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The Honourable Attorney-General and Minister for Communications;
Honourable Ministers;
The Solicitor-General and the Acting Permanent Secretary for Communications;
Board Members of Walesi;
The Director of Communications;

Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I’d like to begin by thanking all of those who joined us in Labasa for yesterday’s Constitution Day celebration in Subrail Park.

In Labasa, we had Fijians from across the North decked out in their best Fiji blue in a show of unity, a show of patriotism and a show of deep and abiding pride in our Constitution. We also had some very talented young students read out their winning essays where we heard some personal and moving accounts of how the rights enshrined in our Constitution have transformed the lives of our citizens for the better. And I’d like to congratulate our secondary school Essay Competition Winner, Ms. Priya Karan, and our other student essay competition finalists, Joselyn Mani and Milika Soso. And I can’t forget to congratulate Bethel Primary and the Immaculate Conception College for winning the Mufti Fiji Blue Competition.

All in all, yesterday was a day for the history books. For me personally, I thought it was our best Constitution Day yet; and, no, that’s not just something I say every year.

It only took one look at the sea of blue over Subrail Park to know we’re raising a proudly patriotic generation of Fijians, and our student essay finalists showed us we’re raising an extremely bright generation of young people as well. I know all of these young Fijians are capable of greatness, but only if we bestow upon them a Fiji that is worthy of their great talent and potential. Only, if we work to realise the great promise of our Constitution; that of a united Fiji, a strong Fiji and a prosperous Fiji for every Fijian family.

We brought our national celebrations to Labasa this year because I wanted you – our Fijian family in the North – to be part of this celebration, not only read about it in the next day’s papers. And we’ll be right back in the North next month to hold our Fiji Day celebrations in Labasa – with a full military parade and military tattoo – for the very same reason. It may have been lost on past leadership in this country that a national celebration means you have to actually bring the celebration to every corner of the nation, but we’re not making that same mistake. Because I know, as you know, that here in the North, you matter equally for our progress and development, you are all entitled to the same rights enshrined in our Constitution, and you are equally deserving of my Government’s total and unwavering commitment to your happiness and your success.

That is what we gather to celebrate today, another milestone moment in our commitment to the North, as we open the new Suva-Savusavu Submarine Cable Project.

What we actually have in front of us this morning is only one small part of this development, so make no mistake: this project is as grand, as important and as ground-breaking as any bridge, any stretch of roadway, or any jetty in the country – and it is certainly far more sophisticated.

This sort of development takes years of careful planning to deliver. It has taken long-term vision, bold initiative and takes considerable economic means to make a reality. Luckily, those are the hallmarks of my Government’s leadership, and that is how this 16-million-dollar investment has been made possible.

Some early cost estimates put this project at well over 20 million dollars – but we achieved serious cost savings by carefully evaluating similar projects and learning from past experiences. I’d like to particularly thank our partners in Samoa and the Samoa Submarine Cable Company who have worked with us on this project which will also carry enormous benefits for Samoa.

This cable project is a direct link to the Southern Cross Cable – a massive trans-pacific telecommunications network that has a landing point in Vatuwaqa on Viti Levu.

This landing station is the connection point for a massive underwater fibre optic cable that stretches from where we are standing right now, 270 kilometres across the sea to Viti Levu. There’s been nothing like this ever built in Fiji before, and this is only the latest in a string of landmark IT infrastructure projects we’ve delivered across the country.

Over the past ten years in Fiji, we’ve seen an explosion in our ICT sector thanks to our massive investment campaign to expand access to telecommunications. Today, 95 per cent of all Fijians now have access to cellular data. We’ve also deregulated the sector, and brought in competition that has driven down prices and improved the quality of services on offer by giving consumers more choice in the marketplace. Today, call charges, text and broadband rates are all the lowest they have ever been, at the highest speeds we’ve ever seen – and that is critical to the development of a more digital Fijian economy.

Our investment has given us the ability to make high-quality digital television – through the Walesi platform – available nationwide. It’s allowed us to roll-out free Wi-Fi hotspots on all FNU campuses and in public parks across the country. It’s allowed us to begin rolling out online government services through the digitalFiji initiative – and we have some more very exciting announcements in the pipeline for digitalFiji later this month.

Up until today, data has been transmitted from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu through microwave technology. Microwave technology works well over land, but is less efficient over large stretches of ocean. So while we’ve been able to provide data and online connection to Vanua Levu, it’s been at lower speeds and lower reliability; but all of that changes today.

This new cable project will increase connectivity speeds on Vanua Levu by fifty times, from two gigabits to 100 gigabits per second across the island. That is on par with anything you’ll find on Viti Levu and that will mean faster downloads, faster load times for web pages and higher-quality phone calls. And, now, we can efficiently use microwave technology to transmit those high speeds across your entire Division.

Better and more reliable data means a whole lot more than being able to check your social media. It means lower costs of doing business and more business opportunity in the IT sector on Vanua Levu, an industry that is a proven engine of economic growth and a creator of high-paying careers, especially for young people.

It means our schools will have the ability to engage in digital learning in an entirely new way, it will bring more students online to engage with their classmates and the rest of their nation and it will create a vital link of reliable communication for those students and teachers in the most remote parts of the North. In fact, we’re also planning to rollout a range of educational programming across the Walesi platform.

Better data also means a safer and more secure Fiji. Anyone who has ever managed a national disaster response can tell you: fast and reliable communication is absolutely critical. With this rock-solid submarine connection in place, our ability to maintain communications during serious national disasters has been taken to an entirely new level. It’s a far more resilient technology overall, and when cyclones do strike, this new cable will allow us to get messages to our people in need and assure them help is on the way, we can more quickly and accurately assess the damage, and we can more effectively manage critical supply chains for disaster relief.

These faster speeds will be steadily brought throughout Vanua Levu over the next two weeks, as major mobile carriers, like TFL, Vodafone, and Digicel, become linked into the new cable system.

In some places those faster speeds are already here. Just after this, I’ll be opening the new Walesi hot-spot in Savusavu that will be making these new high speeds available to every Fijian, free of charge, on public Wi-Fi. And anyone who wants to see what I’m talking about should join me at the Savusavu Foreshore to experience those new speeds for themselves.

This submarine cable not only brings remarkable new speeds and reliability today, it also gives us a foundation to make another major investment for your Division: a fibre optic cable stretching from this landing point all the way to Labasa. More than that, this cable project also has the ability to expand its capacity in the years and decades ahead to reach speeds of up to eight tera-bits per second – bringing speeds that rival that most sophisticated IT infrastructure anywhere on the planet. We’ve made sure that capacity can be realised, because we believe that is what will be necessary to support the incredible growth that will be coming to the North in the years to come. The North will need the same IT capacity that is currently powering the largest and most developed cities around the world today, because the North is where the businesses of tomorrow will be opening, here is where new investments will be made and new development will take hold. Here, in the North, is where so much of the next century of Fijian greatness will unfold.

There is no doubt it is an exciting time for all of you, and I’m not only talking about this weekend or the years ahead, because, really, it’s been an exciting decade of development for your entire Division. And I’ve been proud to watch that progress unfold. Because this latest project, works seamlessly together with all of the other unprecedented development that my Government has and is continuing to deliver for the Northern Division.

That includes every new road we’ve delivered across Vanua Levu, Taveuni and your outer islands. That includes every rural community that has been tapped and can access clean water or keep the lights on in their homes at night. That includes every bridge we’ve built, connecting Fijian families to each other, to businesses and to the rest of the world. And that especially includes all those young Fijians attending Northern schools without their families being burdened by school fees, and those so many youngsters who are going on to pursue their dreams of higher education, many of whom will be well equipped to welcome new growth in the IT industry.

Seeing that design fall into place does make me extremely proud, because it has been so many years in the making. But what makes me prouder than anything, is that here in the North you’ve welcomed that development, you’ve welcomed that prosperity and you’ve welcomed that new opportunity at the same unprecedented pace as the rest of the country. I’m proud that you’ve seen the same benefits of our nine straight years of economic growth, and I’m proud of the hard work that every Fijian in the North has given Fiji; the sacrifices you’ve made for your families and communities and the way we’ve cared and supported one another, as one people and as one, united nation.

Friends, I know many of you remember that under past governments, Fijians in the North could only watch as what little progress Fiji made was felt only by the elites in society, only by those in the major cities, and only those with the right background, the right family name and the right connections. That was the old way; the old way of thinking and the old way of governing.

But over the past ten years, we’ve done things differently. We’ve shown that with special effort and commitment, our progress can benefit all Fijians equally – and providing access to new technology is one the best ways to do that. New technology, and the new information it provides, can and must be the great equaliser in Fijian society, and my Government has already wielded this powerful tool to bridge historical gaps and divides in socioeconomic status and opportunity among our citizens. That is what this cable project is delivering; equal access to information, equal access to the benefits of a modern, digital economy, and an equal voice in our national conversation. As of today, every voice in the North can be heard louder and more clearly than ever before, here in Fiji, and around the world across a network of IT infrastructure that Fijians can count on – even in times of crisis.

I wish you all a safe and happy Constitution Day weekend.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications