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Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

It is a true privilege to be here this afternoon as you, the Yavusa Nasuva, take ownership over four parcels of land, part of the Tuvumaca Estate.

Friends, we cannot change the past. When it comes to the history of this land, the story begins long before any of us were ever born. But, thankfully, it is a story with a happy ending –– an ending we can proudly celebrate today.

Sadly, the time of European settlement and the colonial government in Fiji were afflicted by a number of bad land deals, where landowning units were taken advantage of and manipulated. We had large tracts of iTaukei land in Fiji sold off or exchanged for amounts far below their true value. This was a tactic used by European settlers and colonial powers all over the world during this time, and Fiji was not spared.

There were a lot of reasons as to why iTaukei land was sold off at such dramatically undervalued rates. In some cases, the true worth of prime real estate, such as arable farmland, was unknown to Fijian communities. Companies and individuals from Western powers saw an opportunity to exploit our people, and they took it. But we also must bear in mind that these land sales occurred under an older system. A system where the voices of the many were outweighed by the voices of a few. A system where certain chiefs made every big decision, including giving away iTaukei land, without any consent from those who would be most affected. As we’ve seen those decisions could hold consequences for generations.

Consider your own situation, had this land not been bought back, the young people of Yavusa Nasuva would have never known this land as their own. All because of decisions made by a select few before any of them were ever born. That is a tragic reality to contemplate.

Thank God, that is not the reality of today, as we handover the original titles of the lease for these 623 hectares of arable land. These parcels have been bought back by your community at a cost price with no interest charged. It’s an investment you’ve made to buy back the land your ancestors once called their home, and I applaud you for making your payments well in advance of the contracted timeline. It shows just how committed you were to marking this great achievement, and how very important this milestone is for your community.

It is a good thing that we’re righting the historic wrongs of the past with this handover. But, I know we all agree, that this celebration would be hollow if any landowner in Fiji still remained vulnerable to exploitation and land loss. But we can all rest easy knowing that is not the case, because –– at long last –– we have a government that is supportive of all efforts to protect iTaukei land and empower iTaukei people. At long last, we have our Fijian Constitution, which protects iTaukei land in Fiji for all time. No exceptions. No excuses. No loopholes to be exploited.

No other Government has been able to make that guarantee. Because, today, our Constitution establishes, for the first time ever, permanent and unwavering protections of iTaukei land ownership. Now that we finally have those protections in place, no longer will we hear stories like that of the Yavusa Nasuva. No longer is iTaukei land under threat. And, importantly, no longer is the fate of entire communities dictated by the whims of a privileged few.

Today in Fiji, community members are responsible for the decisions that impact the community at large. Today, no one can tell a landowning community, “we’re taking your land away, no matter what you have to say”. Today, no member of an elite class can use legal loop holes to alienate or take away any of your land from you. Today, we have the equal distribution of lease monies in our communities. No one can tell a landowner, “We know better than you how you can spend your money. So give it to us, we will take what we want, and decide how much you get”. Today, your land and your lease monies rightfully belong to you and only you –– the people. Your entitlement. Your inheritance. Your birthright. Money and assets that you can and should be allowed to keep and decide how to use yourselves.

It took our nation a very long time to take such basic steps to empower ordinary people. It is shocking that we did not have the constitutional protections we enjoy today until the Fijian Constitution was established in 2013; 140 years from when this land was lost to your community in 1870. But what is more shocking, and most disgraceful, is that past, post-independent governments had every opportunity to put those protections in place, and they failed to do it. Instead, they sat on their hands. And now, we have many of those same politicians jumping up and down about supposed threats to iTaukei land; after sleeping at the wheel during their time in Government. Remember, when they were in power, iTaukei land in Momi and Denarau was lost forever. Communities had their ancestral homeland sold-off, with no hope of seeing it again.

Let me tell you, if those politicians in the Opposition were ever to run Fiji again, iTaukei land would be under serious threat. That’s what the Opposition’s record tells us. But still, they show up in your communities selling lies about threats to your land, even distributing DVDs that give you false information and fake news. Don’t buy those lies. Instead, use your own eyes: See the sweeping protections we’ve put in place to level the playing field in iTaukei society. See my government’s record, where not one millimetre of iTaukei land has been permanently lost. See the assistance we’re giving to empower iTaukei people by helping them develop their land and gain financial success. In fact, I’d like to speak more on that assistance this afternoon. Because you could not be reclaiming this land at a better time in our history.

Our economy is on a historic streak of unbroken growth. Fiji is ripe for development and investment. Demand for Fijian products and produce is high and growing. And the demand for land is even higher.

That is why my Government is empowering the iTaukei people to ride the wave of our economic success by assisting with the development of iTaukei land. Your land is a tremendous asset, and we want you to realise that potential benefit. We want you to become more economically and financially powerful. We want you to lease your lands for long term leases and get the right rental paid for it. We don’t want you to wait for someone with deeper pockets to do it for you. You can apply to receive assistance from my Government to subdivide the land and sell the leases under our iTaukei Land Development initiative.

Think seriously about that opportunity. By developing your land, you turn an asset into money; money that can be used to support your children’s future, build better homes, start a business or be invested in other businesses to see positive returns. We want that for you, because your victories are Fiji’s victories. The development you create can lead to the productions of crops that feed Fijian families, give access to secure titles which will allow encourage and give confidence to investors, and expand our tourism industry. Whatever the intended purpose, your development helps keep our economy growing. It makes you, your children, your family and Fiji more prosperous.

Friends, I know I started off by saying that we’re celebrating a happy end to the story of this land. But really, this isn’t an ending. It’s a new beginning to a new story. Your story. You are the authors of your own destiny. Your future is up to each of you. And from how hard you’ve worked to get here today, I am confident that you won’t take this opportunity for granted.

I wish you every success, and assure you that my Government will be there to support you through this new chapter for your community.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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