Message From The Prime Minister,The Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama
I am leaving for Rio De Janeiro with the hopes and prayers of every Fijian for our best Olympic Games ever. Our athletes have never been better prepared. And in the case of our men's Rugby Sevens team, they are already World Champions. So Fiji has the best chance it has ever had to bring back our first gold medal in the summer Olympics. I know that every Fijian will be with me in spirit in Rio as I provide the nation’s collective encouragement to the wonderful men and women who are representing us before the world. Fiji has never stood taller than it does at these Games. And we know that our athletes will do us proud on and off the field. They know that the eyes of every Fijian will be on them in the exciting television coverage of the various events. It is also a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the Fijian spirit to the world - our skills, determination and sense of fair play. So the whole nation joins me in saying to the squad now assembling in Rio: Toso Fiji! Go for Gold!
In many ways, our Olympic campaign in 2016 reflects the progress we have made as a nation - more focussed, more united and with more opportunity for every Fijian than at any time in our history. We have achieved gold in terms of our economic performance, a record seven straight years of growth that is creating jobs and improving our living standards. We are empowering more of our people, whether it is through our free schooling, scholarships and tertiary loans or free medicine, pensions and a range of other leg-ups. And none of it has been at the expense of any one group. On the contrary, we are taking everyone on our journey forward, with a special emphasis on the most vulnerable - our women, children, the elderly and the disabled.
Our commitment to young people is especially strong. So I am very proud of the initiative we announced during the week to provide young i’Taukei landowners with a financial nest egg at the age of 18. This is going to come from the lease monies owed to them that we are investing on their behalf and that they can access when they reach voting age. The i’Taukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) is depositing $12.5 million in trust for 30,634 young landowners registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula. The amount currently held in trust differs for each young landowner and ranges up to $99,000. The interest earned over time will boost these savings. And when the beneficiaries turn 18, the Government will also provide them with proper advice to manage the funds most effectively.
My fellow Fijians, just imagine what the future holds for our people with a scheme like this. What this mean for i’Taukei landowners who are minors now and those who are still to come. Not only are they benefiting from our education revolution - the free schooling and opportunity to attend a technical college or university - we are giving them a lump sum at the age of 18 to do with what they choose. Keep saving, spend on improving their standard of living or start a business. The choice is theirs. They will be able to determine their own path in life.
This is the difference between my Government and previous governments. In the past, someone else decided how lease monies would be distributed. But we have empowered individual i’Taukei and given them options. Choices. Given them their fair share of the proceeds from the lease of their lands. My political opponents want that power to be taken away again. But I believe the vast majority of the i’Taukei want to be able to choose for themselves. And I am determined to give them that choice, going one step further now to protect the interests of i'Taukei children and ensure that they too obtain their fair share when they come of age. To provide them with a springboard into the future.
To every i’Taukei I say this: Don’t let my political opponents tell you that the i’Taukei are worse off under this Government. Because the truth is that our prospects have never been better. We have our ownership of the land guaranteed in our Constitution for all time. We have access to free schooling and higher education that previous generations could only dream about. We have a full range of government services – better access to health care, free medicine, water, electricity, roads and pensions. And our culture has never been stronger, as we see every time we perform the wonderful ceremonies that are at the centre of our national life and always will be. The i’Taukei are not only secure, they have more opportunity than at any other time in Fijian history. And now we are ensuring that our children and those still to be born benefit from our ownership of the land by having their share invested so they can use it when they become adults.
I was also inspired during the week by my face to face encounters with thousands of sugar cane farmers in our cane growing areas in Viti Levu and the North. They are some of the hardest working people in Fiji and are the power behind our second biggest export earner and the 200,000 Fijians who depend on the sugar cane industry for their livelihoods. While my political opponents do everything they can to talk the industry down and politicise it for their own purposes, I reached out to reassure our farmers that the Government has a solid plan to provide them with a sustainable future. This includes bringing together some of the best minds in the country to confront the industry's challenges. We have much to do but these meetings have transformed the mood in cane growing areas. There is a renewed sense of optimism about the future. And I want to warmly thank the farmers and their families for rejecting the negative messages they have been getting - which offer nothing in the way of long-term solutions - and embracing my message of hope. Because together, we will chart a way forward.
It is a wonderful time to be a Fijian – as our beloved nation puts the wasted years behind us and finally takes its rightful place in the world. Full of promise. Full of opportunities previous generations never had until my Government set us on a proper course. One nation. One people. There is still much to be done. But as the excitement builds and our athletes take the world spotlight in Rio, I urge every Fijian to fix their eyes firmly on the future. Because we are also going for gold as a nation. We are going for greatness.