Cola vina and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be with you all this afternoon to open the Yadua–Uluisila Irish Crossing, which is going to make such a difference to so many people in this area.

It’s also a very sad occasion for me personally. Normally I would have had the trusted Permanent Secretary for Sugar and my right-hand man, Manasa Vaniqi, by my side. As you all know, this vital contributor to our Industry passed away suddenly almost three weeks ago. We are still coming to terms with his loss as are his family, his many friends, and colleagues across society, and especially in the Sugar Cane Industry. He left a positive and lasting mark on all of us. And I am sure he is with us today in spirit as we gather for this important occasion in the life of many ordinary Fijians, those people he also cared for. Today we remember him with gratitude, but we also celebrate the fact that so many people in this area will benefit from this initiative, which he played a crucial role in bringing to completion.

This crossing is going to dramatically improve the lives of everyone in this area – our cane farmers, their families, our school children, and every other member of the community. It may be only 22 meters long and 4.4 meters wide, but it is a bridge to a new era in the time it takes to travel from one side of this river to the other. Before we built it, members of the Uluisila community had to travel 2 kilometers across the cane access roads to the Uluisila main road. This distance has now been reduced to 400 meters – saving time as well as fuel for anyone making the journey to and from the area.

Manasa Vaniqi worked closely with Mr. Ranga Sami, a rural advisory councilor and prominent cane farmer, to bring this project to fruition. Mr. Sami is our generous host for this afternoon’s function and I want to pay a very warm tribute to him for his service to this community and the Sugar Industry, and thank him for his effort to get this project off the ground.

I also want to thank everyone else involved in the construction of this project – the designer, Rupeni Mua Consulting Engineers of Lautoka, and the builders, Deo Narayan Civil Engineering Limited of Nadi.

Around ten can farmers will immediately benefit from being able to get their sugar cane to the main road via this crossing. So that will obviously save them a lot of time and money. But it will also immediately benefit about 55 other road users, including 15 children who will now have a faster and safer journey to school.

The project took five months to complete at a cost of $285,000, which was totally funded by Government. This is the kind of project that my Government is undertaking all over Fiji, which, while it may seem modest to some, is making a dramatic improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Just imagine the difference this crossing is making here. School children can get to their school bus within minutes, rather than walking for half an hour along the cane access road to the Uluisila main road. The community can get immediate access to public transport with quicker travel times to markets, to get medical attention and to access Government agencies. And it will have a dramatic benefit for our sugar-cane farmers during harvest time, as they contribute to our Industry – a vital component of the Fijian economy.

I urge those of you who are sugar-cane farmers to use this easier access to market to cultivate whatever unused land you have on your leases. I’m told that there is now a potential to raise production from the current level of 400 metric tonnes to at least 5,000 metric tonnes per season. It sounds ambitious, but I am told that it can be done with the right level of commitment.

I also urge all those in the area engaged in non-cane agriculture to use this opportunity to increase your production of foodstuffs. Because getting your produce from farm to market has also suddenly become a lot easier.

All over Fiji my Government is delivering projects like this to benefit ordinary people and increase their potential to earn more money for themselves and contribute to our national economy. We have a proud record of service as a Government and as Prime Minister I intend to continue delivering projects like this one and upholding our proud record of service to the Fijian people.

In the case of the Sugar-cane Industry, even a small project like this can have a big impact as part of our effort to revitalise the Industry. We are making it easier for sugar-cane farmers to transport their produce to our main roads and on to our sugar mills faster and more efficiently. And this is naturally improving the efficiency of the Industry as a whole and strengthening this backbone of the Fijian economy.

While the Opposition and their supporters play cheap politics with the Industry and only for their personal agendas, we are doing everything we can to strengthen it in a real manner – to improve the lives of the 200,000 Fijians who depend on the Sugar-cane Industry for their livelihoods. This is the way to be ladies and gentlemen – we must all work together and put Fiji and all Fijians First.

And I now have great pleasure in declaring the Yadua–Uluisila Irish Crossing open.

Vina valevu. Thank you.