Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be here today to officially open the Legal Aid Commission’s office in Nausori – the seventh such facility I’ve had the pleasure of opening to give the Fijian people access to the justice system.
Just as I have opened a series of health centres recently, this is something of a legal week for me. Because not only am I officially launching this office in Nausori, I will be opening another in Nasinu tomorrow and one in Navua on Thursday, with more to come across the country in the weeks and months to come.
In many ways, I regard my Government’s provision of equal access to justice for all Fijians as equally important as providing them with access to adequate health care. Because we all know how intimidating, inaccessible and expensive the legal system can be for many.
What we are doing with these centres is providing ordinary people with easy and ready access to the best legal advice in selected areas. And unlike having to pay a commercial law firm, all the services here are free for those who qualify for legal assistance.
These include some of the most vulnerable people in our midst – low-income earners, single parents, the elderly, and those with disabilities. The very people my Government is determined not to let fall through the legal safety net.
As noted earlier, this is the seventh Legal Aid Office I am formally opening, and there is more to come. This alone demonstrates the FijiFirst Government’s commitment to provide every Fijian with adequate access to justice and legal assistance.
The Legal Aid Commission is here to help you. Apart from family law and criminal matters, the Commission also drafts wills, takes out letters of administration, assists in probate matters and FNPF withdrawals.
I urge all of our lawyers and other staff working with the Commission to adhere to my Government’s central ethos at all times. To deliver. And to serve. You can make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people who rely on you for your expertise. So please don’t let them down.
It is noble and very satisfying work. So I also encourage support staff and lawyers to consider a career in Legal Aid. Helping an ordinary person in need – and especially someone who may not be able to access justice – can be hugely rewarding work.
Over the last few years, we have steadily increased funding to the Legal Aid Commission. From $800,000 in 2012, to $2 million in 2013, to a record $4.4 million last year. This was the largest allocation for Legal Aid in Fiji’s history. And we have made the same amount available in 2015.
So no one can doubt our commitment to this program, which is part of the FijiFirst Government’s overall objective, to keep improving our level of services to all Fijians, including the most vulnerable among us.
Making a tangible and real commitment to helping all in our society is not only just fair but it is a sign that a nation is being strong about itself, a nation recognizing its fallibilities but being confident to deal with them openly and in a transparent manner. This is the hall-mark of a truly democratic, inclusive and modern nation. I will speak more about this tomorrow and how we can further strengthen our place on the world stage, in this respect.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have great pleasure in declaring the Nausori Legal Aid Commission office open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.