Posts tagged Fiji Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER BAINIMARAMA’S SPEECH AT THE LAUNCHING OF FIJI CROP AND LIVESTOCK COUNCIL OFFICES

Bula vinaka and good afternoon to you all.

It’s a pleasure to be in Lautoka today to open the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council’s new offices.

The importance that my Government places on farming and agriculture cannot be overstated.

In a country blessed with so much fertile land, there’s no reason why we can’t grow the food we need as a country here at home.
And there’s no reason that on top of that we can’t grow food for our Tourism Industry and food for export as well.

Specialists call this issue “food security.” What that means is guaranteeing enough crops and livestock to feed our population without relying on imports. It’s one of the biggest challenges that any country will face in the 21st century and Fiji is no exception. At the moment, we depend too much on imported food.

But it’s not only about food security. Locally grown food is also less expensive, buying it supports local families and improves our balance of payment position.

For all these reasons, promoting “Fijian Grown”, “Buy Fijian” is a no brainer.

That’s why my Government has made supporting agriculture and assisting our farmers one of our top priorities.

We want farmers to be successful and to earn a living that can support them and their families. And we want all Fijians to benefit from growing more food locally.

To make farming a profitable profession in today’s world however, often takes more than just planting a few seeds or cuttings or getting a few cattle or goats.

Farming today is a highly specialised skill and farmers need the proper training and assistance in order to do the job they’re expected to do and to achieve the results they’re hoping to achieve. Running a farm is a business and farmers need to be commercially savvy.

So one of my Government’s most important jobs is equipping farmers with the tools, education and support they deserve to give them sustained livelihoods and boost our nation’s food security in the process.

The bottom line is that together we need to modernise the Industry and make it more productive.

This brings us to today, the opening of the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council’s new offices that will significantly enhance the services available to its members.

For those of you who don’t know, the Council represents farmers and works with Government to find solutions that will grow their businesses.

In 2010, my Government gave the Council the green light and today it represents stakeholders from 17 commodity associations, including beef, diary, pig, goat, root crop, fruit, ginger, kava, coconut and food processors.

The Council raises important issues with Government on behalf of its members and helps us identify where assistance is needed.

The Government and the FCLC have already worked closely on a number of issues. For example the recent assistance to the local pork industry by introducing protection from foreign predatory pricing and dumping.

My Government has also, because of our vision, zero rated duty on farm machinery, relevant implements and products. We have recently introduced a $1-millon fertilizer subsidy for non-sugar cane farmers.

At the moment, the FCLC is working on a very important project: educating farmers about how to apply for loans. Lending by private banks has grown exponentially in recent times, contributing to a very healthy growth of our nation’s economy. Farmers must take advantage of the increased lending and economic growth. As I mentioned earlier, running a farm is a business and farmers need to be equipped with the appropriate know-how in order to support and grow their operations.

In this respect later today I will be passing out certificates to twelve Financial Management Counselors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
You’ll often hear me talk about “big picture” thinking. It’s the notion that as a Government we should never think of any one policy in isolation; instead, we need to understand how it fits into the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish in the long-term.

I’m proud to say that my Government has introduced big picture thinking to Fiji’s Agriculture sector. We’ve taken a holistic approach so that our policies work together to encourage and assist Fijian farmers.

Government’s agricultural scholarships, launched in 2013, are a perfect example of this.

They address one of the biggest problems facing the Industry: that not enough of our young people are choosing to become farmers.

We need to encourage students to think seriously about farming as a profession and show them that it can offer solid career prospects.

Each year, after a rigorous selection process, successful scholarship recipients attend a 12-month certificate course at the Fiji National University Agricultural School that will train them in the various agricultural disciplines.

Under this program, these agricultural graduates will emerge from their studies with a career path and significant Government assistance to enable them to achieve their ambitions.

This is an important part of modernising the Industry and boosting the quality of our farmers.

I’m pleased to see the FCLC supporting these efforts by embracing the power of new technology.

The Council will soon be launching mobile phone applications – farmers will be able to use their mobile phone to access critical information, such as weather advisories and current market prices.
Of course access to this type of technology has been made possible by my Government’s liberalisation of the Telecommunications Industry and zero rating duty on smart phones – a holistic approach means benefits cut across the different sectors of the economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
As part of our focus on agriculture and farming, I would like to take this opportunity to announce a major revamp of the Sugar Cane Industry which we have been working on for a while.

Of course it must be remembered that it is only through the diversion of the EU sugar cane funds to other sectors that organizations such as FCLC have benefitted immensely from this redirection.

Government has been working to finalise a Sugar Industry Decree that will revolutionise the sugar cane transport system in Fiji amongst a number of other much-needed reforms.

Any sugar cane farmer will tell you that the current transport system is too expensive, too slow and too unreliable. For some farmers, cane transport or cartage makes up 50 per cent of their total costs.

There are instances when farmers have been held ransom by those who demand more than the agreed price for cartage.

And there are also instances when farmers have suffered because transport does not show up on time.

Under the new Decree, all this will change. The Fiji Sugar Corporation will assume management of all harvesting and transport.

This will give FSC direct control, greatly improving reliability and efficiency.

Farmers will also see a big push to improve the rail network and improve access to it so that more of them can take advantage of rail’s lower cost: $6 a ton by rail versus $13 a ton by lorry.

This is something that farmers have been asking for a long time, and their requests have not fallen on deaf ears.

But, of course, lorries will always be a vital part of the I`ndustry because they can access places that rail cannot. That’s why the FSC is also looking into discounting fuel for lorry drivers by 8 to 10 cents a litre. This will spell big savings for farmers and is another important reform.

However, the reforms are not just for the transport of cane. The Sugar Decree will also allow for the election of 8 Councillors to the Sugar Cane Growers Council – One from each mill area district. These Councillors will be elected directly by farmers to represent them in the Council and work together with FSC, Government and other relevant stake-holders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fiji is on the right track and so long as we keep the fundamental current policy direction and settings in place, I have no doubt that farming has a bright future in our country.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the European Union for their contribution to the FCLC, which together with Government assistance shall finance the operations of the organisation for the next three years.

With those few words, it is now my pleasure to declare the FCLC’s new offices open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER BAINIMARAMA’S SPEECH AT THE AMEX RESOURCES LTD GROUND-BREAKING CEREMONY

Bula vinaka and good afternoon to you all.

It’s a pleasure to be with you to break ground at a $200-million project in the Province of Ba: a new wharf and ship-loading infrastructure to export Fiji’s first-ever mined iron sand.

Today is an auspicious occasion for me. Because of weather delays last week that delayed the Military hand-over ceremony, it marks my first official event as your civilian Prime Minister. And I am glad my first day as a civilian Prime Minister is to participate in the ground ceremony for the first ever iron sand mining project in Fiji.

Yesterday was a very moving day as I said farewell to the RFMF so that I can form my political party and lead it into this year’s general election. I will make concrete announcements on the new party in the coming weeks.

My resolve is now stronger than ever to bring Fiji into an age of prosperity and opportunity for all. To continue our focus on important issues like improving health services around the country, creating new jobs that pay a living wage, continuing our fight against corruption, improving services and upgrading our infrastructure into the 21st century.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When Amex Resources was granted a lease for their iron sands project, which includes the construction of this new wharf in Lautoka, it was only after careful consideration of the big picture, of how it will impact Fiji and Fijians in the long-term.

Iron sand is used to create steel and is very popular, particularly in the growing economies of the world. We have healthy deposits of it here in Fiji, but we must carefully consider all aspects of mining for such a resource, including the impact on environment before any mining licence can be granted. This of course was exactly what happened in Amex’s case. I am happy to announce that Amex has met with all the compliance requirements and we are glad to partner with them.

Amex will invest over 200 million Fijian dollars. The chief part of Amex Resources’ investment is the construction of a new wharf and ship-loading facility that is specifically designed to export minerals, which we are breaking ground for today.

The concentrate that is dredged from the Ba Delta will be transported here, where it will be processed and then exported to markets overseas. Production could rise as high as 1.5 million tonnes a year.

I’m very pleased to note that rather than using trucks to transport the product from Ba to Lautoka – which would clog up the roads and damage them – the company will use barges, an innovative idea applauded by my Government. I hope other companies carting such heavy loads will follow Amex’s example.

The Lautoka Port facility will include a berth, a barge unloading facility, a washing plant, a stockpile area, ship-loading infrastructure, as well as workshops and offices. I am also very pleased to note that MCCO one of the top 5 mining facility construction companies in the World is partnering in this project. I welcome them to Fiji.

All told, the construction of these facilities – together with the purchase of a specialised marine fleet – represent a $180-million investment. This is in addition to the $25-million the Company has already spent on exploration and other associated works.

We expect the project to create 300 jobs – both skilled and unskilled – for Fijians in Ba and Lautoka. Of course, this does not include the various flow-on benefits it will have on employment and economic activity in the province of Ba and across Fiji.

As I’ve said before, it’s about appointing the best people for the job. Amex Resources, a listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange with major shareholders in China, is a reputable company that has the necessary experience and know-how to oversee these works and bring them to a successful conclusion.

But earlier, I mentioned the big picture. Not only will this project boost the Fijian economy and create jobs, it will also complement Government’s efforts to dredge the Ba Delta, thereby reducing the frequency and intensity of flooding during heavy rains and cyclones.

We all know how damaging and horrifying it is when a river bursts its banks and the floodwaters rise. Within the last couple years alone, we’ve suffered a number of devastating episodes. There’s hardly a person in Fiji who hasn’t felt the impact of flooding in one way or another.

So the fact that this project will help prevent that sort of devastation in the future is a cause for great celebration.

But, Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s an even bigger picture to consider and it’s the growing sense of optimism about Fiji’s economy as we see investments of all sorts ramp up around the country.

This year our economy is expected to grow by as much as 3.6%, following growth last year as well.

New job advertisements are up by 14%, new bank loans for investment have risen by 109%, and as of last November, imports of investment goods have increased by 27%.

However, you don’t need these figures to know that things are picking up.  Just look around. Everywhere you can see new investment, construction projects – big and small, job creation, demand for services and overall an expectation that things are going to keep getting better.

Clearly, as I’ve said before, the savviest investors aren’t waiting until after the election to take advantage of all the incentives and concessions that are already in place.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have to be careful when talking about economic growth not to lose track of what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Growing the economy is about creating opportunity for Fijians. Whether it’s a new job or sustaining a job with good working conditions. Whether it’s starting a small business or expanding a larger one. We care about economic growth because we want to create these sorts of opportunities for our people.

We want jobs and economic opportunities for our young people that offer good career prospects. We want growth and success for Fijian businesses, big or small. We want every Fijian to earn a living that can support them and their families.

That’s the bottom line and that’s why my Government has spent so much time and effort to make the necessary reforms and put in place smart and consistent policies.

I’m proud to say that in Fiji over the last seven years we haven’t cut corners for short-term gain. We’ve put in place a detailed roadmap for reform across a broad front and we’ve stuck to it. We have not veered nor have we strayed. It’s about setting rules and those same rules must apply to everybody.

It hasn’t been about doing things the quickest way, or doing things the easiest way, or doing things the cheapest way, it’s been about doing things the right way. Whether it’s building our roads, writing our Constitution, educating our children, assisting Fijian investors, or attracting foreign investment, the same holds true.

My Government is committed to doing it the right way and creating meaningful change and lasting benefits in a transparent manner for the nation that we all love so dearly.

Of course, the overall success of our program depends on productive partnerships. In that regard, we look forward to the continuing success of our partnership with Amex Resources.

With those words, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now my pleasure to officially break ground for Amex Resources’ Lautoka Port facility.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER VOREQE BAINIMARAMA’S SPEECH AT SUVA’S CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS

Bula vinaka, a very good morning to you all, Ni Hao

I’m delighted to be here with my family to join you in celebrating the most important festival on the Chinese calendar.

More than a billion people in China itself and many millions more Chinese around the world are marking the same occasion – when the Year of the Snake becomes the Year of the Horse.

So a very Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all!

This is traditionally a time when Chinese people everywhere return home to celebrate with family and friends and Fiji is no exception.

In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big gathering of Chinese people in Fiji before. It’s certainly a sign of how vibrant the community is that this celebration is taking place on such a grand scale.

The history of the Chinese community in Fiji stretches back almost 200 years. And while they may have been relatively small in number, Chinese Fijians have made an immense contribution to our national life and continue to do so.

We are building One Nation and you are all an important part of that effort.

The Year of the Horse is going to be a momentous year for Fiji. This sign in the Chinese zodiac symbolises strength, loyalty and hard work – all attributes that we will need as we move towards establishing our new democracy, with opportunity and justice for all – without discrimination.

The coming weeks and months promise to be challenging and also immensely exciting. Everything my Government and I have worked for over the past seven years is coming to a climax with the general election before the end of September. When the new Parliament is chosen – with every Fijian 18 years and over having an equal say for the first time – our revolution will be largely complete. But I want to stress that the task of building our new and better Fiji will be only just beginning. The foundation will have been laid but the real hard work is still to come.

We cannot afford to deviate as a nation from the brighter course that we have set ourselves. We have created a level playing field for every Fijian child. We are giving them free primary and secondary school education and an unprecedented opportunity to go on to higher studies. We are building a smarter country. We are delivering basic services like electricity and water to many ordinary Fijians for the first time. Our nation stands proud and tall. But these opportunities are just the start. We must build on the progress we have made so far to take Fiji to much greater heights – to be the pre-eminent Pacific nation, a beacon of hope and an example to the rest of the world.

As you know, in some weeks I will stand down from the Military and a job I have dearly loved. I will be forming a political movement and I will be asking every Fijian – no matter who they are – to join me. Together, our task will be to fight a battle of ideas to determine the future of our nation. And in that battle of ideas, we intend to win.

We will not do so with arrogance. We will not do so by lying about the past or the future for that matter. On the contrary, we will offer a fresh vision for every Fijian and humbly seek their support. That vision will be laid out in detail during the election campaign. But I can tell you now that its foundation will be continuing stability, a healthy and vigorous economy and a climate that encourages new investment to create and sustain. The foundation of this stability ladies and gentlemen is the new Fijian constitution which amongst other things creates common and equal citizenry a prerequisite to any modern and successful nation-state.

Our young people of course want interesting, satisfying jobs. They want to travel, to see the world, to have their horizons broadened. They want satisfying, fulfilling lives. They want to make a difference. They care about our environment. They want sustainable development. They are our future – the new Fiji – and we must work as hard as we can, with them, to see their dreams fulfilled.

Thanks to my Government, our young people now have equal opportunity and the best chance Fijians have ever had to get an education and get on in life. It is not a handout. It is a leg-up.
It is to empower the youth of our country. It is to build individual and national capacity. It is to ensure that we have educated and wise leaders to take Fiji forward.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the start of a landmark year, an auspicious year, full of hope and promise.

I thank you all for the opportunity to share this moment with you, to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. Let us all join in celebrating the Year of the Horse.

Vinaka Vakalevu,
Thank you, Cher Cher Ni.

PRIME MINISTER BAINIMARAMA SENDS WELL WISHES TO NAURU PRESIDENT

1/30/2014
Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama has sent a congratulatory message to the President of the Republic of Nauru, His Excellency, Baron Divavesi Waqa on their 46th Independence Day celebrations.

“As the Government and People of the Republic of Nauru celebrate their Independence Day, on 31st January, I wish to extend to Your Excellency on behalf of the Government and the People of Fiji, our warmest congratulations and best wishes for your personal well-being as well as the well-being of your citizens, and for the continued progress and prosperity of your country,” PM Bainimarama said.

“I am confident that the mutual respect and friendly relations that our two countries share and cherish will continue to prosper and strengthen in the coming years as we together cooperate in emerging opportunities in the sustainable development of our people.”

Nauru gained independence in 1968.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama First Commanders Parade 2014

PRIME MINISTER J.V. BAINIMARAMA – SPEECH AT THE COMMISSIONING OF DREKETI GRID EXTENSION

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Many Fijians have grown up having access to electricity all their lives. So they naturally have little idea what it must be like not to have it all.
To not be able to reach for a switch to read your book, plug a kettle into the wall, keep your food cold in the Refrigerator or turn on a television.

They’re things a great many Fijians simply take for granted. Yet for large numbers of their fellow citizens, being able to access the national power grid has been a distant dream, and that includes the people of this region.

Until now, you’ve all needed a diesel generator to have electric light and power. And for many of you, that has simply been too expensive. The cost of a generator and the cost of the fuel needed to run it has been beyond your reach.

And so here, and in other isolated parts of Fiji, many people have grown up dependent on kerosene lamps and lanterns. And you’ve learnt to do without the electrical appliances that have revolutionised household chores elsewhere.

Entire generations of Fijians like you have cooked their evening meal on a fire or a primus. Entire generations of school children have done their homework either before the sun goes down or by squinting at the pages under a kerosene lamp.

All that comes to an end today in this new phase of my Government’s Look North Policy, in which we have made it a priority to develop Vanua Levu for the benefit of its people and the entire country.

I’m delighted to be here with all of you at the Maramarua Primary School to formally turn on the power, to launch the Dreketi Electrification project.

It’s the culmination of two year’s work to install a new 33-thousand volt Transmission Power Grid from Labasa to Dreketi via Seaqaqa at a cost of more than 14-million dollars.

Jointly funded by the Government and the FEA, it will provide power along the 70 kilometres from Labasa to Dreketi to some eight communities and 243 customers, with the ability to add more as the region develops.

It’s a great occasion for you – the people in this corridor from Seaqaqa, Batiri to here in Dreketi – and an important milestone in my Government’s effort to develop the North.

Coupled with the new road from Nabouwalu to Dreketi, we are, in a very real and practical manner, finally unleashing the economic potential of northern Vanua Levu and laying the foundation for new investment, job creation and prosperity.

By providing electricity and a proper road instead of a dirt track, we are creating the basic infrastructure that every society needs to grow. From these improvements are bound to come more people, more businesses and more wealth. And that means more opportunities for the people of this wonderful but previously neglected part of Fiji.

I’m told that about 5,000 people living along the Dreketi Seaqaqa highway will immediately benefit from this project – among them, families, schools and farmers on whom so much of our economy depends.

These Fijians finally have a Government that responds to their needs. Gone are the days in Fiji when Government came to look at what you needed, pretended to listen and then went away and did nothing. My Government is here to serve, to improve the quality of your lives and provide opportunities for you and your families.

We cared that you didn’t have access to power, that many of you couldn’t afford generators, that your evenings were filled with dim lights from candlepower and kerosene. We cared that some of you couldn’t afford to send your children to school, so we got rid of the fees and are opening up new schools to provide every Fijian with education and the opportunities that come with it.

We cared that your road was a rough track that became a mud track in wet weather, that your children had to walk through to go to school, that it took you too long to get medical help, too long to get to Labasa, too long to get to Nabouwalu.

We cared, we acted and we’ve delivered. And I am humbled by the number of people who have come up to thank me and have told me how much that commitment has meant to them. In turn, I want to pay tribute to the Board, management and workers of the FEA, and its contractors, who have made this project possible. You have done us all proud and we thank you for your service.

With the 24-million dollars set aside in this year’s budget to continue our electrification program, we look forward to soon strengthening the supply to the Tavua-Korovou corridor. This will allows rural communities and businesses in Ra and Tailevu to enjoy the same benefits that have now come to Seaqaqa, Batiri and Dreketi.

Fiji has also signed an agreement with the People’s Republic of China to construct a 700 kilowatt Mini Hydro Power Plant in Taveuni.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we begin 2014 as a nation in much better shape than when I and those around me embarked on our revolution eight years ago to create a new and better Fiji.

We now have a new Constitution that gives you more rights than ever before, we are addressing years of neglect when it comes to providing our people with basic services and in eight months’ time, we will have the first genuinely democratic election in our history.

I will soon be announcing the formation of a political party that I will lead to contest that election. We will, of course, be standing on our record of delivering basic services such as this and on the way in which we have created a fairer and more equal society, with justice and opportunity for all.

I will never accept that someone living in Dreketi deserves fewer services just because they live in a more isolated part of the country. I want you -and everyone in Fiji- to have the same basic services as people living in Suva – the same access to electricity, to water, to education, to basic health. It is an ambitious goal but I’m determined to achieve it by putting more money in basic infrastructure for the benefit of ordinary people and their families.

During the forthcoming campaign, I will also be laying out my vision for Fiji after the election, in the new and genuine democracy that we are creating and in which I want you all to play a part.
That vision is to build on the progress that we have made and the stability we have created to attract new investment to Fiji and provide new and sustainable jobs for our young people.

These young people will be prepared for life in a way that few young people in Fiji will have ever been prepared before. With our free education initiative, more of them will gain basic skills and knowledge in our primary and secondary schools and the ability to go on to higher education. With our scholarships and training programs, they will have more chance of being able to afford to acquire the specialist skills that higher education provides.

We want to provide them with more of the opportunities they deserve and that their parents could only ever dream of. And that means broadening their horizons way beyond their island home, to get more Fijians thinking of themselves as educated citizens of the world.

We see ourselves becoming the Singapore of the Pacific –vibrant, brimming with opportunity and a byword for quality, whether its our national airline, our tourism industry or the quality of the things we manufacture and export.

Ladies and Gentlemen, all this is within our reach if we can continue to think imaginatively and stay disciplined and focused. The lost years are over but only if we pursue the right course and think not just of ourselves but each other and our nation. If we put Fiji First.

All of us can detect a sense of real excitement in the air here today as we power up this area of Fiji for the first time. But I’m convinced that the future holds a promise that is limitless if we can harness the power of all Fijians to deliver our new democracy and the new Fiji.

With those words, I now have the privilege of officially turning on the electricity supply to the Seaqaqa, Batiri and Dreketi corridor and surrounding villages and communities.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.

Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama Speech at the Closing of the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Conservation and Protected Areas.

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It’s a great pleasure for me to have the task of formally closing the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Conservation and Protected Areas.

Fiji is proud to have assumed the chair of this conference and the responsibility for guiding our collective agenda forward.

We welcome the opportunity to take a leadership role in this forum, just as we have when we’ve chaired the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the International Sugar Council and the G77 Plus China – the largest voting bloc at the United Nations.

In all of these forums, we have seen it as our duty to provide enlightened and purposeful leadership, create an inclusive environment where a range of opinions can be heard, try to forge a consensus, achieve positive outcomes and insist that those outcomes be implemented and tested against measurable performance standards.

That is the discipline we want to bring to our collective conservation effort over the next five years. The many challenges we face require resolute action. And now that the talking here is drawing to a close, it is time to act.

This is the prime reason why Fiji has pressed for, and offered to host, a high-level meeting by the end of April, 2014. We have the next few months to process all of the measures that we have adopted here in Suva and forge a stronger action plan and build a stronger alliance.

We will secure the participation of the Pacific countries and relevant ministers to ensure a firm regional commitment and an action-based alliance. In the meantime, Fiji would also like to see a greater participation in our endeavours by the corporate sector. We need their practical expertise as part of our existing partnership. And together, we can build a grand coalition to achieve better outcomes than have been possible to date.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have all been very welcome guests to Fiji as we work collectively for the preservation of our surroundings and biodiversity. I hope you have enjoyed both the formal discussions and our hospitality. Permit me to say a few words of my own to explain my own passion in this area.

I regard it as the solemn duty of every Pacific Islander to assume a personal responsibility to contribute to our conservation effort.

For too long, our people have taken their beautiful surroundings and abundant natural resources for granted. For too long, we have seen conservation as someone else’s responsibility.

Paradoxically, we use the vast ocean around us as both a food source and a refuse dump. We take its abundance of seafood and give back sewage and garbage.

None of us would dump rubbish in our own backyards yet think nothing of dumping it in the ocean. In my naval career, I’ve been staggered and angered by the sheer volume of floating plastic bags, plastic bottles and other cast-offs that I’ve seen in the water sometimes many kilometres offshore.

Someone put them there, sometimes a Pacific Islander with a big smile.

Something had to give as time went by and it has. Our ocean, its shoreline and reefs have come under such intense human pressure that whole ecosystems are under threat. It has to stop.

Our arable land and fresh water streams and rivers are being polluted and their biodiversity, at times, affected by invasive species.

I heartily agree with His Excellency our President when he said at the opening session of this gathering that we need to inculcate a new culture of personal responsibility on the part of every Pacific Islander to end this assault on our living space.

I also endorse his call for the global community to finally face up to its responsibility to tackle the issue of climate change.

Fiji may not face the crisis of some of our neighbours in disappearing under the waves altogether. But already, some of our villages have had to be moved. And we are certainly having to shoulder some of the fallout of the looming catastrophe for some Pacific Small Island Developing States.

The Government of Kiribati – a nation whose very existence is threatened – has bought a significant land holding of six thousand acres on our second major island, Vanua Levu, as something of an insurance policy against that threat.

If the sea level continues to rise because the world won’t tackle global warming, some or all of the people of Kiribati may have to come to live in Fiji.

In historical terms, this is an unprecedented scenario – a sovereign country and member of the United Nations simply ceasing to exist in physical form.

Fiji will not turn its back on our neighbours in their hour of need. We accepted the Banaban people when they were forced to leave Ocean island because of the pressure of phosphate mining there. The British started to move the Banabans to Rabi Island in Fiji in 1945 and there were further migrations in the 1970s and early 80s, after Fiji became independent.

The Banaban homeland was not a sovereign state. The citizens of Kiribati most certainly are. So Fiji is facing a range of unprecedented and perplexing decisions as we contemplate giving them refuge against the rising sea. We clearly cannot have another sovereign nation within our borders. So what do we do? Are these people prepared to become Fijians? Can they be dual nationals of Kiribati and Fiji? How will the whole thing work? These are just some of the aspects we are having to consider as the climate change crisis escalates.

Today I repeat the appeal I made in London two weeks ago to the industrialised nations: For God’s sake, please act now to finally set the appropriate carbon emission targets to arrest rising global temperatures. The melting of the ice caps and the consequent rise in sea levels threatens the very existence of some of our Small Island Developing States. You must do more or history will judge you extremely harshly for your negligence and selfishness.

For the record, these are the top ten carbon emitters: China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, Iran and the United Kingdom. They are our friends but need to treat us all collectively in a more responsible manner and deal with this crisis. We certainly expect them to shoulder the financial impact that we suffer as Pacific Islanders.

It is the right of Pacific Islanders to survive the devastating impact of the carbon emissions. It is a moral and ethical conundrum that these countries are refusing to face.

By now, you will have all seen the action strategy that has been formulated here this week to take us all forward, not only on climate change but the conservation of our surroundings and biodiversity. Many of these are principles crying out for a practical response and Fiji wants to do a lot more itself to address them.

Indeed we are legally obliged under our new Constitution to protect our natural heritage. Section 40 says that every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right to have the natural world protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we in Fiji look forward to seeing many of you here before the end of April as we build on the efforts of this week. With those words, I formally close – for the moment at least – the 9th  Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.

Fijian PM Bainiamrama’s Speech at the Opening of the 2013 Attorney-General’s Conference

It’s a great pleasure to be here once again in Natadola to open the 2013 Attorney General’s Conference –the first to be held under our new Constitution – the supreme law of Fiji – and the last before we all go to the polls in 2014.

We are less than ten months away from that election, which will introduce the first genuine democracy in Fiji’s history and determine the future direction of our nation.  So it is only appropriate that sessions at this conference have a very strong focus on the Constitution and the election process itself.

As part of the overall theme – “Raising the bar: law and practice under the constitution”, distinguished panels of speakers will speak across six key areas of particular interest not only to the legal profession but to the wider community:

The implementation of civil and political rights.

Holding public officers accountable

Religion in a secular state.

The role of the media in a constitutional democracy,

The implementation of socio economic rights.

And finally, Parliament, the elections and proportional representation.

The list of speakers is very impressive for their individual achievements and the insights they will bring to these discussions. They come from different walks of life, represent a broad range of opinions and send a clear signal to everyone about the quality of the national debate that we envisage in the new Fiji. As Prime Minister, I thank all our panelists for their willingness to contribute to making us all better informed.

You will note that the Attorney General himself isn’t here for the opening of the AG’s conference. As Environment Minister, he is representing Fiji as chair of the 9th   Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conversation and Protected Areas – which is critical to the preservation of our environment.

The Constitution has specific provisions for the protection of the environment. Section 40 says that every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right to have the natural world protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures.

Above all, of course, the Constitution lays the foundation for our new democracy based on the most fundamental democratic principle of all – that all men and women are created equal and have the same rights and obligations.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am very proud of this document, which is the cornerstone of our vision to join the ranks of the world’s great democracies. Unlike previous Constitutions in Fiji, no-one’s vote has more status than anyone else’s, we are all Fijian and, for the first time, we are all also entitled to basic political, social and economic rights.

These are by now well known to the people in this room but include the right to freedom of speech, expression and association, the right to adequate food and water, the right to health and education and the right to economic participation.

As the Supreme Law of Fiji, all other laws in Fiji flow from or must adhere to this Constitution. It governs everything. And you as judges and lawyers will be at the forefront of its interpretation, implementation and enforcement.

We have done almost everything possible to publicise the provisions of this Constitution, to take it to the people, certainly more than was ever done with the previous post independence constitutions of 1970, 1990 and 1997.

No other constitution was widely translated into the two main vernaculars, i’Taukei and Hindi. No other constitution was distributed, free of charge, to the far ends of the nation in pocket size form. Never before has every Fijian had the same opportunity to examine the supreme law of our country, discuss its contents and keep it for future reference. We’re currently examining even more options to get this document to every Fijian.

The whole point has been to get the nation thinking and talking about the principles on which our new democracy will be based, just as I hope that your discussions here over the next couple of days will trigger a wave of understanding and enlightenment, at the conference itself and in the community through the media and cyberspace.

Some of these topics have never been discussed in an open forum in Fiji before. We all look forward to the intellectual input of our panelists and all of you. But I’d like to kick off with a few personal observations of my own about how these topics fit into our overall vision.

I’m especially keen on socio-economic rights. In many countries, socio-economic rights have either not been recognized or have not been enforceable. The focus generally has always been on civil and political rights. In some countries – including many in Asia – governments argue that socio economic rights need to take precedence over civil and political rights. Of course other countries do not address socio-economic rights at all.

I’m pleased to say that here in Fiji, we have included both sets of rights in the new Constitution in a very comprehensive manner. Indeed for the first time, socio- economic rights will be enforceable. So that along with such provisions as free speech and freedom of religion, we are giving Fijians rights to such things as adequate food and water, housing and access to economic opportunity.

Many people ask me why I insisted on having socio-economic rights included in the Constitution. As I’ve travelled around Fiji in the past seven years, the first and most important thing Fijians have said they want is basic socio-economic improvements in their lives. This message was again reiterated very strongly during the Constitutional consultations.

I personally feel very strongly about this issue and, in fact, it underpins my entire approach to Government. When I talk repeatedly about our underlying mission being to serve the Fijian people, I am thinking of those who’ve been deprived of those rights over the years by successive governments. Indeed, you could argue that many of the political upheavals that we’ve had in Fiji over the years have been a direct result of the lack of focus on the economic and social empowerment of ordinary Fijians.

One of the great things about having these socio-economic rights included in the Bill of Rights is that it compels not just my government but any subsequent government to provide and protect them. We have already started this in a major way by making education free in our primary and secondary schools and by way of a tertiary soft loan scheme.

For those of you here who are lawyers, you need to familiarize yourselves not just with these provisions but with the associated jurisprudence. Fiji doesn’t have a wealth of jurisprudence on socio-economic rights – no case law – and, in fact, we have a lot to learn from other jurisdictions. It’s clearly a totally new area of rights that are enforceable.

It has been brought to my attention, however, that the first case concerning a socio-economic right under the Constitution – in this case the right to housing – was filed in the Suva High Court only a few days ago. This is very encouraging and my Government looks forward to more Fijians seeking to enforce their socio-economic rights which of course will assist in the development of jurisprudence in this area.

On the other hand, the Bill of Rights also focuses on civil and political rights. There’s no doubt that civil-political rights are essential to ensuring the fundamental rights of every individual, including access to substantive justice.

While we had civil-political rights under the 1990 and 1997 Constitutions, in practice many people were denied justice because they weren’t able to afford lawyers, or they didn’t have access to lawyers.

For the first time under this Constitution, it is mandatory that the Legal Aid Commission provide access to justice to all Fijians. This is why in the 2014 Budget, we have provided an unprecedented allocation of more than $4 million to the Legal Aid Commission, allowing amongst other things, new Legal Aid offices to be opened in Sigatoka, Navua, Savusavu and Taveuni by the end of the first quarter of next year.

My Government’s view has always been that there is no point in simply window dressing a Constitution with fancy language about people’s rights, tarting it up to make it look good. You need to ensure that these rights can be enforced in a practical manner and that they improve the day-to-day lives of ordinary Fijians. That is how to build lasting confidence in our institutions, governance structures and the notion of genuine justice for all.  That is how to build a lasting democracy and ensure stability.

Linked, of course, to civil and political rights is the right for people under the Constitution to be able to express their opinions freely, freedom of speech and expression, and a free media. We have an entire session on the role of media in a constitutional democracy and while I won’t be able to be present, I’ll be very interested to hear the outcome.

The media plays a critical role in a constitutional democracy but more so in a developing country like Fiji and in particular, given our political history, both before and after Independence. I fundamentally believe that the media should be free to report on all matters in a balanced and professional manner.

The Media Industry Development Decree actually provides for that. When this Decree was implemented, the critics said that it would muzzle the media. But I’m glad to note that no media outlet has been charged with any breach of editorial misconduct under the decree. Some people saw the contempt proceedings against the Fiji Times as a means to muzzle the media. But, of course, that is not the case. Because contempt cases have been brought against the media in other so-called liberal democracies. The rules governing contempt are based on British common law, which is precisely the law under which media outlets like the Fiji Times had judicial decisions made against them.

As in the case of our lawyers, we look to our journalists to assist in the process of introducing a genuine democracy. The Media Authority doesn’t exist to wield a big stick and inhibit public discourse. It exists to remind the media of its ultimate obligation to report with scrupulous fairness and balance in the interests of every Fijian. Unfortunately, there are still instances of overt bias and some journalists and media outlets still see themselves as partisan political players. Unfortunately they use the principle of a free media to hide behind their partisanship and bias.

There is still too much racism, too much ethnic, class and gender stereotyping. But that is now for the Media Authority to deal with and I am glad the Chair of the Authority is here.

In developing countries, the media needs to be a partner in national development and we expect the Fijian media to be that partner, no matter who is in Government. We need more stories about Fijians on the fringes of our society, with a view to bringing them into the mainstream. Democracy means inclusiveness at all levels – it is not only restricted to the electoral process for national elections.

The need for fairness and balance doesn’t preclude investigative reporting and especially journalists holding public office holders more accountable. There are, in fact, unprecedented accountability provisions for public office holders in the new Constitution. These include the Accountability and Transparency Commission that will hold the President, all ministers and senior civil servants accountable. The Constitution will extend the existing powers available to hold individuals to account through FICAC, the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption.

I’m delighted that a former member of the Victorian Parliament, Professor Peter Loney, is part of the panel that will address this issue. Because I know from my conversations with many ordinary Fijians that there is a deep cynicism generally about MPs. They feel that once MPs are elected, they not only disappear until the next election, they see that office as a means to enrich themselves and those around them but to do so with impunity because they have been elected. What your average Aussie might call having their noses in the trough.

Being elected to Parliament does not give one the license to no longer be accountable. On the contrary, we must demand even higher standards of our MPs to set the tone for the rest of the nation.

We will also soon have a Freedom of Information law, which the Solicitor General’s team is just about to complete. It will set new standards in requiring a Minister’s assets and liabilities to be declared and stipulate that this be updated on a yearly basis. As lawyers you will also be able to access this information.

Parliament, of course, needs to get elected and, as we’ve said all along and as stipulated in the Constitution, we will have that election no later than September 30th, 2014. The Constitution provides for a single national constituency and a single chamber parliament as in Israel and the Netherlands.

This is in response to our history of ethnic electorates and the common complaint that members of previous parliaments were more concerned with parochial issues than with the wider good. A single constituency forces all members of Parliament, in a small country like ours, to be concerned not just with the needs of their particular constituencies or regions but with the development of Fiji as a whole.

Our open list system of proportional representation is similar to that of Israel, Brazil, Finland, Indonesia, Moldova and, in fact, the Australian Senate, the country’s upper house.

We have settled on a 50 member chamber on the basis that a lean parliament is an effective parliament in a country the size of Fiji. We want to attract high quality candidates to political office and pay them well, a practice that has had a hugely beneficial impact on good governance in a country like Singapore. We certainly can’t have people joining Parliament because they can’t get a job elsewhere, which has been the case in Fiji in the past.

Some have said that ordinary Fijians won’t understand the new system because it is such a radical departure from the past. To these people, I say that you are selling the Fijian people short. History shows that we have always been able to adapt to new circumstances very quickly and with relative ease.

At the moment, we have a number of international experts working with the Elections Office to help us avoid some of the deficiencies of the last election in terms of logistics and other discrepancies.

Which brings me to the final panel discussion later today on religion in a secular state. The new Constitution stipulates that when it comes to religious belief, the State needs to be completely neutral. Every Fijian is free to pursue whatever faith they adhere to or, in fact, none at all if that is their choice.

I know there has been quite a lot of debate in Fiji about this and I’m glad to see that we have representatives from a cross section of different religious organisations to continue that debate in this forum. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a discussion freely and openly to clear up all of the misconceptions that exist once and for all.

From my perspective, our Constitution is no different to other countries like Australia and the United States on this issue so allow me to read out the relevant sections in the Constitution.

Section 4 says: “Religious liberty, as recognized in the Bill of Rights, is a founding principle of the State. Religious belief is personal. Religion and the State are separate, which means – the State and all persons holding public office must treat all religions equally.

The State and all persons holding public office most not dictate any religious belief. The State and all persons holding public office must not prefer or advance, by any means, any particular religion, religious denomination, religious belief or religious practice over another, or over any non religious belief. And no person shall assert any religious belief as a legal reason to disregard this Constitution or any other law”.

In the Bill of Rights, this is what it says: Every person has the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief. Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in private or in public, to manifest and practice their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.

The Bill of Rights goes on to protect people from being forced to behave in a manner that is against their belief, take an oath against their belief, establish the right to operate religious schools and so on.

Indeed the last Pope Benedict the 16th had said, and I quote:

“The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. . . . The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.

Nowhere does the Constitution say religion cannot be practiced publicly, as has been suggested in some quarters. It can be practiced in public and in private. The Constitution is absolutely explicit about this.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to close by urging all of you at this legal conference to hold your discussions over the next two days within a legal context, not a political context. As has been seen recently when personality and political point scoring is brought to the fore, it obscures one’s ability to honestly, logically and in a constructive manner to analyze the law, facts and the ground realities.

The 15th Attorney General’s conference provides you a unique opportunity and forum to stimulate intelligent and constructive discussions without any inhibitions for your personal benefit and for the benefit of our country.

Ladies and Gentlemen I now have great pleasure in declaring the 15th Attorney General’s conference open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.  

Fijian PM Bainimarama’s Speech at the Launch of Vodafone’s 4G LTE Network

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

Tonight we launch the latest phase of the telecommunications revolution that is sweeping Fiji and has transformed all our lives – fourth generation mobile or 4G.

Once again, we are at the cutting edge of technology and I’m very pleased that Vodafone has been able to deliver that technology so quickly and to be here as Prime Minister to share the moment.

I’m especially gratified that ordinary Fijians have already benefited from this initiative even before it was delivered. In mid-year, Vodafone and the other service providers took part in an auction for the radio waves of the 4G spectrum, which are owned by every Fijian. In a completely transparent auction process that was the first of its kind to be conducted in Fiji, the Government raised more than $5-million.

It’s barely two months since the 4G spectrum allocation was made. So for Vodafone to deliver a fully functioning 4G network in such a short space of time is a genuinely impressive achievement. The speed of the rollout reflects the connection speed of the technology itself, which now places Fiji in the front rank of the world’s telecommunications providers.

What is 4G? For some young people, you will already know and be excited about all the possibilities for faster downloads and high speed Internet. You may have already picked out the smart phone that you intend to buy to take advantage of this technology. We have put zero duty on these phones to make it easier for you to afford them.

And as I announced in the 2014 budget, a task force has been set up to ensure that the benefits of the zeroing of duty is passed on to every Fijian. In other words, smart phones must become cheaper. All importers and retailers; please take note of this.

Put simply, here’s what 4G will essentially mean. From now on, the public can have access to state-of-the-art ultra-broadband Internet, through their laptops with USB wireless modems, smartphones and other mobile devices.

It means faster data speeds so that a Skype call, for instance, will no longer suffer from lags or delays in any conversation. Video streaming and conferencing means that a group of business people in Suva can talk to their clients in Rakiraki in real time as if they were in the same room.

The faster speeds also mean a revolution in the way we deliver some Government services. It will now be possible, if you have the latest technology, to have a doctor in Suva diagnose a patient in Savusavu over the Internet as if they were in the same room.

In education, we can have smart classrooms, remote classrooms, where a teacher can be in Suva giving instruction to students scattered around the country. The telecommunications revolution goes hand in hand with the new education revolution to form our vision for a clever country – a smarter Fiji.

In addition, 4G has a bigger footprint or wider coverage than the existing 3G network so you don’t need as many towers to service a large area with telecommunications services. This means that service providers will now be able to service remote rural and maritime areas in Fiji much more effectively and at a lower cost.

And for an average computer user who buys the technology, 4G opens up a range of other possibilities, such as storing your information externally on cloud services. Cloud also allows you to access software remotely and more cheaply on a pay-on-demand basis without having to purchase an application.

Yes, it all might sound complicated – I think so too – but only because it’s new. However as we’ve seen recently, if technology is accessible and affordable, the uptake of that new technology is rapid. Fijians have already shown a willingness, even a passion, to adapt to new technology when it becomes available.

Look at the way we’ve embraced mobile phones, which our parents would never have imagined but which have transformed all our lives in the 95 per cent of Fiji where they can currently be used. 4G is going to help allow us to take that closer to 100 per cent – the whole of Fiji.

We’re also extending existing services through our Universal Service Access Subsidies, which the Government will pay service providers like Vodafone to move into remote areas that aren’t commercially viable.

Remarkably, using the traditional measurement, we already have mobile phone penetration of 102 per cent, almost two thirds more than that of the biggest Pacific nation, Papua New Guinea.

We’re empowering ordinary Fijians, just as we’re empowering you with our free education program, our new roads, water and electricity, giving you and your families a better chance to get on in life. It’s what my Government is here for – to serve the ordinary families of Fiji, to expand their horizons, connect them with each other and the world and give them the opportunity to acquire knowledge with the best technology available.

26 per cent of Fijians so far have access to the Internet and that figure is growing with every Telecentre that the Government opens. 15 Telecentres are operating so far, with five more coming on stream in the coming months in Kadavu, Nadi, Nausori and two in the Suva area in Lami and Kalabu. The number of Fijians using these centres has already exceeded 40-thousand and these new centres will push that figure even higher.

This alone is a huge boost to the ability of ordinary Fijians to access information and increase their knowledge and skills. I happen to believe that education is a life-long process, not just the accumulation of knowledge in our schools, universities and technical colleges.

The point I want to make is that when we talk about a clever country, it’s an inclusive vision, not just free education for our children in primary and secondary schools and tertiary loans in our universities and technical colleges. It means everyone, no matter what their age, getting smarter as they access the facilities and initiatives that the Government provides to empower them and improve their lives.

It’s not some empty gesture for short-term political gain but an attempt, over time, to fundamentally reposition Fiji for a better future. And not only for ourselves but for our neighbours, many of whom look to us for leadership and assistance.

Our relative strength in the telecommunications sector means that we see ourselves as an increasingly important regional hub, just as we do for shipping and aviation. Because the future is all about connectivity, we want Fiji to be the conduit. Our vision is to be at the centre of a web of connectivity linking our island neighbours with the rest of the world. A true hub, not just the geographical hub that we’ve always been.

Our domestic reforms continue, with our plan next year for a national switch, which all financial institutions will be required to join and will break down existing barriers to enable bank customers to access their funds from any ATM. Even companies like Vodafone will be able to join the national switch. The National switch is also critical for E-ticketing.

We’re also finalising laws that will facilitate infrastructure sharing between the existing Telcos and any new entrant to the market. It will dramatically reduce the cost of building new infrastructure, which will mean savings to be passed on to consumers and an increased focus on services.

Ladies and Gentlemen, none of these initiatives is being done in isolation. Telecommunications is not a luxury but an essential service like any other. If those Fijians who are already marginalised miss out on our ICT reforms, they’ll be even more marginalised than ever and the existing disparities in our society will grow. We need to close the gap, not widen it. So the expansion of mobile and Internet services needs to go hand in hand with the provision of other basic services such as education, health, water, electricity and roads.

Tonight is another great leap forward not only for Vodafone but our entire ICT sector, which is the envy of our neighbours and indeed much of the rest of the world.

In the various global ICT forums that the Minister and I have attended, other delegates are genuinely impressed that a Pacific Small Island Developing State could have achieved such big outcomes in such a short time to best international practice. We were recently recognised by the G77 for the enormous strides we have made in ICT development.

So thank you, the Vodafone team, for being an important part of that revolution. Congratulations on this milestone and we look forward to many more years of partnership as we work to improve the lives of every Fijian.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

PM HANDS OVER CHAIR OF INTERNATIONAL SUGAR COUNCIL TO JAMAICA

The Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, has officially ended his year-long tenure as Chair of the International Sugar Council – the peak body for world sugar.

Commodore Bainimarama is being replaced by the current Deputy Chair of the ISC, Ambassador Derek Heavens of Jamaica, who received the PM’s congratulations at a ceremony in London.

In his handover speech, the Prime Minister thanked the International Sugar Council for entrusting Fiji with the Chair and said that it had been a great pleasure and privilege both for him and his Government to undertake the responsibility.

The change came at the end of the 44th Session of the ISC, which Fiji has been presiding over for the past week, and which included a major address by the Prime Minister last Monday.

In another development, the ISC has appointed a new Executive Director of the International Sugar Organisation, Dr Jose Orive of Guatemala. The Central American replaces Dr Peter Baron, who has served as ISO Executive Director for the past 20 years.

Commodore Bainimarama warmly welcomed Dr Orive and assured him of the Council’s full support. He also paid a fulsome tribute to Dr Baron, saying he had deeply appreciated his outstanding leadership of sugar’s peak body since 1992.

“During his term he has not only been directly involved in the expansion of the Organisation, with membership reaching an all time high of 87 member countries, but also contributed towards establishing it as the premiere institution for addressing key issues of concern to sugar producers, the Prime Minister said.

Commodore Bainimarama said that Fiji was especially grateful for the even-handed and balanced approach Dr Baron had taken in dealing with issues of particular interest to Small Island Developing States.

For his part, Dr Baron joined several other representatives – including Jamaica and Guatemala – in thanking the Fijian leader for what he described as his “excellent” Chairmanship of the ISC.

He said member countries especially appreciated the warm hospitality that Fiji had shown in hosting the 43rd session of the ISC in Nadi in June.