Investment and inspirational changes can transform Fiji

 

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 30, 2023

Fiji is capable of countering its economic, political and economic challenges but the government’s efforts must necessarily involve the participation of the people, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Dr Biman Prasad has said.

Delivering the keynote address at the first National Economic Summit of the new Coalition government in Suva on April 20, 2023, he said that there was significant economic opportunities exist in Tourism, Information Technology, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Commercial Agriculture, Sports and Creative Arts.

“But to take advantage of those opportunities, we must, as a nation, completely rebuild, re-weave and re-adapt. The challenges before us are deep and urgent. Many of these cannot be fixed in the four-year term of a government. They will in all likelihood take a generation,” he said.

Money, Money, Money

According to Dr Prasad, re-shaping the country’s future envisages investment, which will entail large sums of money. It will take time because the government must consult and plan before implementing plans and programmes. These measures will also call for skills and experience, some of which must from overseas.

“Finding money and saving time for these investments are our prevailing challenges. But in the area of skills and experience, we can get some quick wins by looking to our own people. If we can bring our own people together and align our heads and hearts to find a common way forward, we can make an important start,” he said.

A section of the participants at the National Economic Summit in Suva on April 20, 2023 (Facebook)

Dr Prasad mentioned of a ten-year gap, implying the policies of the previous government led by Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama but conceded that the focus should be on the future, not the past.

“We must take the important lessons from the past, including what the consequences have been of our failure over that time to maintain an honest and open dialogue to diagnose and address our national problems. At a time of great global and geopolitical shifts and turns, Fiji must continue to chart its own course for what is pragmatic, relevant and fitting for our ‘Made in Fiji’ economic context. We cannot have a shared vision of what that is if we do not talk to each other and harness our capabilities together.

“As a people, it is almost second nature for us to pitch in and help our citizens during an emergency whenever possible. When a friend, relative, neighbour or even a total stranger has a fundraising soli or a flat tyre on the road or needs an urgent blood transfusion, anyone who hears, or witnesses it immediately pitches in without a second thought,” he said.

Promises to keep

Dr Prasad said that in voting the current government into office, Fijians had expressed the need for a change at the general election on December 14, 2022 and that the new government has made a promise to be different.

“We made a promise that we would bring dialogue, consultation and collaboration to Fiji’s national life. Most importantly, we promised to restore the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Fiji,” he said and cited the National Economic Summit as an important part of that promise, with genuine and open consultation.

Dr Prasad addressed criticisms expressed in Fiji and overseas about the need for such a Summit and the associated costs.

Describing such reactions as a part of the democratic process, he said that Mr Rabuka had said that the Summit would cost about F$ 360,000 and that it had attracted significant sponsorship.

“The current machinery of Government is simply not attuned to genuine consultation and collaboration. This is a process that we must re-learn. The absence of a genuine Economic Summit for the last 16 years has created the wrong thinking that only one group of people or even one person has a monopoly on good ideas. That is why we now lack good processes for collaboration with those outside government,” Dr Prasad said.

He said that critical issues include water resource management, transport, energy and technology.  A wider net is also being cast on rural and outer islands development, land and marine-based economic activities and indigenous participation in business.

The way forward

There are 32 specific subject areas for discussion, he said.

“This is a new way forward. This is about government working in continuous collaboration with those outside to help deliver results. We know that the government does not have the experience or the resources to do it alone.  We do not have the unique perspectives of the private sector, civil society, faith-based and cultural groups, and academia. We do not have the wealth of experience and successes that many of you have, on what will work and what will not work,” Dr Prasad said and appealed to businesses and the working class to join hands in rebuilding the economy.

“What this government wants and what Fiji needs is wide public participation in the process of re-shaping our economy. This is what we promised before coming into Government. And this Summit begins the delivery of that promise,” he said.

Dr Prasad concluded his address with what he called a ‘compelling New Year’s statement,’ made in 1969: “We have to strive to realise our aspirations. We cannot improve our standard of living unless we share what we produce equitably. Even with the most equitable distribution, unless we produce more, we cannot have much to share.”

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