Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all,
It’s always a pleasure for me to launch any facility that provides the Fijian people with more opportunity for sport and recreation. So I’m delighted to be here in Raiwai – in the heart of one of the most vibrant communities in Fiji – to formally open your new multi-purpose court.
Whether you play volleyball, basketball or netball – my own family’s favourite sport -you now have a modern facility worthy of your community. And I know that good use will be made of it by the people of Raiwai. Plus, of course, those Fijians who come to play here from the surrounding communities – Raiwaqa, Flagstaff, Samabula, Vatuwaqa, Nabua and the Greater Suva/ Nasinu corridor.
Whether it is the world class ANZ National Stadium or something more modest like this, the FijiFirst Government is committed to providing Fijians with the best sporting facilities we can afford. I ask you all to think of where we were ten years ago in terms of facilities and where we are now. And it is simply undeniable that no matter what sport you play, we are almost always playing under better conditions than a decade ago.
And I repeat the pledge I make everywhere here today: As our economy expands on the back of my Government’s achievements, we intend to provide the Fijian people with a great deal more. And especially in those parts of the country where the need is greatest or where Fijians live in more isolated circumstances.
I want as many Fijians playing sport as possible using the best facilities as possible. Because this goes way beyond mere enjoyment – though we obviously play because we enjoy a certain sport, often passionately so. An increasing number of young Fijians are using their sporting prowess to carve out lucrative professional careers for themselves. And, of course, sport is a wonderful way to keep our nation healthy and reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Sport also binds us together as a nation in a way that few other things do. It lifts our spirits, fills us with national pride and is an extremely potent force for unity.
My Fellow Fijians,
I can tell you that I have just had one of my proudest weeks ever as we hosted around 350 international guests in Suva from all over the world for the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the European Union and the 79 member countries of the ACP – the African, Caribbean and Pacific States. They included nearly 40 members of the European Parliament plus the representatives of more than a billion ordinary men and women scattered across the globe. And all of them left deeply impressed by their Fijian experience and especially the achievements of our new democracy – the One Nation we have forged and the way in which Fiji is now powering ahead.
I was immensely gratified when Louis Michel – the former European Commissioner for Development and co-President of the EU-ACP Assembly – publicly stated that he had been wrong and the EU had been wrong to doubt me and to doubt Fiji over our promise to build a genuine democracy, with equality and opportunity for all. It took a big man to say something that some of our nearer neighbours still can’t bring themselves to say. He said it was a question of intellectual honesty that led him to acknowledge he was wrong. And I just wish there was a bit more intellectual honesty from others. Because the evidence is there for everyone to see that Fiji is an infinitely better place because of my Government’s reforms.
Think about it: An economy powering ahead – growing at a rate of more than four per cent a year and creating the prosperity and jobs that are raising the living standards of our people. Every child finally able to go to school because of our education revolution and many more Fijians able to go on to higher studies because of our scholarships and student loans. Free health care, free medicine and free water for families on low incomes. And all those benefits like better roads that didn’t exist before but are happening now because FijiFirst knows how to govern properly and is doing so in the interests of every Fijian, no matter who they are or where they come from in Fiji.
My Fellow Fijians,
There was something else I was especially proud of during the week – the compliments I got from our overseas visitors about the strength of our i’taukei culture and way of life. In our ceremonies of welcome vakaturaga for our visitors, we asked the people of Naitasiri to take charge of the arrangements, just as we have asked i’Taukei from other parts of Fiji to welcome other visitors.
The people of Ra performed the traditional welcoming ceremonies for the Chinese President and the people of Ba welcomed the Indian Prime Minister. Of course, the people of Naitasiri did us proud. And I want to warmly thank those who performed the ceremony and the whole province for lifting the spirits of everyone present.
I cannot tell you how proud it makes me to have someone from Africa or the Caribbean come up and say to me: “ Prime Minister, I was moved by the power of that ceremony” Or “it is wonderful to see the indigenous culture so strong in your national life”. And this is what many people said, not just to me but to those who performed these ceremonies and the conference organisers.
Why do our traditional ceremonies carry such power, for people from other parts of the world? It is, of course, because of the bearing and the dignity of our people and the commanding nature of what they are saying. Outsiders can feel the spiritual power of what is happening even if they don’t understand the language.
These ceremonies transcend language. They uplift everyone who sees them because they come from the heart. They are genuine. They are authentic. And they represent the best of the i’Taukei – our respect for tradition, our respect for each other and our visitors.
All this was on display to our international visitors in Suva this week. And they are heading home with an indelible image in their minds. That our traditions live on. They are at the centre of national life in Fiji. And their way of life can never be extinguished.
Remember, many of these visitors are indigenous people themselves. In some of their countries, traditions are dying out or are threatened. So, of course, they are deeply impressed that in Fiji, our i’Taukei traditions and way of life are not only intact but thriving. And because we feel secure – we have our land as well as our customs, which can never be taken away – we can also be inclusive and stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Fijians as One Nation.
And yet, my Fellow Fijians,
Our political opponents in SODELPA keep spreading the lie that the i’Taukei way of life is threatened. They ignore the evidence and continually reach into their bag of tricks to pull out the only one they still have. Trying to make ordinary men and women feel anxious and destabilise the vanua for their own political ends.
This is what has been happening at their recent constituency meetings. Instead of laying out positive alternative policies to move Fiji forward, they try to instil fear when there is nothing to fear. They try to create insecurity when there is no reason for any i’Taukei to feel insecure. About anything.
I repeat: There is no threat to our land. It is protected for all time in our Supreme Law – our Constitution. There is no threat to the Fijian language. We translated our Constitution into i’Taukei so everyone can read it for themselves. And we continue to keep the i’Taukei language alive through such things as translating our new Green Growth policy. So that non-English speaking I’Taukei can fully understand our plan to protect our beautiful country for all time by using its resources in a sustainable manner. And so our grandchildren can have enough in the forests and enough in the seas to live like we do.
My Fellow Fijians,
As I keep saying, the traditions and way of life of the i’Taukei are thriving. Our culture is a living culture and has never been stronger. It is not and should not be caught in some time warp. It is developing over time in a very positive way. And we want i’Taukei from all over Fiji to feel that their respective practices and culture is a treasured part of the nation in the same way as we celebrated the traditions of the people of Naitasiri, Ba and Ra. Many i taukei from other parts of Fiji themselves had not witnessed these respective traditions from different parts of Fiji,
So our traditions and way of life are not only protected by our supreme law. They will always burn brightly in the hearts and minds of every Fijian. It is who we are. It gives us a sense of place. A sense of belonging. And the other cultural communities in Fiji recognise that essential truth and have no desire to dispossess the i’Taukei. On the contrary, they celebrate our traditions. And are also proud when those traditions are on display to the world, as they have been again this week.
My fellow Fijians,
Ask yourselves a simple question: Why does SODELPA keep trying to make you fearful when there is more reason to be more content now than at any other time in our history – more i’Taukei with jobs, more i’Taukei children at school, more at university and technical colleges, more and improved sporting facilities, our nation united and happy? Let me tell you the answer: It’s because they have nothing else to offer you.
When they were in power, we all had less except them. Many of our children couldn’t go to school. There was division, envy and hatred. Because these people didn’t govern for everyone. They governed for themselves. They took the spoils and left you to fend for yourselves. They came and promised you the world to buy your support, drank your tea, ate your purini and then left you in the same state you were in and our nation in the same mess.
My fellow Fijians,
Under the FijiFirst Government, all that is now behind us. And in the new Fiji and on the back of our growing economy, we are forging forward, determined to leave no Fijian behind. This week, the European Union recognised our promise, our vision to turn Fiji into a modern nation state. It gave us $65-million over a period of six years to step up our effort to improve the lives of Fijians in rural areas and to improve our overall standard of governance.
And, even more importantly, Europe has promised to support Fiji and the other Pacific nations at the World Climate Summit in Paris in November. To get the world to finally reduce the pollution that is warming up the planet, melting the icecaps and producing the rising seas that truly threaten our way of life. We are going to lead that charge. And it is yet another sign that Fiji has never stood taller in the world or more proud than it does under my Government.
My Fellow Fijians,
A great country deserves a great flag. They’re the words of the American flag expert, Ted Kaye, who has been helping us design a new one and I couldn’t put it better myself.
As you all know, we have a range of designs that people are now being asked to comment on. And I know that the public reaction to the 23 designs that have been put out hasn’t been entirely positive. We also know that many Fijians do not object to the flag to being changed but want a design they like.
We also know that a lot of Fijians are now, only after the designs have been put out are getting engaged and suggesting new ideas. In our vakamalua attitude to most things, it sometimes takes us Fijians a while to get involved but now that is happening. And that is good. I welcome this debate about the designs, the criticism of designs as well as the positive responses that have come in.
I can assure you that as a Government, we don’t intend to cut corners and we certainly intend to listen to the new suggestions. As we have said before none of the current designs are locked in stone. And if necessary, we will review the current process to get the right result.
In the meantime, I urge every Fijian of every age and background to give your opinion on the current designs, suggest new designs and join our crusade to find a national symbol we can all identify with – a design that speaks to the experience of being a Fijian now and in the future, not the experience of our colonial past. A great flag for a great country.
My Fellow Fijians,
In closing, I want to thank everyone involved in the process of creating this Multi-Purpose Court – which was funded by the Government at a cost of just over half a million dollars – i wish to thank the Suva City Council and the contractor Raghwan Constructions. And above all I want to thank the people of Raiwai for their community spirit and their contribution to our nation as a whole.
This is your facility. Use it well. To the local Eagles Volleyball Club: You have been given the task of being its custodian. Protect and maintain it well. And I now have the great pleasure to declare the Raiwai Multi-Purpose Court open.
Vinakavakalevu, Thank you.