Opening Address by His Excellency Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, at the Opening Session of the Board of Governors at the 52nd ADB Annual Meeting on 3 May 2019 in Fiji

The President of the Asian Development Bank; The Chair of the Board of Governors, Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum; ADB Governors, Distinguished Delegates. Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Welcome to Fiji and welcome to the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

This morning, we’re making history for Fiji two times over. Not only is Fiji the first-ever Pacific island nation to ever host the ADB’s Annual Meeting, but each of you – the over 2,000 delegates in attendance at this meeting – together represent the single largest international gathering to ever take place on Fijian shores. And, on behalf of the Fijian Government and the Fijian people, we are honoured and delighted to be your hosts.

Fiji has led the global campaigns for climate action, ocean preservation, and we’re currently serving as the Chair of the World Bank Small States’ Forum and Chair of the Governors of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group. But for all the prestige of our global leadership; we’ve never before played the role of host for a meeting of this scale. Historically, when it came to the big international conferences, we Pacific island countries have always been guests in another’s home, because we were seen to lack the capacity to host such gatherings ourselves. 

But the ADB’s show of confidence in our country by bringing this Annual Meeting to Fiji marks the end of an era of missed opportunities for the Pacific. And we do very much see this meeting as a Pacific-wide achievement. Because today, it isn’t upon us – the nations of the Pacific – to go out to the world. Instead, the world has come to us.

Only within the last decade has Fiji made a concerted effort to lay the foundation to host large-scale meetings of this global magnitude and importance. Most of you arrived in our country at the Nadi International Airport. Ten years ago, that new airport was considerably smaller, it was less efficient, and you all would have been waiting a lot longer for your baggage off the plane. Our re-development of that that airport has not only received international acclaim, but the airport itself has been recognised as a leading green airport in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ten years ago, the roads from Nadi here to Denarau were narrow and aging. Instead, you drove here on a newly paved and beautiful four-lane road, and owed to our commitment to building climate resilience, the electrical cabling along that road is installed securely underground.

I understand that I’m being live streamed this morning across social media. Ten years ago, telecommunications in Fiji were so underdeveloped, something like that would never have been possible. But as I speak to you now, my remarks can be viewed on television, or on a mobile phone, in even the most remote pockets of our country.

Through the growth of our national carrier, Fiji Airways, Fiji has established direct air connections to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. And, coincidentally, all of those flights take around ten hours. We currently fly to all of the Pacific Rim, with the exception of South America, which we see as the next frontier for Fiji Airways. I assume that flight will also take around ten hours as well. So, ladies and gentlemen, it seems Fiji will soon go from being the hub of the South Pacific, to being the hub of the entire Pacific Rim.

The steady growth of our tourism industry has led to the development of the facilities that are now proudly adorned with the ADB Banner. But Fiji’s ambition doesn’t end with this meeting. This very island – the island of Denarau – is set to undergo a tremendous revival. Starting with a refurbishment here at the Sheraton in October, then down the road at the Sofitel and then next door at the Westin.

We’re laying the groundwork to host even bigger gatherings in the years ahead, by building up not only our hotels, but our convention facilities – including a new convention centre to be built through our superannuation fund, the Fiji National Provident Fund. That new centre will have the capacity to host at least four and a half thousand people, putting us in the position to host the IMF and World Bank Group Annual Meetings in the very near future.

Fiji is fast becoming the total package, a nation that combines world-class facilities with the world-renowned warmth and hospitality offered by the Fijian people, which I’m sure you’ve all already had the chance to experience.

But our people are far more than just generous hosts. They are the engine powering what is quickly becoming one of the most diverse and dynamic island economies.

Fiji has set out and stuck with a bold vision for our national progress. United in realising that future, the Fijian people have spurred our economy to ten straight years of economic growth, a new record for Fiji. And we – a nation of 900,000 people – have earned ourselves a proud reputation as a champion for the cause of sustainable development. 

The potential of Fiji’s human capital was on full display in our Host Country Seminar event yesterday, where we honoured 30 of our most talented young Fijians as part of Fiji’s first-ever 30 Under 30 competition. But the Fiji of today is built by more than potential alone – far more. Our success is owed to the opportunities we’ve created in the lives of our people, and to our commitment – at all levels of Fijian society – to forging common identity and forming common purpose.

Fijians today enjoy a vast array of civil, political and socioeconomic rights and protections that place equality over inequity and dignity over discrimination. Guided by the mandates of the Fijian Constitution, Fiji has emerged as a case study in harnessing the power of unity to create inclusive and wide-reaching prosperity.

The spirit behind that success is captured quite succinctly in the theme of the 2019 ADB Annual Meeting, “Prosperity Through Unity”. Because, whether it’s breaking bread between family and neighbours, communities joining together in cooperation, or nations extending hands of friendship to the rest of the world, unity – above all else – charts the surest path towards prosperity for all people.

In Fiji, the roofs of our traditional bures and the lashings of our canoes are held together by a coconut-fibre rope, known as magimagi. Now, on its own, the thread of a coconut husk is thin, no stronger than a single thread of twine. But the magimagi is not a single thread, it is a binding of coconut fibre, and those fibres work together to latch structures that can stand for generations and maintain sea-faring vessels that can traverse entire oceans.

As the many threads of the magimagi strengthen the rope by working together, so has the unity of the Fijian people strengthened our nation’s character and powered our national prosperity. As has the multilateral approach of the ADB, through its efforts to balance the strengths of different nations and consider differing perspectives, strengthened development across the Asia-Pacific.

When we have unity, we have stability; the stability that people need to feel secure and businesses need to succeed. When we have unity, we generate confidence; confidence among a nation’s citizenry and among investors that the future will be better and brighter than the present. And when we have unity, we can unleash our productive potential, by bringing new perspectives and new experiences to the decision-making table; whether that’s unity across borders, unity across backgrounds or unity across generations.

Achieving unity takes trust, it takes respect and it takes mutual understanding. On the international stage, unity is forged by the ethos of multilateralism. And as history has shown us, unity, driven by a multi-lateral approach, is the key to global prosperity. We can’t turn our backs on that proven pathway to global growth and development – especially given the present economic forecasts. Only together, only united, can the world maintain course towards greater prosperity.

In its five decades of the work in the Pacific, ADB has built trust and forged unity in our region by demonstrating a recognition that many Pacific challenges require Pacific-borne solutions to address.

Particularly in the arena of climate change, the ADB’s commitment to funding resilient infrastructure development and to providing access to financial resources in the immediate aftermath of a disaster have proved critical to supporting sustainable Pacific island economies. Pacific island countries have also been able to access financing from the Green Climate Fund through the ADB. And now, the ADB has forayed into the private sector financing, particularly in support of the uptake of renewable energy.

But the emerging challenges facing Small States will take an even broader, smarter and more nuanced approach to address. We need to start thinking more outside the box. The World Bank, for example, has recently granted Fiji access to concessional finance, or IDA funds, on the basis – not of the size of our economy – but on our vulnerability to worsening climate impacts.  We hope that ADB will follow suit through its ADF Facility.

Make no mistake, the vulnerability to climate impacts is not isolated to Fiji or even to the Pacific island countries. The growing ferocity of storms, the rising seas, and changing weather patterns are a global phenomenon, and no people, no economy and no nation will be spared the consequences. From the disappearing coastlines of Bangladesh, to water scarcity across the Mediterranean, to the desertification of arable farmland in land-locked countries in Africa, to the worsening super-typhoons wreaking havoc across the Philippines, Japan and China, to the communities slipping beneath the rising seas in the South-east of the United States, all people are vulnerable, and all nations must unite in taking decisive action to address this threat.

Fiji took up the reigns of global leadership in the campaign for climate action as president of the COP23 negotiations, and we continue to be a fierce advocate for that cause. But here at home, we haven’t allowed ourselves to be intimidated into inaction by the worsening impacts of climate change. As I mentioned, our economy is an unbroken streak of ten years of economic growth, and the ADB is a critical partner to Fiji in transforming that economic prosperity into development that benefits all Fijians.

Since 1970, Fiji has accessed 524.4 million US dollars in loans, 35 million US dollars in grants, and 33.7 million US dollars in technical assistance through ADB financing. But the numbers alone don’t tell the full story. The dollars and cents certainly speak volumes, but let me share with you what you’ll never get from looking at a fact-sheet of the ADB’s work in Fiji. 

We can certainly determine how much asphalt and concrete it will take to construct a new road. But you cannot place a true value on the ADB’s support in building a road that opens up a Fijian community to the rest of the nation. You cannot assign a number to the pride a Fijian woman feels when she’s able to travel that road to sell produce in an urban market and earn income for her family. As more women are able to access similar opportunities, we create the scale necessary for a holistic, inter-agency journey that can eventually lead to the construction, for example, of overnight accommodation that provides security to rural women vendors working in our cities.

We can certainly calculate the value of ADB’s support in extending access to water to a Fijian community. But we cannot add up the countless hours of back-breaking labour that Fijian women and men have been spared, now that they no longer need to spend their days finding and carrying clean water back home. 

We can estimate the gigawatts of solar energy a community will need to keep the lights on. But when the ADB supports the introduction of that new source of energy to a community, who can quantify the value of extra hours a student can study in their home once the sun has set, the value of gratification a vendor has when she can now sell produce into the night, or the feeling of security shared by all members of a community, now that their homes can remain lit well into the evening?

Friends, the intangible good created by the ADB’s work in Fiji and across the Pacific may be immeasurable, but it is immense. And it is the gravity of this human impact that matters above all else. For these reasons and more, Fiji is a proud partner to the ADB. We are a proud home to the ADB regional headquarters in our capital, Suva. And, today, we are a proud host to this 2019 Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Looking out over the faces of this room – and knowing the diversity of perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge that you all represent – gives me a profound sense of faith in the boundless potential of our unity. The potential to build a world better than the one we know. The potential to not only create prosperity, but ensure that prosperity uplifts all people, from the busiest metropolises on the Asian continent, to the most rural communities in islands across the Pacific. Let our shared commitment towards that future guide our discussions and seminars over the coming days; united in purpose in achieving inclusive prosperity. 

Once again, I welcome you all to Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.