SPEECH: SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER HON. VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT THE DISBURSEMENT OF MICRO AND SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS IN RAKIRAKI

Distinguished Guests,

My Fellow Fijians and especially our grant recipients,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all,

It’s only eight days since I was here in Rakiraki to open your new bridge – a bridge to the future, I called it, for the people of Rakiraki and the North. And I’m delighted to be back with you this morning for the local launch of another bridge to the future – our grants to assist our small and micro business people to prosper and grow.

It’s one of my Government’s most important programs, because it is an important leg-up for so many ordinary Fijians. Empowering you to start new businesses of all kinds or take your existing businesses to another level. To enable you to buy new equipment or material to strengthen your own financial base. And in growing your businesses, carve out more of a stake for yourselves and your families in our national economy and contribute to the welfare of every Fijian.

As I’ve said before when handing out grants in Suva, Nadi, Navua, Savusavu and Taveuni, this is personally one of my favourite government programs. Because I can see immediately in the faces of the Fijians we are assisting just how much this means to them – an allocation of $1000 dollars to spend on items to boost your ability to provide for yourselves and your families. And that will have a positive flow-on effect to your local economy here in Rakiraki and the North and indeed the entire Fijian economy.

For every one of you getting your grant today, we estimate that another five members of the average family also benefit. So with 531 direct recipients in Rakiraki, that means more than 2,600 people in this region will also benefit. A lot of people couldn’t come here this morning because they are working. But I’m told there are still more than 350 here today, along with their families. And I want to start by congratulating you all on behalf of the nation. And please give yourselves a big round of applause.

My Fellow Fijians, 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. You’ve already indicated what you need to start a business or improve your business and you’ve had to get the Government’s approval for those items.

I’ll be giving you a certificate today 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 equipment 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 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. You’ve shown a determination to help yourself, your family, your community and the nation as a whole. 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, 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 Rakiraki and the surrounding region.

Whether you are a small farmer, a tradesperson of some kind or a stallholder or market vendor, my Government is putting its 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.

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 yourselves. 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. But the difference between this Government and our political opponents isn’t only our track record of service. It’s that we respect the intelligence of the Fijian people and especially their common sense.

They can see for themselves who is best able to care for their families and their futures. And they certainly know the truth of an old saying – talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.

The people of Ra and Nadroga have the common sense to see through those spreading division and encouraging so-called breakaway Christian states. They know that no part of the country can go it alone. They know it is the quickest way for everyone to become poor. No schools, no hospitals, no electricity, none of the benefits of modern life. And they know they are being manipulated by people who are misusing the word of God. Falsely claiming that Christianity in Fiji is under threat when the power of the Christian message in our nation has never been stronger.

Some of these people are sitting comfortably overseas while those who have been foolish enough to support their message of division and hate face the full force of the law in Fiji. I personally feel sorry for these people who are now facing charges because they have been lied to and manipulated. But I can’t do anything to help them because these charges are very serious. Anyone who engages in seditious activity and tries to thwart the democratic will of the people will have to face the full brunt of the law.

All I can do is plead with everyone not to follow any such people. Everyone must respect the laws of our country and the choice our people made at the election year ago. Everyone must turn their backs on division because that is what has held Fiji back. And everyone must embrace unity because that is the only way forward. To work together as one nation to improve the lives of every Fijian. And to keep growing our economy so that everyone benefits and not just a few.

My Fellow Fijians, while my Government has produced one of the longest running periods of economic growth in our history – 5.3 per cent last year, all my political opponents are capable of is taking cheap political shots. I’m used to their constant criticism as they squabble among themselves. Proving beyond doubt that people who can’t govern themselves can’t possibly govern the country.

Yet even I was astonished the other day when the leader of SODELPA issued a statement accusing me of continually going on overseas trips. As if I am swanning around the world doing nothing. As if addressing the United Nations, meeting other world leaders, drumming up business for Fiji and supporting our Rugby World Cup bid is something your Prime Minister shouldn’t do.

I trust the common sense of the Fijian people to know that on these trips, I am constantly promoting our nation’s interests. Expanding our opportunities in the world. Making our voice heard on the big issues of development and climate change. Taking the Fijian-Made brand of goods and services further because that means more jobs and more prosperity for the Fijian people.

Many of you will have seen me here eight days ago when I opened your new bridge here in Rakiraki. But let me just explain my program of the last seven days and judge for yourself whether I am doing my job properly. A week ago today, I opened the second National Women’s Expo in Suva, another of my Government’s initiatives to empower our women artisans by giving them better opportunities to sell the beautiful things they make. Then that night, I launched the PGA Fiji International Golf Tournament at Natadola – an event that is showcasing Fiji to a potential global television audience of 380-million people in 27 countries.

Last Thursday, I travelled to Sydney on one of my most important overseas missions ever – re-engaging with the Australian Government at a high level and re-connecting with many of the 50,000 Fijians who now live in Australia.

I met Australia’s new Minister for the Pacific and discussed how we can strengthen our relationship. And I addressed the Australia-Fiji Business Forum that is made up of the most important people driving the $3-billion a year trade between our countries. I attended a local Government reception at Liverpool in Western Sydney and built ties to the politicians who represent the interests of Australians living in Sydney. And then on Saturday came the highlight of my visit – attending a Fiji Day gathering in Sydney attended by about 10 to 15 thousand people, mainly Fijians in Sydney.

This was a wonderful occasion in which I again explained my own vision of what I think it means to be a Fijian. But I also apologised to the tens of thousands of Fijians who were told they were not welcome in their country of birth after the coups of 1987 and 2000 and were forced to find new homes in Australia and elsewhere. And encouraged them to put aside their feelings of hurt and re-engage personally with Fiji.

I make no apology for making that apology. It is all about healing the divisions that were caused by the selfish actions of a few, who are still trying to sow division to this day and must be rejected. Because make no mistake. These people are standing in the way of Fiji achieving its full potential as a nation. And the broad mass of the Fijian people have the intelligence and common sense to realise this essential truth.

After attending another Fijian community reception on Sydney Harbour on Saturday night, I had further meetings on Sunday and attended a church service. And then on Monday I came back to Fiji, had a series of meetings in Suva yesterday, and I am now back in Rakiraki, coming full circle to where I was just eight days ago. Eight days in which I worked every day to promote and safeguard your interests, your welfare, and the interests and welfare of every Fijian.

My Fellow Fijians, ordinary Fijians have the common sense to know when their prime minister is standing up for their interests, even if some of their other elected representatives don’t. And 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 so long as you place your trust in me.

Yes, in the coming weeks and months, I will be travelling overseas again. To the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta. And to the great United Nations Conference on Climate Change in New York at the end of November, at which I intend to lead the charge – with the other leaders of the Small Island Developing States –to get the world to finally wake up. To realise that the industrialised nations need to take drastic action on carbon emissions to prevent the sea level rises and extreme weather events that threaten Pacific nations, including Fiji.

And in between travelling overseas, I will continue rolling out our programs at home. Continue our service delivery to the Fijian people. Continue to empower ordinary Fijians like yourselves by giving you the opportunity to help yourselves.

I’m very proud at I look out across this crowd at your faces – the faces of decent, honest, hardworking Fijians. 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. And assist you to be at the forefront of our efforts to develop a culture of enterprise in Fiji.

My Fellow Fijians, to give this initiative a human face, I want to especially recognise some of these faces in the crowd and ask you to come forward and join me on the stage.

Lusiana Kanace. Lusiana hails from Navutulevu Village. She began bee and honey farming a year ago, and will be using her grant of $1,000 to grow her business.

Lalesh Narayan from Naivunivuni village has been in the fishing business for the past 8 years. Today’s support of $1,000 will enable him to purchase supplies to expand that business further.

Litia Cokanasigna. Litia is from Vaileka town and she will use her grant to start a hair dressing business.

Let’s give Lusiana, Lalesh and Litia 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.