Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be back in Lautoka this afternoon – as I always am – to officially open the new Punjas Medical Centre here at the Waiyavi Subdivision in the Sugar City.

This happens to be the fourth new or refurbished health facility that I have opened in the West in the last three days and is a clear sign of my Government’s determination to significantly improve the health care outcomes of the Fijian people. And especially in this most important part of the country, which contributes so much to our national economy and the prosperity of every Fijian.

There is one feature about this centre I am opening today which makes it uniquely different from the others I launched this week at Vatukarasa, Cuvu and the new extension at the Sigatoka Hospital. And that is that the entire cost of building this facility – half a million dollars – has been born by the Punja family through their charitable trust.

It is a wonderful act of generosity on the part of this family and the Punjas Group of Companies. And I want to say a heartfelt “vinaka vakalevu” to them on behalf of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people.

I want to pay a special tribute to Mr. Kanti Punja – the company’s senior director – who envisaged this project and has been the driving force in getting it completed. It has taken two years of hard work, but is yet another wonderful example of the role that the Punja family and the Punjas Group have played in Fiji since the company was founded in Cuvu in 1935.

Today we celebrate 80 years of service by this Fijian company to the nation. It is also a wonderful thing that Mr. Kanti Punja celebrates his 80th birthday this year. I ask you all to give him a special round of applause for his lifetime of service and for the great gesture he has made to improve the health of the people of Lautoka through this facility. (Break for applause)

My fellow Fijians, this is also a day to celebrate a wonderful partnership between Government and the private sector. Because while the Punjas Group has paid for this facility, it is the Government that will staff it through the doctors and nurses of the Ministry of Health.

From today the people of Lautoka have a choice in whether to come here or to go the Lautoka hospital, which we all know is under pressure because of the demand on its services. This facility will do a great deal to relieve some of that pressure, so it is a valuable addition to the health infrastructure of the Sugar City and its citizens.

The Punjas Medical Centre has been especially designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind, with easy access to its consultation rooms, changing rooms and shower and toilet facilities. So the design of the centre is as thoughtful as the gesture of providing it.

I’m told that about 29,000 people will benefit directly from this facility, providing them with general health care, maternal and child health care, and specialist attention for mental health patients.

While we celebrate the generosity of the Punja Family, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to other businesses throughout Fiji to consider following the lead that they and other families – like the Tappoos – have set in devoting themselves to community projects. In countries like America corporate and private philanthropy – that is giving money to charity – is well established and it would be great to see more of the same thing happening in Fiji.

The fact is that Government can only do so much, even with the assistance of our international aid partners. But working hand-in-hand with the private sector, we can obviously do so much more.

These kind of partnerships aren’t about politics. It’s not about supporting the FijiFirst Government. It’s about supporting every Fijian, whoever they are and whichever way they voted. So I urge Fiji’s businesses to rise above the petty politics we are too often seeing and dedicate a portion of their profits to charitable endeavours, especially as our economy improves. Fiji needs you. Your country needs you.

So I encourage you all – once again – to follow the example of the Punjas Group of Companies – and others – and to make more of a contribution to the common good.

With those words, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in once again thanking the Punja family and their group and declaring the Punjas Medical Centre open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.