Cola Vina and a very good afternoon to you all.
I’m delighted to be here with you to officially open one of the most important things we are doing for ordinary Fijian women – giving them secure and clean accommodation as they strive to make a living for themselves and their families, in this instance at Sigatoka Council Market.
As you know, I have opened similar facilities in other places such as Suva, Nadi and Lautoka. And now, the same benefit comes to the women-vendors who come to the Sigatoka Market from surrounding areas.
What we are doing here is providing a home away from home for our women who leave their families behind in outlying areas and make their way to town to sell their produce.
For too long, we have allowed our women to sometimes spend several days sleeping on the footpath beside their stalls. They have been vulnerable to thieves and to the weather. And just as bad for them and their families, they have left behind loved ones who worry about whether their mother, sister or daughter is safe.
All this now comes to an end with the provision of this complex, where our women can not only sleep, but have access to showers and proper toilet facilities for the first time. They can now sleep soundly after their long days of hard work. And so can their families back home.
It is one of the most important things we have done for ordinary Fijian women – who I always describe as the most important people in all our lives. And as your Prime Minister, I’m very proud that the FijiFirst Government has been able to deliver this benefit to you and serve you in the way you deserve.
We have spent $400,000 on this project to provide 30 beds, a kitchen area, a washing area, and the toilets and showers. We’re also building a canteen and a training room next to this accommodation to train our vendors on how to improve their individual businesses, manage their earnings and generally boost their livelihoods.
And this, my fellow Fijians, is just the start. Because we intend to renovate the whole of the Sigatoka Market to provide better facilities for every vendor – whether they live in a rural area or in town.
I’m told that of the 180 or so vendors here, 84 are women. I know that some of you come from up to 75 kilometres away. I assure you that we intend to do everything we can to make your lives easier and more pleasant.
As well as thanking the Ministry of Local Government and the Sigatoka Town Council for making this facility possible, I also want to thank the Shangri-La Fijian Hotel for providing $30,000 to finance the toilet facilities. Vinaka vakalevu to you all.
My fellow Fijians, I’m delighted by the reaction – both here and overseas – to the plan I announced on Tuesday to change our national flag and replace its British symbols with others that are indigenous and truly Fijian.
There has been some criticism from those who would prefer the British symbols to our own, but I am very pleased to see that so many Fijians have their eyes on the future, and not the past.
I want every Fijian here today to think very carefully about what symbols they believe best represent our nation now and that will also resonate with future generations of Fijians in the decades and centuries ahead.
Through a competition in our schools – that we plan to launch before the end of the month – every Fijian young person will be given a chance to put forward their designs. All other Fijians will also be given an opportunity to contribute their ideas.
A National Panel of Citizens – established by the Government and broadly representative of all Fijians – will then examine those designs and work with the Parliament to make a final selection. At that point, Fijians will be given a say on what designs they prefer. All with a view to hoisting our new flag – a genuinely Fijian flag not someone else’s – on the 45th anniversary of our Independence from Britain – October the 10th, 2015.
I urge you all to support this initiative, to look to the future not the past, to give every Fijian a symbol we can be even more proud of as we build a stronger and more unified nation and achieve the greatness that we all believe we are capable of. The Fijian nation taller and stronger in the world than ever before.
Even within the space of 48 hours, the world is recognising what we are doing. Our plan has made news on five continents. From India and China to places like Venezuela and around the globe. It has appeared in the great media outlets of the world – the BBC, the New York Times, the Times of London and the Wall Street Journal, which referred in its headline to Fiji “breaking the shackles of colonialism.”
And it has made news especially in Australia and New Zealand, whose citizens are also debating replacing the Union Flag with their own symbols. And in the case of New Zealand, that process is well underway.
I want to again stress that Britain remains our friend and we will always value our historical link to Britain and the British Crown. We also value the infrastructure the British left us – such as the magnificent site of our new Parliament – and all those great British institutions that remain – most notably our Westminster system of Parliament and our independent system of justice.
The Constitution that set up our new democracy last year strengthens those institutions. So they will continue to be relevant to us and highly valued in the years ahead. Certainly, Britain itself understands that after 45 years, we want to embrace our own symbols.
I want to thank the British High Commissioner to Fiji for saying that the flag is a matter for the Fijian Government and people. And that Britain looks forward to learning more about the process as it moves forward. The British were our friends before, they are our friends now, and they will be our friends long into the future.
Yet even they understand that the Union Flag is their flag, not our flag. The British Lion and Saint George’s Cross are their symbols, not our symbols. And it is our right as a nation to carve out our own identity and fulfil our own destiny.
So, my fellow Fijians, whether you have access to a computer and a fancy design program, or whether you just have a pen and paper, I urge you all to join our effort to design a symbol that we can all identify with and is instantly recognisable as Fijian the world over.
No one with an idea should be afraid to share it. Your design may not be the final design, but your idea might form the basis of a wider design and play an important role in the final outcome.
So I say to every Fijian: Let your imagination soar. There’s a song that says, “From little things big things grow.” So think big. Let’s get together as a nation and come up with something big. Something that will inspire our generation and future generations and fill us with even more patriotism and pride.
Proud to be Fijian. Proud to be citizens of a nation with its eyes on the future, not the past. A nation that is already great, but will be even greater under a new symbol – a new flag.
My fellow Fijians, all this is to come. But now, I have great pleasure in declaring the new women’s accommodation at the Sigatoka Council Market officially open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.