SPEECH: HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE OPENING OF VATUKARASA HEALTH CENTRE

Cola Vina and a very good morning to you all.

I’m delighted to be back in Nadroga and especially in Vatukarasa – one of the most attractive, vibrant and integrated villages along the beautiful Coral Coast. The thing about Vatukarasa that has always impressed me is the sense of community spirit here and the can-do attitude of its people. Everyone who passes by on the road outside knows that Vatukarasa is well-known for its hot Sila, mandarins in season, and its woodcarvings.

But people here don’t just sit around waiting for the Government to help them, they are helping themselves. And you are setting a wonderful example for the rest of Nadroga and the rest of Fiji. A few years back it was actually through the efforts of one of your village leaders – an ex-civil servant – that a health centre was established here to cater for the needs of all of you. When this happened, it meant that anybody who needed medical attention could get help locally without having to make the journey to Sigatoka. So except for serious illnesses you could get attention right here on your doorsteps and this has undoubtedly been a great thing for the general health of the community.

As time has passed of course, this health centre has needed to be refurbished. And so my Government has provided almost $160,000 to make the improvements that we can all see here today.

I want to thank all of those involved in getting this project completed, including the Ministry of Health and the contractors – Cope Construction. You now have a refurbished waiting reception area, an operating theatre, a restroom for both staff and patients, a computer room, and a much better standard overall. This is a great bonus for the people of Vatukarasa, but will also benefit the nearby areas in Naivibuli, Malevu, Namada, and Sovi, as well as our primary schools, kindergarten and the two nearby hotels – Tambua Sands and Hideaway. It’s of a standard we can all be proud of and a wonderful addition to the Coral Coast.

This is the first health centre I will have the pleasure of opening in Nadroga – the other is at Cuvu tomorrow. Later this afternoon, I am also opening an extension to the Sigatoka Hospital. So even within the space of 48 hours, my Government is making a significant improvement in the delivery of health services to the people of Nadroga.

The point I want to make is that while our political opponents make a lot of noise from the sidelines, the FijiFirst Government is delivering real outcomes for ordinary Fijians. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we deliver, we serve. They criticise, and don’t seem to have any idea about how to deliver or how to serve. They seem to be obsessed only with themselves, about how much money they are going to get for their parties and the number of staff they need in Parliament to help them continue to do nothing.

I have to say that I am very disappointed that while we work hard to deliver services that every Fijian has a right to expect, the opposition is obsessed with scoring cheap political points. Look at the fuss they have made over some management dispute at Fiji TV. They seem obsessed with what happened to two executives who fell out with the Board. Whereas all I care about is that we were able to ensure that every Fijian with access to a television set was able to watch the rugby for free and will continue to be able to watch the Fijian rugby team when it plays in major tournaments.

I’m not interested in anything other than giving every Fijian, no matter where they live, the right to see our national team – the pride of our nation – compete on the international stage. And we make no apology as a Government for doing everything humanly possible to make sure that happened.

As I have said, 2015 is going to be a year of consolidation – to build on my Government’s achievements over the past nine years and to deliver both the FijiFirst manifesto that we took to the election and the provisions of the 2015 Budget.

I am going to be honest with you, my fellow Fijians, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes things don’t always go to plan through no fault of our own. I’m very disappointed that we have not met our objective of providing every Year 1 school child with the free milk we promised in our election manifesto for the start of the school year yesterday. But it will be done.

I pride myself as Prime Minister on keeping our promises. But sometimes, unexpected things get in the way. 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.

Of course our free milk initiative for Year 1 children is also an important leg-up for low-income families. As you all know, the earlier any child learns the absolute need for healthy eating and plenty of exercise, the more chance they have of growing up and becoming healthy adults. I’m deeply concerned about the general health of some sections of our population here in Fiji. We have far too many instances of our loved ones having their health destroyed and losing their lives far too early through some of the non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

We all need to be more aware that these diseases can be prevented if each and every one of us changes the way we live. I urge you all to give up smoking, to drink yaqona or alcohol in moderation, to eat less and more healthy food like fresh vegetables and fish, and to exercise more. Don’t take the bus or a taxi when you can walk. Don’t eat lollies, have a piece of fruit. These are all things that our mothers and fathers told us when we were little, but far too many of us still take no notice. And unfortunately we are passing our bad habits to our own children. The role of Government is to provide you with health facilities like this one for when you get ill and need medical attention, but I urge all Fijians to take charge of their own health – take responsibility for yourself so that you only have to visit a facility like this when you really need it.

So I wish all of you the very best of health and a wonderful year in 2015. This is a great day for the people of Vatukarasa and the rest of the Coral Coast and as I keep saying all over Fiji, it’s a wonderful time to be a Fijian. I now have great pleasure in declaring this refurbished facility open.

Vina valevu. Thank you.