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Na Vanua o Vitogo;
The Board, Management and Staff of the Fiji Roads Authority;
Distinguished Guests;
My Fellow Fijians.

Cola vina and a very good afternoon to you all.

I am delighted to be with you this afternoon to open the Vakabuli Paipai Crossing –– a development that will vastly improve the quality of life for the 150 households that will use it day in and day out.

As a flood-prone area, Fijians living in Vakabuli have long lived in fear every time storm clouds would gather; for you, heavy rain too often meant more than just flooding, it meant that you would be cut off from the rest of Fiji until the waters subsided. In just the past year, the crossing washed away multiple times, bringing an unacceptable level of inconvenience for the people of this community. But now, your new crossing is more resilient to the serious effects of severe weather, including heavy rains. It stands over 1.5 metres higher than the previous structure, and is fortified by concrete and designed to withstand the elements, this is an infrastructural achievement that will continue to benefit your community for many years to come. A full 32-metres in length, this crossing took eight months of hard work, and a government investment of 1.6 million dollars, to complete. And I’d like to thank the hardworking women and men of the FRA for delivering for Fiji with this project.

This pre-cast culvert crossing is built to such a high standard that it will be the same design that is now replicated all throughout Fiji for future crossings. And we aren’t stopping in Vakabuli –– FRA is fully committed to replacing each and every one of our nation’s vulnerable crossings and bridges. In fact, I’m told that big news is on the horizon; FRA is in the process of awarding contracts for 17 critical bridges in Fiji, so there are exciting days ahead for Fijians everywhere. That’s why we’ve dedicated an entire unit within the Ministry of Economy for supporting greater resilience across our economy including Fiji’s entire infrastructure network. It’s why we are finding ways to innovate, and to work hand-in-hand with our friends and partners around the world, to change the face of Fiji to be both greener and stronger to stay one step ahead of the global temperature rise. It’s all part of my Government’s commitment to combatting the effects of climate change, both here at home and abroad; your voices are the ones that I carried with me during my COP23 Presidency, and they are what continue to drive me to fight every day. Together, we are creating a Fijian future that is able to weather the storm; a Fiji for our children and grandchildren, and a Fiji that is more resilient, helping to strengthen our economy, protect our people, and allowing us to bounce back when the inevitable strikes yet again.

This is the kind of project that my Government is undertaking all throughout Fiji –– we’ve erected crossings and bridges far and wide, knowing the value that they serve in transforming entire communities and uplifting the families, who cross them. Because when it comes to measuring real human impact, the immediate benefits to a community are rarely so clear as they are with the construction of a new connection like this one. Schoolchildren will no longer have to risk their safety by walking over the rushing waters of a flooded crossing. Mothers and fathers will now be easily connected to public transport, allowing for quicker travel to markets, health centres, and government offices, all of which are also being expanded across our country. And your sugarcane farmers will now be free to transport their harvest with less effort than ever before.

This last point is one that, as not only your Prime Minister, but as the Minister for Sugar Industry, I take very seriously as we look to transform the way we grow, transport, harvest, process, and market Fijian sugarcane. While to some, a single crossing may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to such a large industry –– one on which over 200,000 Fijians depend –– it can be a life-changing moment to the farmer who uses it. And when this step is replicated all over Fiji, the combined efficiency will move the needle further for not just the farmer, but for the industry as a whole. It’s this big-picture thinking that has raised the efficiency and profitability of today’s sugarcane industry in Fiji to new heights.

On the other side of this crossing, you’ll see that our ongoing infrastructural transformation goes far beyond Vakabuli. We have set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to creating and maintaining connections by land, air and sea, and it’s truly bringing the Fijian economy into the 21st century. In just the past five years, we’ve invested over 750 million dollars into infrastructural improvements like new chip-seal roads, bridges, and jetties. And we’ve done so with a special focus on our rural communities; over 363,000 metres of rural roads have been paved and upgraded since 2013 alone. It’s a remarkable achievement, and it’s one that we will continue to build upon as we fuel the engine of Fiji’s economy with new fire, with nine straight years of growth. For this, we owe a great deal of thanks to the Fiji Roads Authority’s Chairman and Board, its CEO and his team who have, quite literally, paved a new path forward for Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, Vakabuli is safer, it is stronger, and it is better-connected than ever before. I urge all of you to take advantage of this day as a new beginning for yourselves, your families, and your community as a whole. Take today as a symbolic pledge to connect to the many opportunities and resources that exist for Fijians today, from expanded medical care to educational opportunities to government services. By taking advantage of the progress we’ve made together as a nation, this will be much more than just a new crossing –– it will be a new beginning for your community.

With that, it’s my pleasure to officially open the Vakabuli Paipai Crossing.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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