Democracy brings multitudinous progress

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama –

Fiji sees the development of its infrastructure as the key to unlocking economic potential.

It has been a mainstay of the comprehensive reform program we have put in place to transform our economy and unlock the potential of the Fijian people.

First, we had to upend the existing political order that had kept Fiji in a state of perpetual division and arrested development since our independence from Britain in 1970.

Our revolution cost us our place in the Commonwealth for five years and fractured some of our traditional relationships. But we make no apology for it, because the Fiji that has emerged from that process of radical change is one of genuine opportunity for every citizen, whatever their background.

Our new Constitution provides us with our first genuinely democratic blueprint.

True Representation

For the first time, we have a Parliament elected on the basis of equal votes of equal value instead of being skewed through an electoral system that divided us Fijians on an ethnic basis – a legacy of our colonial era.

We now have common and equal citizenry and, just as important, a common identity. Every citizen is a Fijian for the first time. And our Constitution also provides for an unprecedented range of social and economic rights that are empowering every Fijian, apart from the usual civil and political rights.

So we are finally a genuine democracy; a better and true democracy. We can now proceed in earnest with another pillar of our reform programme, namely, transformation of our economy to improve the lives of all of our people. We can fulfil the great promise made at Independence that we squandered over the years as we argued about rights for some of our citizens rather than rights for all, as we delved deeper and deeper into systemic corruption.

We continued to argue over parochial matters driven by elitism, cronyism and communalism. We could not move forward together as one nation, one people.

Great period

I am pleased to report that our new political order, our new direction, our prudent economic management and our new Constitution, have unleashed one of the greatest periods of economic growth in our nation’s history.

Last year, the Fijian economy grew by 5.3%, eclipsing our larger neighbours. We are on target to achieve a record sixth consecutive year of growth this year.

We are also riding an investment wave amounting to 25% of GDP in the past two years, with a similar forecast for 2015. Currently, 75% of this investment is by the private sector.

But only a few years ago, the bulk of the investment was from my Government’s programme to invest in infrastructure.

That focus on investing in infrastructure is being maintained. Indeed, 40% of government spend is on building infrastructure and State assets.

Ending neglect

We are putting an end to the years of neglect. Of poor roads or no roads at all. Ports that were slow and inefficient. Large areas of the country without access to electricity and clean water. And much of our physical infrastructure crumbling – such as our capital’s water supply – because too much of it dated back to colonial times and too little had been done to maintain it.

Fiji is now a case study of the benefits of governments embarking on a responsible programme of fiscal expansion to fund infrastructure development. The government’s capital expenditure has increased from an average of 19% during the period covering 2001 to 2005 to 40% of total government expenditure in 2015.

Borrowing to grow

As I keep telling our people, we are borrowing not like previous governments to fund our day-to-day expenditure but to lay the foundations for the economic expansion that improved infrastructure brings. In doing so, we are unleashing our nation’s potential and the potential of our people. And also making Fiji a much more attractive destination for the global investment community.

We have already seen a sharp rise in confidence in the domestic private sector and among foreign investors. New bank lending for investment purposes has risen by nearly 95% And imports of goods for investment, excluding aircraft, rose by 7.2% to June 2014, the most recent figures available.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama is Prime Minister of Fiji. The above is an extract of his speech at the Commonwealth Business Forum held in Malta on November 26, 2015. For full text of his speech, please visit www.fiji.gov.fj

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