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Media Center > Speeches > HON. PM BAINIMARAMA'S SPEECH AT THE OFFICIAL GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY OF THE TOBUNIQIO FOOTBRIDGE

HON. PM BAINIMARAMA'S SPEECH AT THE OFFICIAL GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY OF THE TOBUNIQIO FOOTBRIDGE

11/7/2018
Tiko saka na gone turaga na vunisalevu na Tui Vugalei,
Tiko saka na vanua,
Ra dabe saka tiko na turaga na iTalatala,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

I join you today after officially breaking ground on the Tobuniqio footbridge, a project that stands to uplift the quality of life for the many families that call your four surrounding villages home.

My fellow Fijians, today may just be one footbridge, but it’s much more than that to the hundreds of men, women, and children who will use it every day. It will be a way to tap into your own potential, giving you the ability to market your goods –– from the fruits and vegetables you produce to the beautiful handicrafts you’re known for –– to a much wider pool of customers. It will ease your route to the village plantation, school, health centre, social services, and other public amenities that lie across the river. Once completed, the new, 132,000-dollar concrete walkway, steps and culvert will serve as more than a crossing, it serves as evidence of my Government’s commitment to improving the lives of every Fijian in every community, no matter how remote they may be. By bettering your connection to the rest of the world, we are bettering the future of your families for years to come.

The new foot crossing at Tobuniqio Village will replace the current footbridge that has served your people for years –– one that, while functional, is far from ideal. A makeshift overpass constructed of logs and rope, the bridge can be difficult to navigate, and at times even dangerous, as the rushing river waters pass underfoot. This is particularly the case for some of our most vulnerable Fijians –– the young, the elderly, and those living with disabilities are, more than any among us, held back by the lack of a more modern and durable footbridge that is better suited to their use.

It’s a common theme we’ve seen far too often throughout our society; Fiji’s marginalised and vulnerable populations have historically been left out of the fold of development, left to fend for themselves and seeing their quality of life suffer as a result. But with my Government, those days are over.

It has been my mission to go above and beyond to help the elderly, our young people, and Fijians living with disabilities, empowering them the same access to vital Government services, to economic participation, and to living ordinary lives as everyone else. And by seeing development through this lens of equality –– one that is blind to province, ability or disability, gender, ethnicity, age, background or creed –– we have brought bridges, roads, water, electricity, telecommunications, high-quality education and healthcare to an unprecedented number of Fijians in every corner of our country.

In this year’s National Budget, we doubled down on that mission with new initiatives that further empower our vulnerable brothers and sisters. By offering the private sector tax benefits, we have incentivised businesses and building owners to install features like wheelchair ramps and widened doors on their properties. And, choosing to lead by example, we allocated half a million dollars to go towards retrofitting Fijian homes and community centres to accommodate Fijians living with disabilities and the elderly. Further still, just last month, we introduced a vastly-expanded free bus fare initiative, giving 40 dollars in free eTransport allowance at the beginning of every month to the more than 55,000 Fijians who are pensioners or living with a disability. Just like this footbridge, the benefits of our free bus fare scheme run far deeper than the surface; the connectivity to the rest of Fiji, to our neighbours and loved ones, to new markets and new opportunities, that it enables, can truly transform the lives of countless Fijians.

Ladies and gentlemen, this dedication to increasing connectivity has been a recurring theme of my Government’s work, and my dedication to investing in our country’s infrastructure network stands as one of my proudest accomplishments. It’s also one of the most visible signs of progress that we have; proof of the many benefits of the economic prosperity that all of Fiji has enjoyed over the course of the past few years alone. Just since 2014, over 600,000 metres of roads have been upgraded or newly-paved, with more than 363,000 metres of that total coming from our aggressive rural roads initiative. Over 1,800 streetlights have been put up, and we’ve constructed and upgraded jetties all across Fiji. And since 2013, we’ve overhauled 15 major bridges and constructed a dozen more. All said, my Government’s transportation network expansion has been a resounding success, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in such projects.

One impressive statistic: from 1990 to 2006 –– over the course of over a quarter of a century –– the total capital expenditure on infrastructure projects was 3.5 billion dollars. In comparison, from 2007 through to this financial year, we’ve invested over 7 billion dollars in these kinds of vital projects. It’s why our economy is booming, why our quality of life and connectivity is on the rise, and why international economists are praising the prudent and visionary fiscal management of my Government.

And we’re not just investing money, we’re doing it in a much more responsible and efficient way than those that came before us. Again, the numbers speak for themselves; we have been able to invest twice as much on infrastructure projects by borrowing the same amount of money. We are saving money on operational expenses while expanding the amount we put into physical construction, getting double the bang for our buck than the irresponsible spending of past governments.

Ladies and gentlemen, whether it’s with Tobuniqio Village or anywhere else in Fiji, one thing is clear when it comes to my Government: we’re just getting started. By staying on our path of prosperity and stability, the transformation that we have witnessed over the past few years is set not only to continue, but to broaden far beyond what any of us once thought would be possible for our proud Fiji. This may be just a footbridge, but it’s a sign of something much larger: Together, we are building a footbridge to a better Fijian future that will benefit our children, our grandchildren, and the many more generations to come.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

 
 
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