand the income earning opportunities for others and invest in the future of every citizen.
Certainly, the story of the Patels of Ba and the development of Manubhai Industries is an inspiration to the rest of the business community and an example to us all.
It is the story of a family that came to Fiji from the Indian state of Gujarat with nothing 90 years ago and built something of lasting value and greatness. And it is worth hearing all the more because what you see here today marks a rebirth for the company after adversity, a commitment to adapt, to do what is necessary to grow with Fiji, and to keep faith with its workers and customers.
A little more than two years ago, the facility that used to manufacture foam and nylon rope here was destroyed by fire. Yet within a couple of months, the company was already making plans to rebuild, and soon afterwards, new plant and equipment was sourced and ordered.
Two new factory buildings were constructed, and the new foam and nylon rope production facilities were commissioned toward the end of last year. Additional equipment was also purchased to diversify the company’s range of plastics and polystyrene products. And the result is what you see today – a $10 million investment in a brand-new complex with state-of-the-art production facilities and more than 80 employees.
This factory supplies the entire Fiji market and exports its products to other Pacific Island nations. And I’m told there’s a good chance that exports to New Zealand and Australia will begin soon.
But this is just the latest milestone in the story of this great company. Because throughout its history, the Patel family has shown enterprise, commitment, determination and a faith in the future of Fiji.
It’s extraordinary to think that until just 36 years ago, almost every Polyurethane foam mattress in Fiji was produced by an Australian company. But in 1979, the Patels set up their factory in Nabeka Street, Ba to manufacture mattresses and related products – the first factory of its kind to be established by a local company.
According to family folklore, the idea came from the late Chandrakant R Patel after an argument he had with his father, Raojibhai Patel – one of the founders of what is now the RC Manubhai Group.
The story is that his father challenged him to do more with his life and to build a business, as he and his brother had done many years before. So Chandrakant researched the market and decided to go into the manufacture of foam and mattresses. He found a machinery supplier in Taiwan who had just begun his business as well, and became that man’s first customer.
Within five years, he’d put the Australian company that had virtually owned the mattress market in Fiji out of business. And in a striking example of the value of forging long-term partnerships, the same Taiwanese company that supplied his first machinery has supplied all the new machinery in this facility.
Sadly, Raojibhai Patel did not live to see his son’s dreams fulfilled because he passed away before the completion of the project. He didn’t see how his son had followed in his footsteps and thrived through shrewd management, an instinct for understanding the market, and a willingness to adapt and change. But had he done so, I’m certain that he would have been very proud. And we can be sure that he is with us here in spirit today.
That careful planning, understanding the market and being adaptable has been the formula for building the RC Manubhai group from the earliest days. Beginning with a small grocery store in Ba in 1926, the company added a hardware and building-supply business. And it eventually abandoned the grocery business completely to concentrate on the hardware and building-supply side by the 1980s.
Today, the company has outlets all over Viti Levu and in Labasa, making and selling products that Fiji needs to grow. And from humble beginnings, the RCM Group has become a household name in Fiji.
My Fellow Fijians,
When I look at what the RCM Group has achieved, it reinforces my conviction about the best way to grow the Fijian economy – democracy, good governance and a free and fair market. The basic principle of democracy is that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things. Democracy puts control in the hands of the people so that they can determine their fate. The role of government is to create an environment where everyone is equal before the law, everyone has access to the education he or she needs to succeed in life, and everyone knows that government will not place unnecessary obstacles in their way to achieve their ambitions.
That is why one of the FijiFirst Government’s top priorities has been to clear the way for enterprises of all sizes and types to thrive. We have done that by improving our infrastructure, providing roads, water, and energy. We have done that by making education free and more accessible. We have done that by reforming our ports so that we can import the products we need and sell our own products overseas more efficiently and on a cost effective basis. And we have a tax regime that encourages enterprise and we constantly strive to reduce and eliminate “red tape” – the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles to doing business.
My Fellow Fijians,
It is easier today in Fiji to start a business, to build a business, and to do business with the region and the world than it has ever been in the past. And the FijiFirst Government seeks a partnership with the private sector, workers, employees, and civil society to keep reforming the way we do things. To make us more efficient. To make us more competitive. To make Fiji an even greater place to do business. To create opportunities for our people. To provide them with jobs. To sustain jobs and improve working conditions. To give them opportunities to create their own businesses. To build this great nation of ours.
As I also told my fellow Melanesian leaders the other day: With national unity, a sense of purpose, good governance and equality, opportunity and substantive justice for all, nothing is impossible for small nations such as our own. And today I will add other vital additions to the mix – embracing a sense of enterprise, pushing back the barriers, encouraging the creation of wealth for ourselves and our nation.
We must foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the Fijian people wherever we can. And to help do so, next week the Government will begin rolling out our national program of providing grants to small and micro businesses to grow and graduate into bigger businesses. On Tuesday, in Suva, I will hand over the first grants to those Fijians who have qualified under this important initiative. And similar ceremonies will follow throughout the country.
I will be having a lot more to say about all of this in the coming days. But it is all about empowering ordinary Fijians to fulfil whatever dream they might have for themselves. To develop existing business and have sustained livelihoods. To ride the new era of prosperity that I am convinced is now possible for more Fijians than ever before.
We want to ignite a spirit of enterprise in Fiji and do everything we can to promote the values of innovation and hard work that are the hallmark of every successful modern nation state.
They are the values that brought the first generation of Patels to Fiji and the values that I know the family embraces today. As we open this fine new factory, we honour them and the Fijians who work with them and wish them every success in the future. And I now have the great pleasure to declare this new facility open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.