Distinguished Guests,
My Fellow Fijians and especially our grant recipients,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be with you all in Ba as we continue the rollout of one of my Government’s most important programs – our grants to micro and small business operators.

This is the eighth centre in Fiji – a city or a town – where we have handed over the $1000 in the form of material and other resources to enable you to start a business or expand an existing one.

I have just come from Rakiraki, where I presented certificates to a large number of the 531 people there who have qualified for these grants. Before that we made presentations in Suva, Navua, Sigatoka, Savusavu, Taveuni and Nadi. And this afternoon, the program comes to Ba – a big boost not only for those of you who are directly benefitting but the economic prospects of the entire region.

When I hand over these certificates to those of you among the 226 people in Ba who’ve qualified, it will take the total number of Fijians who’ve been assisted under this scheme to 2,877. But because their families and those around them also benefit, we estimate that the lives of more than 14,000 Fijians have been also improved. And that is a wonderful thing for a great many people.

We also realise that not only are we filling a need by assisting people who would otherwise face a challenge putting $1000 aside towards their businesses. It is also a very cost-effective way of boosting the Fijian economy generally. Giving you a leg up and the means to expand and contribute to the general prosperity of everyone. Encouraging a spirit of enterprise and using you all as role models for our young people of the benefits of imagination and hard work.

In fact, there are so many positive things about this program that we intend to continue it indefinitely. As time goes by, many more Fijians who qualify for the scheme are going to benefit. Because as I have said before: we are convinced that from little things, big things will grow. And where better than Ba to demonstrate the proof of that.

Part of what I want to do today is not only celebrate your own efforts as small and micro businesses, but celebrate the success of the people in Ba who started small and are now very big indeed. They include some of the key players in the Fijian economy – R.C Manubhai, Vinod Patel, Maganlal Jiwa and others. Household names who started small – just as you are doing –but who worked hard and seized the opportunities that came their way and are now providing jobs for thousands of our fellow Fijians.

To all these big names in Ba, I want to again say how much we value your contribution to Fiji. But I also want to throw out a challenge to you all today to support this program and our micro and small business sector. To join the Government in giving these people a leg-up by engaging with them, strengthening their networks, mentoring their businesses and helping them to find markets for their products and services.

Each of the big businesses in Ba started small. You know how to expand because that is the path you have taken yourselves. So please do what you can to work with our budding entrepreneurs and encourage them to follow the path you have taken. Join the Government in our effort to teach them the skills they need to expand and also fulfill their dreams.

It is all about teamwork – big businesses passing the ball – their know-how – to some of the smallest business players in Fiji. And working hand in hand to expand the economy, improve the opportunities for everyone and move our beloved nation forward.

My fellow Fijians, as I keep stressing, this isn’t a handout. You can’t just take the money and spend it on anything you like. It is a leg-up and a very important one. But you’ve had to get the Government’s approval for those items you have requested through a process that is transparent and accountable.

I won’t be giving you money today but a certificate that you will take to the officers of the Fiji Development Bank over there. They will give you a cheque from the FDB made out to the supplier of whatever resources or materials you asked for in your application. And you then take that cheque to the supplier and pick up the goods.

As I’ve also explained before, we’ve involved the FDB for a special reason. You are now part of the Bank’s processes. So that when your business grows bigger and you want a loan, you can go to the FDB and ask for one. And they already know who you are and that the Government gave you its tick of approval.

So you are not only getting a capital injection of $1000 today, you are getting a leg-up in the banking system. We are recognizing you as someone who has already demonstrated enterprise. And we are holding you up as a role model for other Fijians as we try to promote an enterprise culture and encourage others to pursue small business careers.

My Fellow Fijians, I stress again. This program is transparent, the money is being dispersed with proper accountability and it is being targeted where it is most needed. A practical, affordable initiative that has already transformed and enriched the lives of many ordinary Fijians and that we now bring to the people of Ba and the surrounding region.

Already, the success stories are coming in from the first wave of grants we made back in July and let me just tell you a couple of them. Two small business people in Sigatoka who have used their $1000 to take their businesses to the next step.

Kaliova Ravouvou applied for the grant to upgrade his fruit juice stand. He used the money to put a canopy over his stand and provide shelter for his customers. And already, he reports that sales of his home-made juice have risen from $50 a day to $70 a day. More happy customers. More income. More opportunity for Kaliova to expand his business further.

Here’s another one. Keleani Vaqaso applied for working capital for her fruit and vegetable business at the Sigatoka Market. It was money many of you find hard to raise because of all the other demands on your budget. But Keleani has already been able to increase her sales from $25 a day to $100 a day. That is an incredible achievement – a fourfold increase in just four months. But it’s a great example of just how much we are transforming the lives of ordinary Fijians like Keleani. With all it means for her prosperity and those around her who also depend on the income she earns.

So, my Fellow Fijians, the micro and small business scheme is working. It is making a difference. And whether you are a small farmer, a tradesperson of some kind or a stallholder or market vendor or selling handicraft, my Government is giving you the leg-up you deserve. Helping you to help yourselves.

We are also putting our trust in you. I am putting my trust in you. I know you will be honest and use these goods for the purposes they are intended. I know you will work as hard as you can, whether you are starting a business or improving an existing one. To do your best and be worthy of the confidence your fellow Fijians are placing in you.

As I also told our recipients in Rakiraki, our small and micro businessmen and women are the backbone of our nation. My Government values you and wants to assist you to do better. I personally salute you for being role models for our young people of the benefits of honest hard work. And I promise you that I will always work as hard as I can as Prime Minister to give you the things you deserve. Whether it is direct assistance like this to provide you with more opportunities to help you. Or those other things that my Government is finally providing you with after years of neglect. Whether it is free schooling for your children; the chance for them to go to a university or technical college with our scholarships and tertiary loans; fixing our roads and bridges to improve travel times and enable you to get your goods to market quicker; or providing you with electricity, clean water and better access to medical care. Or better telecommunications and access to the Internet to broaden your horizons and open up the world.

It is all part of my Government’s mission to serve. To deliver to the Fijian people the best possible services we can afford.

To all of you here in Ba today, I want to say this: Seize the opportunity we are giving you today with both hands and run. You may have a small business now but there’s no reason not to think big. To think of ways of expanding your businesses. To dream big dreams for your future and the future of your families and our nation.

The time to do so has never been better. My Government has produced one of the longest running periods of economic growth in our history – 5.3 per cent last year. Fiji is on the move and however small you may be now, imagine how much you can grow – our nation can grow – if we can all stay united and focused. Reject the voices of division among us. Reject the negativity and ignore the cheap political shots of my opponents. And embrace my positive vision of One Nation, One Fiji.

As I said earlier today, I’m used to the Opposition’s constant criticism as they squabble among themselves. Proving to everyone that people who can’t govern themselves can’t possibly govern the country. What separates me from them is that I am proud to stand on my record of service and am determined to keep working on your behalf for as long as you place your trust in me.

I’m also very proud at I look out across this crowd. Proud of your achievements in whatever business you have chosen. Proud of your commitment to our beloved Fiji and moving us all forward. And immensely proud that we are able to give you this small token of our confidence in all of you. One thousand dollars worth of goods and equipment to help you on your way.

My Fellow Fijians, as we do everywhere to give our program a human face, I want to especially recognise some of you and ask you to come forward and join me on the stage.

Kolinio Vuda. Kalinio is from Nasolo, Ba. His ambition is to become a beekeeper and make honey. So we are providing him with $1000 in materials to help him achieve that dream.

Laite Liku Nagoneqase. Laite is from Navatu, Ba, and is a market vendor. She’s been selling crops on and off for the past five years but hasn’t had the capital to buy from others and trade year round. Her $1000 will give her the working capital she needs to purchase produce from other farmers and have a permanent stall at the market.

Lata Kumari. Lata is from Navia, Ba, and has been a poultry farmer for the past 20 years. Her grant will help her repair and extend the sheds she uses to house her chickens.

My fellow Fijians, let’s give Kolinio, Laite and Lata another big round of applause. But congratulations to all of you and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.