Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you tonight for my first official event of the New Year.
As you know, it hasn’t been a great start to the year on a personal level, as we have mourned the loss of two sons of Fiji, Sundip Patel, one of Fiji’s most astute and ethical businessmen, and Manasa Vaniqi, my right hand man in the Sugar Industry.
In their different ways, both of these men made great contributions to our beloved nation and their passing is a great loss to Fiji. They will be missed – but as we start the New Year, we should focus on celebrating their lives and legacies by continuing with the work that was important to them both –making Fiji a better place.
As a nation, I know we are all committed to capitalising on the monumental progress achieved in the past few years. So while the New Year has been marked by some sadness, I’m very happy to see that is also marked by a great sense of optimism. Together, we are ready to build on our education revolution. We are ready to build on the improvements in our infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water. We are ready to build on the advantage of a vastly improved economy growing by more than 4 per cent a year.
As I said in my New Year’s Address, 2015 is to be the year of consolidation. It will be about putting in place the proper structures to carry us forward as a nation – to achieve our vision of transforming Fiji into a modern nation-state, pre-eminent in the Pacific region. The proper structures in our economy to maintain our unprecedented growth rates; the proper infrastructure to support this growth and keep trade flowing; and the proper restructuring of the Civil Service to make it more efficient and give the Fijian people the standard of service they deserve.
Of course, our program for the New Year includes continued and sustained efforts in the North. The Look North policy continues to be one of my Government’s top priorities. It’s for this reason that I wanted my first official tour of the New Year to be here on Taveuni. To show the Fijians living here that we mean it when we say we are a Government for all Fijians, no matter who they are or where they come from. To show them we understand that to govern effectively, we have to travel beyond the boundaries of Suva as often as possible to meet with ordinary people, to hear their concerns, and to deliver our services.
Indeed, following this philosophy, we’ve been able to carry out an unprecedented amount of development over the past few years here on Fiji’s Garden Island in the fields of hydropower, education, infrastructure, corrections services, agriculture, and water to name just a few. And we have no intention of slowing down.
We have a vision to transform the North, to extend to the people of Taveuni and Vanua Levu the same level of services Fijians enjoy on Viti Levu. We believe that every Fijian – no matter where they live – not only deserves the same access to such things as electricity, water, education, health and telecommunications, it is their right.
In the coming days we are opening a number of new facilities that will improve the lives of the people living here. But tonight we are gathered to celebrate the official opening of the Taveuni Dive Resort on Taveuni Estates. This investment of $2 million signals not only an enormous vote of confidence for our Tourism Industry, but also for the Fijian economy.
It a testament to the general confidence that my Government has instilled in the business community with our reform program over the past eight years.
Our economy grew by 4.6 per cent in 2013 and we are expecting a similar performance this year. This eclipses that of our bigger neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, and has only been made possible by the growth-friendly and investor-friendly policy settings of my Government.
While we are keen to attract foreign investment as well, it’s always a particular pleasure for me as your Prime Minister to see developments driven by local investors. They’re putting their money back into Fiji and helping their fellow Fijians in the process. Many of the jobs being created are jobs for ordinary people. People whose earnings filter back into their communities and strengthen the general economic base.
I’m also very pleased to see the diving industry in Fiji developing so quickly. This resort is the latest chapter in that exciting story. Completed in November, this facility was designed with the needs of divers in mind – to take advantage of the spectacular diving available off the coast of this island. I’m told that enthusiasts come from all over the world to visit Fiji’s world-famous Rainbow Reef alone. So here is a good example of entrepreneurs reacting to the demands of the market and capitalizing on them.
This strikes at the heart of an important point. That in order to achieve our goal of attracting more visitors to our shores, we need to continue to expand the range of activities and specialised vacation packages we offer. Whether it’s diving, golfing, yachting, surfing, fishing, trekking, or anything else – diversity and quality are keys to success. The more we can provide, the more Fiji as a whole will benefit and the closer we will come to reaching our goal of 1 million tourist arrivals a year.
Before concluding my brief remarks this evening, I’d like to also point out that the construction and operation of this resort have been planned with the principles of sustainable development in mind. This sets a fine example for other developers. As a small island nation, we cannot raise the alarm about the threat of climate change on one hand, while ignoring such principles in our own national development on the other.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, with those few words, it’s my pleasure to officially open the Taveuni Dive Resort and to wish it every success in its future operations.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.