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The Hon. Minister for Defence and National Security,
The Commissioner of Police,
Senior Officers,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I was privileged to officiate at the medal parade at the Nasese Police Barracks this morning where we recognised the hard work and achievement of some extremely accomplished officers. I’m very glad to be here this afternoon to officiate at the opening of this impressive new police station; a 2.1-million-dollar investment from my Government to strengthen the presence of law enforcement in the Nasinu and Valelevu areas.

Among all the ways a nation can assess its progress, I believe the most important measure of all is whether or not society is becoming safer for its citizens. Public safety is the most essential pillar of any nation’s development and the most sacred duty of any government to uphold.

All nations must reckon with the basic question: Is our country becoming a safer place to call home? All national leaders must consider: Are we giving our people the security they need to freely go about their lives? And all officers of the law must ask themselves: Are we fulfilling our mandate to protect our citizens – all of our citizens – from any and all threats they may face?

For you – the officers of the Valelevu Police Station – that is a question you must always keep top-of-mind, as you will be tasked with the protection of over 130,000 of your fellow Fijians from the Laqere Bridge up to Delainakobalevu.

That is a critically important responsibility at a critically important time. Because while crime nationally is decreasing, crimes in Nasinu and Valelevu are on the rise. Of all the crime cases reported in the country last year, 15 per cent occurred in these areas, with total crimes up 12 per cent in Nasinu and five per cent in Valelevu – the most common of which are burglaries, robberies and assault.

Now, I know that crime statistics are complex. Throughout Fiji’s history, we’ve seen vast networks of criminal activity that operated under the radar, and that – for years – were completely left out from crime reporting. I know that an increase in reported crimes can often mean that citizens are reporting issues more frequently to authorities because they are more confident that justice will be rightfully served. But let’s not lean on those excuses. Because when I speak with ordinary people in Nasinu and Valelevu they tell me they are feeling more at-risk in their own communities. That’s more than a statistic, it is a clear reality; a reality that requires a serious commitment to address.

No Fijian should live with the terror of thinking their own home may be invaded and burgled. No Fijian should be forced to quicken their pace while walking our streets because they fear they may be assaulted. No Fijian child should be left vulnerable and exposed to those who wish to harm them. And no Fijian woman’s safety and security should be jeopardised by the threat of sexual violence.

As officers of the law, you are the shield that guards our people from those grave dangers to their safety and security. You can’t fulfill that duty while sitting behind a desk or behind the wheel of a lorry. You need to be in the communities you are tasked to protect. You need to know those communities. You need to understand how communities operate at the grassroots level. You need to be seen walking the streets, not speeding down them in your cars. You need to be a face that people recognise and a presence they know they can count on.

As Prime Minister, my office deals with complaints across all of Government, including complaints against police officers. The vast majority I’ve read cite poor attitude from officers. That is not a hallmark of a professional and effective police service.

In the immediate aftermath of a crime, victims are often left in a state of fearful anxiety. Their peace of mind has been shaken, if not shattered completely. They may have been robbed, they may have been attacked, they may even have been raped. In that vulnerable state, they deserve to know that the officers who serve them are going to listen to them, take them seriously and assure them of their safety. They deserve a helping hand, not a cold shoulder. They deserve your patience and they deserve your sincere attention. They deserve to know that the 175 officers of the new Valelevu Police Station will make every effort they can to secure justice on their behalf.

As officers of the law, you must serve all people equally, regardless of their background, ethnicity, religion, gender or social status, physical or mental condition – whether they are wealthy or poor.

But the complaints that hit my desk aren’t all about attitude. Some are much more serious, citing corruption among officers and other violations of our laws. So, let me be clear with all of you today, the badges you wear as police are not decorations nor are they a free pass to operate beyond the scope of the law. As police officers, you are entrusted not only to enforce our laws, but to abide by them. We won’t tolerate selective justice from our officers. We won’t tolerate favours for friends. We won’t tolerate violence from officers against anyone, nor any other abuses of authority. If you break your social contract, if you use the power bestowed upon you for evil, you will be caught, punished and prosecuted. If you see that behaviour carried out by a fellow officer, or even a superior, it is your duty to report that crime. If you choose to turn a blind eye, make no mistake, you are just as guilty of the wrongdoing.

But while these transgressions are a serious concern, they do not define this force. My Government recognises the great work many officers carry out every day. We are committed to supporting that work in every way possible. That is why we are investing so heavily in equipping our police officers with the right tools, providing them with the right training, and housing their operations within highly functional facilities; facilities such as this new station. That is why we’re pursuing the establishment of a Regional Police Academy, working alongside INTERPOL, the FBI, Australian Federal Police and New Zealand Police, to bring regional and international expertise to policing institutions throughout the Pacific.

That is why, in our national budget, we allocated nearly 200 million dollars to the Fiji Police Force, which includes a major increase in salaries for high-performing officers and new funding for the upgrading and construction of new police stations. Not only in major population centres like Nasinu, but for community posts and rural stations as well, expanding the reach of the Force to areas that -- historically – have had to wait hours, or even days, for police assistance.

We’re building a new Fiji Police Force on the back of unprecedented investment in our officers and we’re setting new expectations for the level of service delivered to the public. This new station is only the latest development in support of that vision. But that vision will only become a reality through the discipline and commitment displayed by our officers.

We ask that you deliver the security your nation deserves with pride, professionalism and patriotism.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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