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Honourable Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
The Chairperson, Board of Commissioners and CEO of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission;
Members of the Fijian Business Industry;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka, and a very good evening to you all.

We are gathered here this evening to celebrate the launch of the Fijian Competition & Consumer Commission’s new strategic plan. Tonight marks a significant milestone–– not just for the organisation, its Board, management, and staff, but for the progress of the Fijian economy, and by extension, the whole of Fiji.

FCCC’s 5-Year Plan isn’t just new, it is the first such plan to be launched in the history of the organisation. That history––spanning more than 40 years–– has seen the Commission evolve from the Prices & Incomes Board to its current state today.

This strategic plan comes shortly after the FCCC adopted a new name–– an extra “C” was added to the former Fiji Consumer Commission’s title just last year. While it may make it more of a mouthful to pronounce, the additional “C” is one that is vitally important for small economies and price-takers like Fiji, as it stands for competition.

Ladies and gentlemen, in any economy, a competitive environment is needed for growth and development. When different producers or vendors are forced to compete, it creates a better outcome for everyone–– higher quality goods, increased efficiencies, a wider selection to choose from, and lower prices. But effective and fair competition is not automatic.

My Government has worked to put into place robust competition laws and policies, and we actively partner with strong institutions like the FCCC to ensure that these rules are enforced. And it’s not just about the new “C”, either; along with regulating competition, the Commission also safeguards consumers’ interests against unfair business practices. Through this collaboration between Government and the FCCC, we are improving Fiji’s productivity, promoting innovation, and ensuring fair prices.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Commission has been tasked with a renewed focus on ensuring that as our economy continues to grow, markets are competitive, forward-thinking regulations are justified and consumers’ interests are protected. They work with key agencies such as Fiji Revenue and Customs Services, the Reserve Bank of Fiji, and the Financial Intelligence Unit to carry out their duties, ensuring that every Fijian benefits from a healthy and well-regulated market.

And I am pleased to see that they are taking this task to heart. As the FCCC has actively enforced legislation and instituted fines for those businesses who break the rules, we have witnessed a very positive response; more businesses are becoming compliant, resulting in a fairer market for Fiji. The trailblazing work undertaken by the Commission, paired with the pro-growth agenda of my Government, can serve as a successful model for other small island and developing nations to follow. In fact, in the past few months, four other Pacific Island countries have sent delegations to Fiji to examine how our Commission operates and replicate its success.

And my Government’s commitment to not only maintaining, but to growing, the enforcement capabilities of the Commission is clear. From 2010 to 2017, the resources that have been allocated by Government to the FCCC has grown from 600,000 dollars to 3.3 million dollars–– a 400 per cent increase.

We are working alongside the Commission to create a level playing field for businesses to compete fairly. This is particularly important to Fiji’s small businesses, which rely on these kinds of protections to allow them to succeed. And my Government has helped more of these micro and small enterprises to take root through our Micro Small Business Development Grants, and now, our Young Entrepreneurship Scheme.
The public response to these grant initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive. As your Prime Minister, it gives me great pride to see Fijians from all stretches of life come up with new and innovative ideas for businesses. Where these ideas, passion, and drive exist within Fijians, it is the privilege of Government to foster their development. Because these businesses are not just helping the individual people who start them, or even the other workers who they may grow to employ. These businesses are helping to build the new Fijian economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, through my Government’s sound economic policy, and through the provision of various Government incentives to the private sector, Fiji has witnessed increased competition across different industries, including in our retail food stores and supermarkets. I am pleased to see that some supermarkets have responded to this, and they are now working with the Commission to rework their business models to focus on lowering food prices for ordinary Fijians.

And thanks to our 2017 - 2018 National Budget, my Government granted additional legislative powers and resources to the Commission to be used for special investigations. And this increased oversight and additional funding has already proven to be well-spent, as the FCCC has penalised several monopolistic importers and wholesalers who were gouging prices at the expense of Fijian consumers.

Ladies and gentlemen, as many items that were controlled by monopolies in the past are now being cracked down on, these set powerful examples that are already working to deter others from unethical behaviour. From food to pharmaceuticals to hardware to baby products and more, we are seeing these laws drastically bring down prices for the benefit of Fijians everywhere. And all of this increased protection isn’t coming at the cost of business growth; just last year, Fiji experienced a 7.2 per cent growth in retail sales.

Ladies and gentlemen, despite this economic progress and the work of the Commission, you’ll hear the political opposition try to score points by attaching themselves to issues like the price of gas or butter. The reality is, as an small developing economy, a price “taker” that relies on imports, we are more susceptible to the swings of supply and demand on a global stage.

These things can be explained in fairly simple terms. This has been a particularly cold winter in Europe, increasing the global demand for gas. And butter prices around the world are increasing, as consumption around the world is booming due to changing views about its health benefits. But the opposition doesn’t account for any of these global factors that affect prices; they seem to operate under the viewpoint that Fiji is a land with millions of head of dairy cattle, and endless fields of fossil fuels. They either don’t understand how an economy works, or worse, they are intentionally misleading the Fijian public.

Ladies and gentlemen, these outside forces that the opposition chooses to ignore underscores the importance of organisations like the FCCC. We need to ensure that Fiji is as protected as possible from swings in global prices. Because while many of the factors that contribute to the price of imported goods are beyond our control here in Fiji, other factors are. And unfortunately, we have some unethical businesses who, if left unchecked, would take advantage of these swings and make their effect much more dramatic. Because of this, the FCCC actively prevents additional price gouging by enforcing price caps, resulting in fair prices for ordinary Fijians.

While the Commission is hugely important for its role in protecting Fijian pockets from unfair and unethical business practices, at the end of the day, none of that would matter if those pockets were empty to begin with. And I am proud to say that, thanks to the economic stewardship, tax reforms, and the consumer-focussed policies put into place by my Government, those pockets are fuller than at any point in Fijian history.
Ladies and gentlemen, Fijians today are living in an era of unprecedented economic growth. We have accomplished eight straight years of growth, and we are on track to extend that streak to nine¬––this has never happened in Fiji’s post-independence history. Our national GDP per person is at the highest level ever, and has nearly doubled from 2006 to today. Our unemployment rate is at a 20 year low. Our foreign reserves are at an all-time high. These record figures aren’t just numbers on paper, either; it is undeniable, it is everywhere. We can literally see and feel the progress all around us today. Our economy is more diverse, it is stronger, and it is fairer than it has ever been. And, my fellow Fijians, we are not stopping here.

Last year in Bonn, Fiji launched our 5- and 20-Year National Development Plans, or NDPs, which provide a glimpse into how my Government plans to continue this growth, “Transforming Fiji” into an even more progressive, vibrant, and inclusive society. Similarly, we see the FCCC launching their look into the future, and their vision for continued growth, with this new 5-year strategic plan tonight.

This strategic plan fully embraces my Government’s vision for sustainable growth, and it actively works to make life easier and more affordable for ordinary Fijians. The plan has four main strategic goals that it sets out to accomplish over the next five years: ensuring competitive markets; promoting safe goods and services and a well-informed public; regulating in areas when necessary; and establishing itself as a premiere competition agency for the region. I am confident that through the Commission’s hard work and dedication, these goals will be realised.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate the Commission’s Board, management, and staff for their commitment, not only to forming this plan and crafting this enhanced identity, but to protecting ordinary Fijians. Your behind-the-scenes work is making a better and stronger Fijian economy that benefits us all.

I now have great pleasure in launching the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Five Year Strategic Plan, and with it, their new brand and office.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications