Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I’m delighted to be back home after my overseas tour and especially to be in Lautoka – famous for being the sugar city but from today, also the biscuit capital of Fiji.
There is much to be impressed about with this new facility. It is a 25-million dollar investment in the latest food production technology from Italy. It will immediately create 100 new jobs and another 200 over the next two years.
But for me, the really impressive dimension about this project is that more than half of the biscuits produced here will be exported. The quality of those biscuits demonstrates how far we’ve come as manufacturers in Fiji. We’re no longer merely exporters of cabin crackers for the Pacific market – which we have been for many years – but of high-grade biscuits destined for the morning and afternoon tea tables of Australia, New Zealand and other countries.
Fijian-made has become a byword for quality, not only here and in other food manufacturing but amongst a host of other export endeavors. Our manufacturers and service providers are reaching out to the world, venturing into new markets and carrying the Fijian-made brand to the four corners of the earth.
Here in Fiji, we are now making a range of products that we used to import. Not only biscuits and other food stuff but items like exercise books and copying paper. And we are constantly looking for further opportunities to become self-sufficient, to keep creating jobs in manufacturing and to identify new opportunities to improve our balance of payments by opening up export markets.
I want to thank Punjas as a company and the Punjas as a family for the wonderful contribution they have made – and are making – to this effort. As an expression of confidence in our economy and our export future, this really takes the biscuit – to use an old saying. It’s an exciting day not only for Punja’s but for Fiji as a whole and I’m very pleased to be here to celebrate it.
As you know, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks overseas, first attending the International Sugar Organization conference in London, where I was able to explain the great strides we are making to put sugar on a more secure and sustainable path in Fiji.
I also had the immense privilege and pleasure to spend time with our UN peacekeepers in the Middle East – those brave men and women who are making a personal sacrifice for both our nation and the international community.
In addition, I had the pleasure of addressing big community gatherings of Fijians in London, Dubai and Sydney. And, of course, I was able to attend the Dubai Rugby Sevens at a time when the Government and World Rugby were engaged in a dispute that deprived many of my fellow Fijians from also enjoying the game.
As you all know, I was insisting that every Fijian with access to a television set should be able to see these games on free-to-air television, no matter where they live or whichever of our television stations happens to obtain the rights.
And I’m pleased to say that by holding the line on this, that’s exactly what is going to happen tonight. Fijians everywhere will be able to see the Sevens Game in Port Elizabeth. And once again, we will all be cheering our boys on.
As you will have all heard, we reached an agreement yesterday with World Rugby to end the impasse that deprived everyone of coverage of the first game in Dubai. The remaining games will all be seen on our two free-to-air TV stations. And each of those stations will be making a contribution to the cost of being able to do so.
At one stage of the negotiations, we offered to make a Government financial contribution to try to break the impasse but in the end this wasn’t necessary. We reached an amicable agreement that is in the best interests of rugby and more particularly, the fans in Fiji.
Now, people in Rakiraki and those living outside the Fiji TV footprint will be able to watch the Port Elizabeth Game on FBC. And so will the people of Nadarivatu, Korovou, parts of Taveuni, Ovalau, Kadavu, Koro, Dreketi, Seaqaqa, Wainikoro, Daku, Macuata, Tagnikula and Galoa, to name a few.
If World Rugby had not ultimately understood our position, no-one in these areas would have seen the rugby. And this doesn’t even include people who live in areas where there is poor or partial coverage by Fiji TV. It wasn’t fair and I wasn’t prepared to accept it.
Our Television Cross Carriage of Designated Events Decree was working well until the Dubai Sevens. Thanks to this Decree, Fijians in all parts of the country had already enjoyed the FIFA World Cup and the Gold Coast Sevens on all free-to-air channels. But then, suddenly before Dubai, the ball game had changed.
We while recognising the ownership of TV rights are more interested in the rights of ordinary people to watch a game they love. And that meant everyone, not just the fortunate who lives within the Fiji TV footprint or those who can afford Sky Pacific. Everyone.
We Fijians must stand together. All for one and one for all. It was a matter of basic principle. It was about taking a stand for the rights of everyone, not just privileged elite. And by standing together, now everyone in Fiji will get to see the Port Elizabeth leg and all the other legs of the 7′s series and the 15′s World cup in September of next year.
Let me also say this: The Opposition wanted us to cave in. They tried to play popular politics and only for short term media coverage. They did not look at the long term nor were they concerned about those who live on the margins. But not us. We stood up to Qantas. We stood up to Fiji Water. We stood up to Vodafone. It’s a principled position. We have to be strong and have a vision to achieve our goals even though we may be the smaller guy. Our intentions must be noble and must be for the country as a whole.
We’re pleased that World Rugby has now joined us on the side of every Fijian. To their credit, they listened when we explained a very important fact. The rugby-loving countries in our region like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, aren’t like the other rugby loving countries elsewhere. We aren’t affluent like they are. We don’t have their economic resources or their infrastructure. There are no rich pickings to be had from bidding wars for sporting events. A lot of the sponsors are small companies, not multinational giants. A lot of our people can’t afford Pay TV. So we have asked World Rugby to take this into account.
We are their allies in keeping the love of rugby burning in the hearts of every Fijian. We are on the same team. And I’m very pleased that they were ultimately able to see this.
I’ve also been very aware this week of the number of Fijians who’ve been without water because of the pipe failures brought about by the heavy rain. Not having access to water is also something that people in the West know a lot about.
This week has brought home very starkly the neglect of our basic infrastructure over the years, the legacy left to us by previous governments which my Government is addressing – not only in Suva but the West.
In next year’s Budget, we have increased capital grants to the Water Authority of Fiji by a huge amount – nearly $100m – in a concentrated effort to tackle those areas of neglect and ensure that all Fijian have access to clean water and adequate sanitation. The total budget for WAF is 239 million dollars.
Of course, we are also working hard to improve all aspects of our infrastructure, with a total budget allocation next year of 1.1 billion dollars, a third of our total budget. This includes 653-million dollars to continue to upgrade Fiji’s road network, plus such things as improving access to electricity, boosting shipping services to maritime areas and generally strengthening the nation’s infrastructure.
We’re being assisted in all of this by the strength of our economy, the sustained growth that saw it expand by 4.6 per cent last year and has given us a growth forecast of 4.2 per cent for 2014. Fiji is on the move; our prospects have never been better and as I keep saying, with our education revolution, the prospects for our nation and our young people in particular have never been better.
This growth is only made possible by the partnership between Government and the private sector and in particular the local private sector like Punjas. Together, we are building the new Fiji and today is a wonderful celebration of that partnership – a new world class facility producing world class products that will earn export income for Fiji and ultimately benefit the lives of everyone.
I want to again pay tribute to Punjas for its contribution to building a better Fiji. It is a great day for the company and its workforce and also a great day for Lautoka.
As you all know, for me Lautoka is home and I am thrilled – like all of you – to see the Sugar and Biscuit City thriving. The upgrade of the Sugar Mill, the new port facility, the university campus, new hotels, a new shopping mall, and new court house complex and now this.
Lautoka is also on the move and with its easy access to international shipping and the airport; it is ideally placed to play an even bigger role in our export drive and the development of the Fijian economy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I now have great pleasure to officially open the new Punjas Biscuit Factory and to wish everyone involved in the project a very productive and prosperous future.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.