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Attorney-General and Minister for Civil Service
Chair of the Public Service Commission and other Commissioners
Ladies and Gentlemen

Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I was very keen to be the one to welcome you all to this year’s retreat because I wanted a chance to speak directly with the women and men who form the tip of the administrative spear in implementing my Government’s policies.

As leaders in your ministries, you know that smart organisations cannot function in silos. Good governance is a team sport. It isn’t golf or singles tennis, it’s rugby. And you don’t win the Hamilton Sevens by competing as an individual, even if you’ve got the legs of Alasio Naduva. You do it by working together and winning together, as a team.

You and I are all members of the same team; Team Fiji. The team tasked with taking our country forward. When we put scores on the board, we directly improve the lives of our people; transforming the services they rely on for the better, granting them greater access to opportunity and supporting their dreams and aspirations for the future.

So, don’t think of my remarks tonight as a lecture. This is a team huddle. A chance for us to assess where we are and plan for what’s ahead. A chance to point out weaknesses where we see them, and to hold each other accountable; that is what good teammates do.

Now, I’ve been leading Team Fiji for over a decade. Through my time as Prime Minister, and during my service in the Navy beforehand, I’ve learned that progress only starts one way: with a solid plan of action. Not lofty rhetoric, but a strategic vision, with specific benchmarks and a blueprint for implementation. And my Government’s national game plan – now twice endorsed by our people – has been clear from day one:

- We are establishing Fiji as the preeminent Pacific island country, the hub of development, trade, innovation and technology. A global leader on the issues that matter most to the secure future of our region and our people;

- We are establishing ourselves as a shining example of modern nationhood. A democracy built on a foundation of rock-solid, independent institutions. A free society, rid of discrimination, where our citizens’ constitutional rights are protected on an equal basis, and the playing field is level for all Fijians. A knowledge-based society, rooted in meritocracy, where every Fijian knows they are valued and that they belong; and

- We are charting a path of strong and resilient economic growth. We’re on the cusp of our tenth straight year of growing our economy, and we’re now entering the second phase of our economic evolution. Our economic pedigree must be matched with a culture that fully embraces transparency, honesty and accountability. Only then will we build a society that is worthy of the ambition, ingenuity and ability of the next generation of Fijians.

Bringing all of that vision to pass and making it a lasting reality for our country; that is what we strive for – that is our gold medal victory.

We’ve already made historic progress, but our work is far from over. Yes, our economy is doing well. But legacies are measured by more than monetary success. Yes, our infrastructure is rapidly improving, both in quality and accessibility. But legacies are built by more than brick and mortar. An enduring legacy is defined by how we – as a nation and as a society – have grown better, more mature and more invested in our moral character. It boils down to some basic questions: Do we treat each other with dignity and respect? Are we making our society fairer? And, is success given by one’s circumstances of birth, or is it earned by the work we put in and the choices that we make?

Our success in those regards is what will truly echo in the annals of our history. As the PS for your respective Ministers, you are tasked with maximising your ministry’s contribution to that team effort. Whether you’re managing our economy, improving our health services or protecting our environment, you are endowed with tremendous responsibility, and the quality of your leadership, day to day, is a huge difference-maker for our team’s success.

Being an effective leader starts with taking ownership. I’ve been in Government long enough to know that nothing magically happens because you will it so. If you want something done well, as a PS, you need to see it done yourself. If you spend your days delegating, you won’t get anywhere. Particularly when it comes to our programme of civil service reform, it is each of you who need to carry our objectives over the finish line.

In case you haven’t figured it out for yourselves, our civil service is far from perfect. We have huge gaps in capacity, and we’re still living with a damaging legacy of privilege, nepotism and outright corruption that once plagued the governance of our country. We still have civil servants who aren’t team players –– who are more concerned with their individual position, those they are connected with, or the prestige of their ministry in relation to the rest of government. That is why our reforms to engrain merit-based practices and uproot discrimination are so necessary and important. And you all need to work with our Civil Service Reform Management Unit and utilise the resources we’ve made available. This year’s retreat carries the theme “upping the ante – to be the very best”. Let me tell you, the only way that happens is by seeing our civil service reforms through to completion.

We won’t take our foot off the pedal until we reach the high international standards we’ve set for ourselves in our civil service. But I need to be clear here: My Government, through these reforms, is uprooting privilege in all forms, full stop; not entrenching it in some new form. So, when you operate within the reformed framework of our civil service, you do not have free license to reward your friends and close confidantes in your ministry. Don’t forget, their salaries are all paid by the Fijian taxpayer, as are yours and as is mine. Friendships are fine around the grog bowl, but when you get to work, you are an objective professional. You treat everyone alike. You discipline everyone to the same standard. Because taxpayer dollars are not intended to sustain anyone’s clique, and just because someone is a civil servant, doesn’t mean they are entitled to taxpayer paid salaries for life. Taxpayer funds are meant to be used responsibly, and they must be spent rewarding merit and performance.

It is only through our commitment to merit- and performance-based practices that we raise the overall professionalism of our civil service and improve the services we offer the public. That is the only way we become competitive to the standard found in the private sector. That achievement will benefit the Fijian people, and the civil service as well, because our reforms have actually created a record number of new and rewarding career paths for our existing and potential civil servants. All of this is making us an employer of choice for hard-working and career driven Fijians.

But we’re not there yet. The decades of neglect suffered across human resourcing in our civil service remain a ball and chain around our ankles, hampering our progress forward. That is why we’re dramatically re-thinking the way we manage human resourcing within Government. Because we cannot serve the interests of the public if we cannot even serve the interests of our own staff. Whether we’re talking about our nurses, frontline customer service staff, doctors or our teachers, they should all have the confidence that your ministries are equipped to respond to their concerns so they can focus on delivering critical services to our people. That too will require your personal effort and attention. You need to put in the time to build up the capacity of your HR departments. For example, there is no reason why civil servants should not know six-months beforehand whether their contracts will be renewed or not.

Every Ministry needs to develop the capacity to grant that assurance. You are the first batch of Permanent Secretaries to ever shed the yoke of bureaucratic administrative and financial restrictions to hand-pick the best staff available and modernise your ministries. Don’t let that historic chance go to waste.

This all goes to show; our reforms aren’t only about salaries and performance metrics. They are about re-thinking the entire way we go about the business of government. It’s about restructuring ourselves to become more competitive. Some ministries haven’t changed their basic structure since colonial times. Seriously. Never mind that we now have computers, or that the population has vastly expanded, or that our economy has become tremendously more complex. These things need to change. We need to change. We need to evolve to remain a relevant and beneficial force in the lives of our people. You need to work with the CSRMU and with the World Bank assessments to make that happen. Some functions of government may be scaled back and others may increase.

As you should know, we are also currently engaged in a game-changing partnership, Digital Fiji, with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise to bring our government services fully into the 21st century. It’s going to put power directly in the hands of our people to access the services and opportunities that can transform their well-being. It will make our services more efficient, with some becoming available at the tap of a button. It will make our progress more transparent, with publicly available metrics that show our success in action. It is a foundational step towards modernising our economy to welcome more foreign investment. And it will forge new linkages between our ministries, fostering collaboration and communication; two ingredients which are key for any team’s success.

The Digital Fiji partnership is a new frontier, one that will bring some unfamiliar challenges. That is why your leadership in seeing it implemented is vital, and I expect each of you to personally attend meetings for all Digital Fiji projects.

Much of our work today will pay out its dividends over quite a significant period of time. In the short-term, you can expect some feathers will be ruffled. At times, it will get political. You may be unfairly attacked or unjustly portrayed, especially on Facebook. You may have staff in your ministries leak information to the media and to politicians. You may have your statements taken totally out of context for the sake of an attention-grabbing headline. To that, I say welcome to the club. But the clear difference is that you aren’t politicians. You must remain above the political fray, as impartial servants of the public.

But if anyone makes an unfair statement about how our civil service functions, or if they tell an outright lie about the state of affairs, it is your duty to correct the record. Not in the interest of any one political party, but in the interest of the truth. To cut through the fog of falsehood, I encourage you to explore new and innovative ways to communicate directly with your ministries’ respective stakeholders. The Ministry of Education, for example, started blast emailing its teachers directly last year when blatant lies were being spread by unions during the election season, and has assigned Govnet email addresses to those teachers who didn’t already have one. I myself just launched a Facebook page where I will be speaking directly to the Fijian people on a much more regular basis. By cutting out the middlemen and communicating more directly with those we are sworn to serve, we take control of our own message, and don’t allow for the type of distortion we see all too often by certain news outlets or on social media.

Ladies and gentlemen, over the long-term, as our reforms take full effect, as our services enter the digital age, and our internal capacity strengthens, it is ordinary Fijians who will reap the full benefits of what we’ve sown. More importantly, it is our young people who will grow accustomed to a new standard of excellence from a world-class civil service. In the meantime, all of you need to keep your nose to the grindstone. Play by the rules, understand the laws and regulations that govern you, including the General Orders.

But even after we accomplish all we have set out before us, it will all be for naught if the next generation of Fijians is not equipped to build on our progress. Half of our population is under the age of 27 and a half. That puts us in an enviable position among the nations of the world, but only if we capitalise on that opportunity.

Readying our nation, our economy and our civil service for the handover to the next generation must start now. We need more young people in the ranks of government. We need talented young Fijians to be motivated to pursue careers in public life. When they look to all of you, they must find that inspiration.

We can’t inspire a generation sitting behind a desk or driving around in a government car. We need to be where our young people are; in our schools and universities, encouraging them to pursue areas of study that will drive our future economy and help us capitalise on future opportunities. If your ministry is suffering from a gaping hole in a specialised capacity, you need to get out there and encourage young Fijians to develop the skills to fill those gaps. Assure them of the opportunity that awaits them at the end of their education. And, above all, we need to actually hire them, get them in our ministries, and take their ideas seriously.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to spend time in the field with Fijians from all across the country, from our cities, our towns and in the most remote rural and maritime communities. I’ve opened new taps, new roads, new schools, and expanded new services, and I’ve witnessed countless tears of joy shed by our people as they have welcomed those developments. You won’t ever find a better reward than that.

That work begins in our ministries, and it begins with each of you.

I wish to thank Mr Vishnu Moran, the Chair of the Public Service Commission in particular for his commitment and dedication in ensuring that the PSC fulfils its Constitutional function and for bringing professionalism to our civil service through the implementation of the civil service reforms. I also wish to thank the other Commissioners which have supported the Chairman.

I now have great pleasure to declare your 2019 Retreat open. I wish you all the best of luck in your discussions.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications