Cola Vina and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be here in Sigatoka to open this new extension to the hospital – where a great deal more Fijians will enter the world in the coming months and years. It’s always a special pleasure to improve facilities for the most important people in all our lives – our mothers. They are the backbone of our nation and deserve the best we can give them.
Unfortunately, they haven’t always had that here in Sigatoka. But from today all that changes with a new maternity unit that is a wonderful addition to Sigatoka and Nadroga and a wonderful improvement in the conditions we can provide for our women during the most important experience of their lives.

All over Fiji my Government is working to improve the standard of our hospitals and health-care centres to provide the Fijian people with the best possible standard of care that a country like ours can afford. Earlier today, I had the great pleasure of opening a community health centre down the coast at Vatukarasa and tomorrow I will be opening another centre in Cuvu. To have opened three new or refurbished facilities within a 48 hour period in Nadroga alone is ample evidence of my Government’s commitment to improving the health care standards for our people.

And I am especially delighted that this facility in Sigatoka is such a wonderful example of the partnership we have forged with the private sector as we work together to improve the quality of that care – both for our people and our visitors to Fiji.

I want to say how grateful I am to the Fiji Hotel Association, Coral Coast Chapter, for joining with us in building this wonderful new facility. This Hospital not only caters for about 50,000 people within the Sigatoka Hospital catchment area, but another 5,000 or so tourists who are our honoured guests at hotels along the Coral Coast.

This new extension is a public-private partnership between the Government and the Fiji Hotel Association through the Board of Visitors at Sigatoka Hospital. Of the total cost of $2.6 million spent on this project, the Hotel Association, Coral Coast Chapter, has contributed $600,000, with the rest provided by Government. I want to thank the Association on behalf of every Fijian, and especially the people of Nadroga, for that contribution.

I also want to pay tribute to all of the other stakeholders in the project – the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Health, the Office of the Commissioner Western, Provincial Officials, and the Contractor Cope Construction. To all of you, vinaka vakalevu.

This new maternity unit, health centre, and health office comes on top of a range of other developments at Sigatoka Hospital over the years, including an eye clinic, a dental clinic, and accident and emergency unit, and the refurbishment of the hospital wards.

About 100 babies are delivered here every month. And a similar number attend the ante-natal care clinic as we prepare our mothers for their important day. So everything about this new facility is designed to make them more comfortable and give them the best possible care.

We all know that the best possible start any baby can get in life is to be breast-fed their mother’s milk. Nothing beats the nutrients that God and nature have provided. But we also know that milk continues to be an essential component of any child’s diet to keep them strong and healthy. That’s why my Government promised at the last election and in the 2015 Budget to begin a program starting yesterday to give every Year 1 student in our schools 250mls of free milk a day.

I’m very disappointed that we are unable to meet yesterday’s starting date for this important program, which is designed to give our young children the best possible start in life.

We are working with Fiji Dairy Limited to roll out this program as fast as we can. But we can’t afford short cuts in terms of the quality of the milk, its packaging, or its distribution. So we are sorry for the delay, but it is more important to get the program right – to provide our children with the boost to their health and nutrition that they need to develop their bodies as well as their minds. We need to get this right, and we will. And this milk will be in our schools as soon as we can get it there.

The good news, I can announce today, is that we will begin delivering the free water we promised to low income Fijians starting on the 1st of next month. Under this program – which was a key plank of our manifesto for the election and is detailed in the 2015 Budget – every household with a combined income of less than $30,000 a year will get an allocation of free water based on an international standard of how much water a person needs every day, which is 50 litres.

Each household, based on an average of 5 people a house, will get up to a maximum of 250 litres free a day. Of course this only applies to people who are connected to the Water Authority of Fiji. But for the rest, I can assure you that we are working to get every Fijian connected as soon as possible so that they too can take advantage of this initiative. Though this could take some time.

In the next couple of days you will see media advertisements urging households who qualify to register with WAF before the 1st of the month, to take advantage of this program. I urge everyone who qualifies to do so, because this is one of the most important things we are doing to alleviate the cost of living pressures on ordinary Fijians, and especially low-income earners.

I want to make this point, that while our opponents carp and criticise from the sidelines, we are continuing to do what we have always done: we deliver, we serve.

I want to make an appeal today to our political opponents – make yourselves a New Year’s resolution. Instead of being obsessed with yourselves and fighting all the old battles that the Fijian people rejected at the last election, start thinking yourselves about the best way to deliver and to serve. Because all we have heard since the start of the year is how hard done by they are in terms of the money they are getting for themselves.

When are they going to turn their attention away from themselves and start concentrating on the needs of ordinary people? I welcome any constructive suggestions about how my Government can serve the Fijian people better. But no one is being served by the petty arguments that we keep hearing from the opposition – the cheap political point scoring that is getting in the way of us agreeing on genuine outcomes for the betterment of ordinary people – the betterment of our beloved nation.

When the Parliament resumes next month, I ask the opposition to rise above petty politics and personalizing issues and help the Government address the great issues of our time – how to improve our economy, attract investment, create jobs and generate the prosperity upon which the future of every Fijian depends.

In this place where so many new lives begin and where a whole new generation of Fijians will be born, let us all resolve to make 2015 a golden year of achievement for every Fijian, and especially those who need our help the most.

So now it is my great pleasure to declare this new extension open.

Vina valevu. Thank you.