Fiji Sun - - Big Story -

‘Gov­ern­ment’s firm belief in the free mar­ket - the no­tion that the most en­ter­pris­ing of our peo­ple should be given ev­ery in­cen­tive to work as hard as they can to ben­e­fit them­selves’ Now whether a bank is owned by do­mes­tic or for­eign in­ter­ests, banks op­er­at­ing in any coun­try must pro­mote fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion. Cen­tral banks and re­serve banks must ad­vo­cate and work to en­sure that the cost of bank­ing ser­vices is not pro­hib­i­tive to low-in­come fam­i­lies. And that is where our reg­u­la­tors play a very im­por­tant role.

Voreqe Bain­i­marama Prime Min­is­ter

This is the full speech of Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama dur­ing the open­ing of the 8th An­nual Al­liance for Fi­nan­cial In­clu­sion (AFI) Global Pol­icy Fo­rum at Sher­a­ton Re­sort, De­na­rau yes­ter­day. The hon­ourable At­tor­ney-Gen­eral and Min­is­ter for Econ­omy, hon­ourable mnis­ters, the Gov­er­nor of the Re­serve Bank of Fiji, the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral of UNESCAP, your ex­cel­len­cies, mem­bers of the diplo­matic corps, the chair­man of the board of the Al­liance for Fi­nan­cial In­clu­sion, the AFI ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, gover­nors and dis­tin­guished mem­bers of the fo­rum, ladies and gen­tle­men, bula vinaka and a very good morn­ing to you all.

It is a great hon­our for Fiji to co­host the 8th An­nual AFI Global Pol­icy Fo­rum – the first meet­ing of the Al­liance to be con­vened in the South Pa­cific. And on be­half of ev­ery Fi­jian, wel­come to our na­tion and wel­come to De­na­rau. I want to say how proud we are to host such a dis­tin­guished gath­er­ing of fi­nan­cial ex­perts from around the world. And I salute you for work­ing to­gether to em­power the es­ti­mated two bil­lion peo­ple world­wide who are cur­rently ex­cluded from the main­stream fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Thank you for be­ing ad­vo­cates for bring­ing them in from the mar­gins and striv­ing to give them ac­cess to fi­nance.

Just yes­ter­day (Wednes­day), the Fi­jian peo­ple cel­e­brated our very first Con­sti­tu­tion Day at our brand new Al­bert Park Pav­il­ion in Suva. And in that Con­sti­tu­tion we have, for the first time, a Bill of Rights which guar­an­tees so­cio-eco­nomic rights, in­clud­ing the right to eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, health, shel­ter, just min­i­mum wages, trans­porta­tion and other rights de­signed to keep our cit­i­zens in the fold of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Our Con­sti­tu­tion makes it even more in­cum­bent on my Gov­ern­ment, or any other fu­ture Fi­jian Gov­ern­ment, to en­sure that our eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is driven by our com­mit­ment to fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion, and bring­ing all of our cit­i­zens into the main­stream. We are de­ter­mined to leave no-one be­hind on our jour­ney for­ward as a na­tion. And are con­scious more than ever of our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the more vul­ner­a­ble among us – women, chil­dren, low in­come earn­ers, the el­derly, the sick and the dis­abled. That com­mit­ment to our marginalised groups is matched by my Gov­ern­ment’s firm belief in the free mar­ket - the no­tion that the most en­ter­pris­ing of our peo­ple should be given ev­ery in­cen­tive to work as hard as they can to ben­e­fit them­selves. Be­cause in do­ing so, they are able to spread their wealth to oth­ers by re-in­vest­ing in our econ­omy and cre­at­ing jobs. That is why Fiji has some of the low­est taxes - cor­po­rate and per­sonal - in the Pa­cific. Plus a range of in­cen­tives for our own peo­ple and for­eign­ers to in­vest in our econ­omy.

I en­cour­age all of you who are vis­it­ing us to ex­am­ine the ben­e­fits of in­vest­ing in Fiji and to take the mes­sage home that we are open for busi­ness. As well as our low taxes and the in­cen­tives we of­fer, we have a busi­ness-friendly reg­u­la­tory frame­work, a sta­ble po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, strict ad­her­ence to and main­te­nance of law and or­der and an ed­u­cated, English­s­peak­ing work­force. We are also in the throes of the long­est run­ning pe­riod of eco­nomic growth in our his­tory – seven straight years of ex­pan­sion.

So the op­por­tu­ni­ties in Fiji have never been bet­ter – a small but thriv­ing na­tion at the hub of the Pa­cific with ad­vanced com­mu­ni­ca­tions; easy ac­cess to sur­round­ing coun­tries; steadily im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture in­clud­ing our sea and air ports, roads and ac­cess to wa­ter and elec­tric­ity; and a range of qual­ity Fi­jian Made prod­ucts and ser­vices that are steadily pen­e­trat­ing mar­kets through­out the world.

We also have a solid foun­da­tion of fi­nan­cial ser­vices and prod­ucts in Fiji, and I’d like to take some time to dis­cuss the crit­i­cal role that com­mer­cial banks play in ex­pand­ing the reach of these ser­vices.

In Fiji, we used to have a 100 per cent Fi­jian owned bank, but due to ex­cesses of past Gov­ern­ments and lack of good gov­er­nance, it un­for­tu­nately went un­der and was sold off to for­eign in­ter­ests. But to­day, I am happy to say that we again have a fully-fledged bank that is en­tirely Fi­jian owned. Now whether a bank is owned by do­mes­tic or for­eign in­ter­ests, banks op­er­at­ing in any coun­try must pro­mote fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion. Cen­tral banks and re­serve banks must ad­vo­cate and work to en­sure that the cost of bank­ing ser­vices is not pro­hib­i­tive to low-in­come fam­i­lies. And that is where our reg­u­la­tors play a very im­por­tant role. Our In­ter­change Net­work Pay­ments or Na­tional Switch Bill, which is cur­rently be­fore Par­lia­ment, will pro­vide a reg­u­lated, cen­tralised en­vi­ron­ment for us­ing ATMs and Point of Sale Ma­chines that aims to re­duce the costs of elec­tronic trans­ac­tions. And give not only banks, but all other en­ti­ties con­duct­ing large trans­ac­tions, in­cen­tive to par­tic­i­pate in the Na­tional Switch. For ex­am­ple, our

iTaukei Lands Trust Board, which ad­min­is­ters land on be­half of dif­fer­ent landown­ing units, can dis­burse lease funds through the Na­tional Switch to all in­di­vid­ual re­cip­i­ents in the re­spec­tive land own­ing units.

Sim­i­larly, our so­cial wel­fare re­cip­i­ents will also be able to di­rectly ac­cess funds through the na­tional switch, thereby re­duc­ing the cur­rent fees and charges.

It is in the best in­ter­est of ev­ery Fi­jian con­sumer that we in­tro­duce reg­u­la­tion in our fi­nan­cial sys­tem to foster com­pe­ti­tion at the top and bot­tom ends of the mar­ket. Another ex­am­ple lies in the col­la­tion and re­port­ing of those who ac­cess credit. Such ac­tiv­ity must oc­cur un­der an ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tory frame­work. As we pre­vi­ously saw in Fiji, there was no reg­u­la­tion, and only one com­pany was op­er­at­ing in the in­dus­try. The rules of the game were not clear and this seg­ment in the fi­nan­cial sys­tem lacked trans­parency, so we in­tro­duced new laws reg­u­lat­ing those pro­vid­ing credit re­port­ing ser­vices.

As a re­sult, we have greater in­ter­est from over­seas com­pa­nies and have ended the un­fair re­port­ing of credit his­to­ries that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected those lower on the so­cio-eco­nomic spec­trum or who were not part of the elite.

Ladies and gen­tle­men, truly in­clu­sive fi­nan­cial sys­tems can only de­velop when a na­tion has ap­pro­pri­ate na­tional frame­works in place. In Fiji’s case, we have a Green Growth Frame­work, which en­cour­ages the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of our lim­ited nat­u­ral re­sources. We also have a trade pol­icy frame­work which is our strat­egy for our trade re­la­tions. We are also cur­rently for­mu­lat­ing our 20 year na­tional de­vel­op­ment plan. And, I am proud to re­port, that Fiji has em­barked on its sec­ond Na­tional Fi­nan­cial In­clu­sion Strate­gic Plan. Our tar­get for the cur­rent pe­riod be­tween now and 2020 is to im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­ity to fi­nan­cial ser­vices from the cur­rent 65 per cent of all adults to 85 per cent. 50 per cent of this in­crease is im­prov­ing ac­cess for women. Of course, we have to also con­front the chal­lenges of cli­mate change. In Fiji, we have al­ready re­lo­cated three vil­lages to higher ground, with more to fol­low. So ac­cess to green cli­mate funds and a fo­cus on adap­ta­tion are a key for Fiji and other low-ly­ing coun­tries – coun­tries with neg­li­gi­ble lev­els of car­bon emis­sions that find them­selves on the fore­front of cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ters. Many of you who haven’t ven­tured too far be­yond De­na­rau may find it hard to be­lieve that less than seven months ago, we were struck by the big­gest trop­i­cal cy­clone ever to make land­fall in the south­ern hemi­sphere. Cy­clone Win­ston killed 44 of our peo­ple and left us with a dam­age bill of more than $2.85 bil­lion ($US1.4 bil­lion) or around 30 per cent of our GDP. Cy­clone Win­ston’s dev­as­ta­tion showed us that it is those on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety, those who are vul­ner­a­ble, those who are un­banked, those who were unin­sured, were those who were the most af­fected. The ef­fects of cli­mate change have shed light on the forces of re­gres­sion, where the most marginalised among us are trapped in a con­stant cy­cle of re­build­ing, and are trapped in poverty as a re­sult.

As a part of our re­cov­ery ef­forts, we launched a Help for Homes ini­tia­tive whereby the equiv­a­lent of an ATM card or MPAISA was given to those Fi­jians who were af­fected to pur­chase hard­ware ma­te­ri­als to re­build their homes. This has given many Fi­jians the chance to be­come more com­fort­able with elec­tronic trans­ac­tions. So through what are un­ques­tion­ably un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances, we can still cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to give peo­ple ac­cess to new tech­nolo­gies. We can still make fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion a pri­or­ity. Ladies and gen­tle­men, I want to close by thank­ing you for the work the Al­liance for Fi­nan­cial In­clu­sion is do­ing to as­sist us, along with the other stake­hold­ers.

It is a plea­sure to have you all in Fiji and I hope you can all make time to see some­thing of our coun­try, our cul­ture and to ex­pe­ri­ence our world fa­mous hos­pi­tal­ity. I also look for­ward to meet­ing as many of you as pos­si­ble and have the great plea­sure to now de­clare this im­por­tant fo­rum open.

Vinaka vakalevu! Thank you.

Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama Ad­dress

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