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The Hon Attorney-General and Minister for Economy;
The Hon Minister for Forests;
The Executive Chairman of the Fiji Pine Group of Companies;
Board Members;
Staff and Management of the Fiji Pine Group;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
It is great to be back among you all as we gather to celebrate another landmark year for Fiji Pine and look back – once again – on the wonderful success story this Industry has become in Fiji.

It seems that every year we have something new to celebrate at the Fiji Pine Group, another strong year of financial performance, another ambitious infrastructure expansion, and another record payment to our landowners.

But this year, my fellow Fijians, has been by far the most exciting and successful year in Fiji Pine’s history. And today, we are announcing an entirely unprecedented pay-out to our landowners, this time in the amount of $7 Million Dollars, quite a long way from that first 350,000-Dollar payment made back in 2013.

My fellow Fijians, today marks Fiji Pine’s biggest victory yet. And for our landowners, that victory is your victory more than anything, as you are walking away with a bonus payment that at one time in history would have seemed like a complete fantasy.

But it’s the real deal, I assure you. It is the real result of the seven-year turnaround of this Industry, and of the real leadership and vision my Government has brought to the Fiji Pine Group.

We all know the story of this Industry that led us to today. We all know how close this Industry came to insolvency, I remember back to 2011 when I met with many of you as this Industry faced catastrophe. I’m sure we all remember those years; returns were low, if there were any returns at all, confidence in this Industry was shot and, as a result, your leases weren’t being renewed. Back in those years, this Industry was stuck in a culture of indebtedness and corruption, leaving our landowners with next to nothing.
But even back then, my Government saw the great potential of this Industry. Even then, we saw that this Industry had all the makings of a winning team, it just needed the right leadership, direction, vision and the political will to make Fiji Pine work for you, our landowners, and work for all of Fiji.

These past seven years, as the Fijian economy has soared, so has this Industry. We’ve brought in the right people with the right skills to put this Industry on the path of prosperity, and with that team in place, we’ve been putting marks on the board year in and year out.

Of course, that effort is led by our Executive Chair, Faiz Khan, and the Board Members of the Fiji Pine Group. Thank you, as always, for what you’ve done for this Industry and for what you’ve done for the Fijian people and for your nation.

You’ve played by the same rules that I’ve set out for the running of my Government, you’ve practised transparency, accountability and sound financial management, and you’ve put the well-being of our landowners at the very centre of this organisation, bringing them the prosperity, reliability and stability they deserve. This goes to show you need to have the right people in the right jobs, this goes to show that a person’s religion, ethnicity, or which Province they come from does not matter. What matters is that they are the most qualified, and they do the best for the beneficiaries, which, in this instance, is all of you. Because you have the right persons leading Fiji Pine, you are getting this huge payout. And the country and our economy are also benefitting.

So, my fellow Fijians, we must continue to move away from the narrow-mindedness of the politicians who are now going around campaigning that we must go back to the old way of thinking and divide our people along ethnic, religious, and provincial lines, all to the detriment of you, your fellow Fijians and our country. This kind of thinking must never be brought back to any Government in Fiji.

Today, we are also announcing the complete repayment of Fiji Pine’s remaining loans to Westpac with a final lump sum payment of 4.4 Million Dollars. So as we celebrate this record lease bonus payment, we can also celebrate that the Fiji Pine Group is more or less debt free, another achievement that would have been very hard to believe only seven years ago.

Now, instead of being on the verge of collapse, instead of facing increasing interest rates and looking down the barrel of bankruptcy, you have banks coming to you, clamouring to be part of your journey forward. Ready to support your growth and lending money at record low interest rates. That is what you call confidence, Ladies and Gentlemen. That is what you call belief in this group, your management, and this Industry.

You’ve undertaken a programme of 67 Million Dollars in capital expenditure, building and upgrading mills, plants and other facilities, bringing state of the art tools to bear for Fijian pine development and readying this Industry to remain competitive in an evolving global marketplace. And because of that visionary agenda, combined with your steadfast commitment to replanting and sustainability, we can all rest assured that this Industry will continue to serve and benefit our people for generations to come.

I’m also very pleased to know that nearly all the Fiji Pine leases have been renewed. Bringing more revenue, and putting more money into the pockets of landowners.

It’s common sense to work with Fiji Pine and see these big benefits. Because we’ve shown what sound and consistent financial management can create. We’ve shown what strong and the right leadership can create. And we’ve proven wrong every lie and every falsehood peddled by my opponents about this Industry.

We all know what lies I’m talking about. My opponents have been in your communities before, making doomsday predictions about where this Industry was headed, saying you would not see the benefits of your resources, and even saying your land would be taken if your leases weren’t renewed.

Well, today we can add another 7 Million reasons why they were dead wrong. More than that, not one inch of iTaukei land has been lost under my Government, not from any of our landowners here, not anywhere in Fiji. That is because we have a Constitution that enshrines the ownership and protection of iTaukei land for all time.

After seven years of hearing these lies, my fellow Fijians, we can all say clearly; enough is enough. Because those in the Opposition weren’t only wrong, worse than that, they actually tried to stop our people from seeing the great benefits of sharing in this Industry’s tremendous success. It was irresponsible, it was unacceptable and it was unworthy of anyone claiming they have the best interests of our people at heart.

I’ll tell you why my opponents are so committed to lying in order to stop you from doing well. They can’t stand that we are able to make this massive payment, because these were payments they could never afford to give you themselves. Because this celebration and your success -- it’s their worst nightmare. It shows them that we are better off without their lies, their fear-mongering and their attempts to trap Fiji in the past. A past where -- at one time -- they may have been relevant.

My fellow Fijians,
It was a lack of proper management, a lack of vision, a lack of commitment to transparency, to the removal of systemic corruption, and a lack of will that put this Industry in dire straits prior to my Government’s intervention. It was the damage done by past leadership in this country that my Government has had to mop up, not only in our Pine Industry, but in many other areas of our national life and development as well.

That’s why I was shocked to hear that a past Prime Minister of Fiji was reckless enough to talk about taking Fiji back in time to the 1990s, taking us back under an old and weak Constitution, taking us back to some of the darkest years in our history, and undoing all the progress we’ve made, not only for this Industry, but for all of Fiji.

He wants to return Fiji to the years where, during his term as Prime Minister, Fiji suffered from widespread corruption. During his term as Prime Minister, we lost the National Bank of Fiji, the only national bank of our country, the debts of which we are still paying off today, creating inter-generational debt. Under his leadership, where rural people did the work, while only those who were wealthy and those with privilege saw the benefits.

The years where the weak 1990 and 1997 Constitutions allowed iTaukei land to be taken and sold off permanently, rather than be protected for all time, as is the case under our Constitution today. The years where we were a deeply divided people, fighting over scraps, rather than working together to build our economy, making the whole pot bigger, putting more food on the table for more families. These are the real issues, they are the real things we need to take care of for every Fijian.

We certainly can’t afford to take this Industry back in time. Back to the verge of bankruptcy, with no vision, no payments and no security for our landowners. Ask yourselves, were you better off back then when this Industry was in the gutter? Were your families better off? And were your children better off when they did not have free education? Were your children better off when they could not attend University?

These are the questions that need to be on our minds, especially in the year ahead, as we enter into another election. Because it isn’t the 1990s anymore, it’s 2018. This Industry is better than ever, and we are only looking forward and we cannot accept anything less.

Like we saw in the last elections, my opponents will come with their same lies, their same predictions and their same attempts to scare our people. Don’t let them. Don’t let them take our nation backwards in time. Don’t let them pit Fijian against Fijian, and un-do everything we’ve achieved, as one nation and one people, united in our pursuit of a new and better Fiji.

It is progress, Ladies and Gentlemen, real progress, that speaks far louder than any politician could hope. This record bonus payment is a clear sign of progress as any, and I know it’s going to make a big difference in your lives and the lives of your loved ones.
And under this type of responsible and accountable leadership, and under my Government, progress will continue to be made year, after year, after year.

May God Bless our people and our Pine Industry. And may God Bless our beloved Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications