By Viliame Tawanakoro in Suva
Fiji’s Coalition government strongly believes that addressing the country’s priorities head-on is the cornerstone to building a progressive and prosperous nation for future generations, says Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.
Speaking at the National Economic Summit 2023 in Suva today, Rabuka said the event was an opportunity for Fiji to take stock, make necessary changes, and move forward decisively.
The last summit was held 15 years ago.
Rabuka said the meeting would address daunting challenges faced by Fiji, including unsustainable national debt levels, geopolitical and global economic uncertainties, and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, particularly on small island developing economies like Fiji.
“As a Small Island Developing State, we are vulnerable to such events which are beyond our control,” he said at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
“It is critical that we must make timely adjustments so that we can cope and be able to survive in the global trading environment.
“We have just been through one of the world’s worst pandemics of modern times, with covid-19. It affected the whole world.
“The Russian-Ukrainian war in Europe made our efforts to recover from the pandemic more challenging, particularly due to the supply-chain issues. We must address these challenges collectively through this summit, and craft solutions together as a nation.”
Rabuka, wearing an Adam Smith tie, referenced the renowned economist’s 1776 book The Wealth of Nations, and urged those implementing the summit’s outcomes to be mindful of Smith’s principles of free market and capital formation for economic growth.
The Prime Minister also noted a need to strengthen laws and institutions, as well as restore investor confidence and improve the business environment while protecting the country’s natural resources.
“We need to rebuild our infrastructure which has been neglected, and most importantly look at ways to ease the burden of the high cost of living for our people,” he said.
“We need to strengthen the private sector which we so glibly call the ‘engine of growth’. It is important to promote trade and build the confidence of the private sector.”
Strengthening multilateral and bilateral relations with Fiji’s trading and development partners was also a key point raised by Rabuka as he shared that the findings and recommendations from the summit would contribute to the formulation of the national budget and “our National Development Plan”.
“Reshaping our future means more than just promoting economic growth and development.
“A brighter future for our nation requires our communities to be united and move away from divisions,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Professor Biman Prasad said plenary sessions had been organised to set the scene for more detailed discussions on macroeconomic management, key growth sectors, governance and reforms and human development.
“We have an intense two days ahead of us. We are putting special focus on critical issues such as water resource management, transport, energy and technology.
“We are also casting a wider net over rural and outer islands development, land and marine-based economic activities and indigenous participation in business.
“There are 32 specific subject areas for discussion,” Professor Prasad said.
It is understood each summit participant has been allocated a thematic working group with a communique expected to be issued at the conclusion of the event tomorrow.
Viliame Tawanakoro is a final-year journalism student at USP’s Laucala Campus. He is also the 2023 student editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication. USP Journalism collaborates with Asia Pacific Report.