Fijian Attorney General Sayed-Khaiyum’s Speech to the Institute of Surveyors

As you know, the Bainimarama Government is working very hard to build a new Fiji. Basically on the foundations of what one may call an unstable system.

We are going about this in a very specific and measured manner—we are laying the foundation – a new foundation I would say – of a modern nation, and we have to get it right.

As surveyors, your job is to get it right. You calculate the exact measurements needed to lay the foundations of growth, establish the legal boundaries of land ownership and collect and analyze critical information about our natural resources. If you don’t get it right, all that follows becomes flawed.

The nation, of course, depends on you whilst you may be very much in the background, although most Fijians are probably not aware of the absolute critical nature of your work. However, your importance to Fiji is more than just the important job you do. You are part of a much larger picture, of a larger effort to build a better Fiji.

Put simply, we need to keep talented and highly skilled individuals in Fiji. We must aggressively tackle the issue of brain drain, and retain professionals Fiji needs to fuel our reform program.

We’re building a better future, and we need to get it right. Our reform policies are working – some perhaps need to be addressed further – our incentives are attractive, and we strive for transparence. However, in order to attract and generate investment that will continue to grow the economy, Fiji must have ranks of top level professionals on the ground. We always talk about the need for lawyers, electricians, bankers, accountants, managers, construction workers – now there’s a shortage of plumbers I understand – engineers, doctors, and nurses.

And, of course we need you. We are striving to get it right, and in this the Surveyor’s role is unique and indispensible. Surveyors, you are vital to reform in Fiji, and we of course need your help.

Our reforms will amount to little unless you feel part of it, unless you engage with it, unless you add to it.

What’s happening in Fiji is truly a team effort.

Everyone on the team must do their part to get it right. We will soon have a constitution in place. This comes after we travelled around the country and heard the views of ordinary Fijians, which have been taken into account as we’ve prepared the final draft. Which is going to be translated into the vernacular languages before it is actually assented to.

The constitution will include – for the first time – specific socio-economic rights – which was alluded to by the president – which guarantee each Fijian’s rights, such as the right to work, the right to a just minimum wage, housing, sanitation, the right to economic participation, and the right to transportation.

All of these have a spill-over effect into the work you are doing yourselves.

Next year we will vote—for the first time—in a truly democratic parliamentary election. One in which each of your votes will count equally—one person, one vote, one value.

On the economic front, we are in the midst of transforming the economy— dramatically lowering taxes for almost all Fijians.

Many of you might not know, but the tax cuts that you have been enjoying – 90.5% of Fijians received a tax cut. Every single person who earns – who was earning or is earning – below $275,00 has got a tax cut.

And for businesses we’ve lowered the corporate tax to 20% and 17.5% for those companies that establish their regional or global head office in Fiji. ANZ is already doing that. They’re moving their regional head office from Melbourne to Suva.

We’ve committed ourselves to introducing international best-practices across a broad front, as well as to rooting out corruption wherever we find it.

Why are we doing this? Because we want to generate more growth, more jobs, and more business.

We’ve created tax free zones across the country to attract investment in agriculture – more growth, more jobs, more business.

We’ve abolished import duty for plant machinery and agricultural implements and reduced duty for imports of equipment used to produce renewal energy – more growth, more jobs, more business. The mobile phones you’re using now – zero rated duty on all smart phones.

Next week, we have the 4G auction. So within one year’s time many of the urban centres in Fiji will be able to access high-speed internet information, you’ll be able to send your client a lot more quickly and in an effective manner through these smart phones and iPads. Now this again is putting us further out compared to all the other Pacific Island countries.

We’ve embarked on a series of reforms to make doing business in Fiji more conducive for investors.

In the past few years, there has been a need to develop clear and transparent rules and regulations pertaining to licensing, to consumer protection, to ensuing true competition and preventing anti-competitive behavior.

To get it right, one of the principle tenets of the Bainimarama Government is that such policies need to be consistent and durable.

Effective reform can only succeed through an effective partnership between the public and private sectors. And we need your partnership to carry out our goals.

I know many of you are in the private sector also. We’re talking about public-private partnerships. You’ve got the Fiji Roads Authority that was created. Now all the roads in Fiji are essentially maintained by private companies working in conjunction with a public statutory body.

This is more than just an ideal. Such partnerships now exist and are being formed in our most important areas of infrastructure.

The other example is Ports Fiji. If you look at Ports Terminal across the bay there. We’ve now engaged the services of Aitkens Spence. It’s a fortune 200 company outside the USA. It’s going to bring in best management practices for running a port. That is critical, but it also brands Fiji.

The Bainimarama Government takes a holistic view of the economy, and we also take a long-term view. In other words, policies are put in place not just for today or tomorrow for short term political gain. They’re designed for the long haul and our goal of creating jobs, stimulating economic growth, and creating more business opportunities for professionals like you. For example, Government’s policy of outsourcing.

So I return to my earlier point. We need to continue to build on our strengths to make Fiji an attractive place, not only for investment, but for professionals from all sectors.

We can only do this together, in partnership. And we have to get it right. We need to be committed to the same principles of anticorruption, transparency, and best practice. This is the vision we must share for the future of Fiji. And just as the surveyor’s measurements, we have to get it right. And with your help, we will.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with those few words, I would like to conclude my formal address and open the floor to questions.

Thank you. Vinaka Vakalevu.

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