Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m delighted to be here with all of you for the second annual Water Authority of Fiji awards – a night in which we celebrate the excellence of individual workers and their contribution to the Authority and to Fiji.

I was especially keen to be here tonight to show my solidarity with you all for one of the toughest few months we have ever had in carrying out our task to supply Fijians with their most precious resource.

Unfortunately, we have all paid a heavy price for the decades of neglect by successive governments in maintaining the infrastructure on which the carriage of our water and sewerage depends.

It has been a collective failure over more than 50 years, not to invest in new infrastructure. And as our economy improves I can assure you all of one thing. My Government is determined to fix this problem once and for all.

To the many Fijians affected by the dramatic recent disruptions to both the Suva water supply and the collapse of the pipe taking waste to Kinoya Waste Treatment Plant, I want to make a humble apology. You have suffered in a way that pains me as your Prime Minister.

It has been particularly heartbreaking to see the extent of the pollution caused by the sewerage rupture and the disruption that it’s caused to the lives of people living around the affected foreshores – the stench, the inability to go fishing, all those things we take for granted in our normally beautiful environment.

But we are going to fix this problem and I ask for patience and support from our fellow Fijians. This is going to be a massive undertaking, costing many millions of dollars, and it is going to take time. But we must fix it and we will.

The truth is that in the case of Suva much of the infrastructure carrying water and waste has not been revamped since colonial times. But we are well on the way to begin the mammoth task of addressing the problem with a total allocation of $239 million for WAF this year, $176 million of which is for capital projects. This is almost a $100 million increase over the 2014 Budget.

I’m especially keen, here before you all tonight, to pay tribute to the WAF crews who have worked tirelessly and around the clock to deal with both the water cuts and the sewerage breakdown. I know what a testing time this has been. I know how hard you have all worked and the sacrifices you have made by putting in those extra hours and being away from your families.

On behalf of the Government and the nation, I want to say, “vinaka vakalevu.” Your efforts are acknowledged and appreciated.

The great news is that we are about to deliver our promise to provide free water to all WAF customers with a household income of $30,000 a year or less. As you know, under this program which begins on February the 1st, up to five people per household will each receive 50 liters – or a total of 250 liters per household – of free water every day. That’s up to 91,250 liters of free water per year.

So this is a huge boost to the ability of ordinary Fijian families to relieve the cost of living pressures that they currently face and I’m very proud of this important achievement.

You must all do everything you can to roll out this program as efficiently as possible. Don’t allow excessive bureaucracy to get in the way of delivering this initiative to the people who need it most. We are all here to serve and that is my Government’s number one priority and your number one priority before anything else.

All across the whole of Government, our state owned enterprises and our statutory bodies must pursue excellence. All of these entities can do better. Some individuals in these organisations including yours are doing lot better than others and others must raise their game and change their attitude. We will not become a better nation and not have a modern and efficient economy if organizations and individuals within those organisations such as WAF do not become part of team Fiji, do not become professional. Whether you are the CEO or whether you are turning the valves or whether you look after customer complaints, you must all have the right attitude to deliver. Your customers, the ordinary Fijians are the people you must serve and serve well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight, we celebrate excellence on the part of the employees of the Water Authority of Fiji, those who have set an example to their fellow workers.

Congratulations to all the winners. Tonight is a night for celebration after some very challenging months. So enjoy the evening and I thank you for your hard work and commitment.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.