The Honourable Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment, Infrastructure & Transport,
The Board, management and staff of the Fiji Roads Authority,
Representatives of the Asian Development Bank,
Representatives of the China Railway Fifth Group,
My Fellow Fijians,
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
The upgrading of Fiji’s infrastructure to global standards is one of my Government’s top priorities. So I’m delighted to be here today to open the long- awaited Rakiraki Bridge – a 13.9 million dollar project that is of vital importance to this region and the nation as a whole.
With this bridge, we are not only transforming the local economy and improving the lives of the people of Rakiraki, the newest town in Fiji. We are also transforming the prospects of the national economy by reducing travel times along the Kings Road and improving the flow of trade. It is literally a bridge to the future of the northern region of Viti Levu – part of our overall plan to open up this beautiful part of Fiji and provide its people with the better opportunities they deserve.
We certainly have our eyes firmly on the future because this bridge has been specifically designed and built to have a life of 100 years. Which means that people will still be able to rely on it well into the 22ndcentury, long after we have all gone ourselves.
How will Rakiraki look in 2215? Of course, we have no way of knowing. But we can be sure that it will be bigger and even more vibrant if only because of the energy and sense of purpose it already has today. And if the engineers have done their jobs properly, this bridge will still be here. Benefitting our great, great grandchildren and all the other Fijians who will come to live here over the next century as the region fulfills the potential we all know it has.
I deliberately want to let your imaginations wander today about what is possible for Rakiraki, the whole region and for Fiji over the next 100 years. Because that’s where my own imagination lies as your Prime Minister, along with every member of the FijiFirst Government. We are not only building for the present or even for the immediate future. We are laying the foundation for our nation’s growth for many decades to come. Because we know that if we lay that foundation properly, we can and will fulfill our vision to transform Fiji into a modern nation state.
Our infrastructure projects such as this are the building blocks we need to transform our economy. Attract more investment, create more wealth and spread that prosperity to every Fijian. Better bridges, better roads, faster travel times and better communications. These are what a modern economy needs to grow. And we must reverse the years of neglect that have held us back as a nation and create the best possible infrastructure we can afford.
With our scarce resources, we also need to build things that last. We must have quality in our infrastructure projects above all else. We insist on getting value for money for the Fijian taxpayer. Which is why I have instructed everyone in Government to insist on zero tolerance for the quick fix, for shoddy workmanship of any kind. We intend to take a very tough line with contractors who cut corners and don’t deliver a quality result. My message to them is simple: You are not welcome by my Government.
My own office in Suva is the perfect example of where we have gone wrong in the past. There is nothing new about the so-called new wing of Government Buildings. It isn’t just one of the ugliest structures in Suva. It is so badly designed and the quality of workmanship is so poor that it really needs to be demolished and replaced after less than 50 years of service.
The new wing was officially opened in 1967 and is already well past its use-by date. Yet it stands next to the magnificent Old Government Buildings which has been there from the 1930s and will still be there in 100 years. Because it was built properly. It was built to last.
The proud site of our Parliament and new democracy is not only one of the most beautiful structures in the whole Pacific but still serves its original purpose. We’ve had to renovate it, of course, but it was built for the long haul. And that’s what we must do with every capital works project in Fiji from now on.
I am especially concerned that the huge investment we are currently making in upgrading our roads and bridges is money well spent. It’s no secret that while we have all seen a massive improvement in national infrastructure under my Government, some of the new work hasn’t been entirely up to scratch. Yes, the extreme weather events we experience in Fiji – and especially the heavy rain – don’t help. But I have put all of our contractors on notice that they need to do better.
When Fijian taxpayers plough hundreds of millions of dollars into upgrading the nation’s roads and bridges, they are entitled to get the best possible result. The nature of civil engineering projects means there will always be an element of risk. Of subsidence or something peculiar to the particular terrain that couldn’t have been predicted. But we will not tolerate shoddy workmanship on our roads and bridges. Just as we will not tolerate shoddy workmanship on any capital project we undertake to improve the lives of the Fijian people.
I want to leave no-one in any doubt about my Government’s determination to get the best possible return on our investment – the biggest bang for our buck, as the Americans call it. We demand resilient infrastructure that meets international best practice. Roads and bridges that are built to the highest standards, are safe and, with proper maintenance, will give the Fijian people many decades of service.
That means 100 years in the case of this project. And I want to thank the contractors for stepping up to meet the challenge we set. The China Railway Fifth Group for constructing the bridge itself; Naboutini Civil Contractors Limited for constructing the two approaches; and everyone else involved including the Fiji Roads Authority and MWH engineers.
To achieve the aim of a century of service, changes were made to the original design to improve the bridge’s strength and durability. This included increasing the strength of the concrete, using higher grade steel and adopting the latest design standards to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. All to ensure that the Rakiraki Bridge is still standing in 2215, even if the surrounding area is unrecognizable. And the same goes for other major bridges in Fiji. Because two years ago, cabinet endorsed a 100 year bridge design life strategy for the entire country.
Setting such a high standard has inevitably caused something of a delay on this particular project. And I want to thank the people of Rakiraki and every user of the Kings Road for their patience as we strived to get things right.
I also want to thank the Fiji Sugar Corporation for allowing us to use their access road as a diversion while the construction took place. It was rough and it was dusty. But we were very fortunate to be able to have an alternative route while everyone worked to deliver the best possible result. So a big vinaka vakalevu to the FSC. And a big vinaka vakalevu to everyone who put up with the inconvenience knowing it would all be worthwhile.
I want to close by again stressing my Government’s determination to do a lot more to improve the living standards and economic prospects of the people of this region. As well as new roads and bridges, we’re also extending access to electricity across the top of the north. The Fiji Electricity Authority through Government funding is extending the power grid between Tavua and Korovou. And soon, many more families living along this corridor – including the province of Ra – will have electricity in their homes for the very first time.
So the Northern arc of Viti Levu is literally powering ahead. And is connected to the rest of the main island in a way that previous generations could never have imagined. For them, a trip to Suva or Lautoka could take all day and they’d arrive covered in dust. Now it’s no more than a few hours over some of the best road surfaces in Fiji.
These dramatically reduced travel times have transformed the prospects of the North. Enabled ordinary Fijians better access to government services such as hospitals, health clinics and schools. Allowed people to get their produce to market quicker and in a better state to attract the best possible price. Encouraged motorists to take the Kings Road when they would never have done so in the past. Opened up opportunities for ordinary people to trade from roadside stalls. And all this is just the start. Because we have big plans for the North, including attracting more investment with our declaration of the tax free zone from Korovou to Tavua. This will mean more opportunities and jobs for those Fijians living in this corridor.
Distinguished Guests, My fellow Fijians,
With the opening of this bridge, my Government continues its ongoing program, working with our development partners, to take the benefits of development to all parts of the nation. So lastly, I want to thank the Asian Development Bank for partnering with us to construct this project.
Now the people of Rakiraki have a bridge worthy of their bustling town and vibrant region. A piece of vital infrastructure built to endure for 100 years. A bridge to the future. And I now have the great pleasure to officially declare it open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.