A very good evening to you all, ni sa bula vinaka, namaskar. Thank you, Bob Lyon, for your kind wishes and warm words of welcome.
Let me say at the outset that it is indeed a pleasure for me to be here this evening to present the 2012 Fiji Development Bank Small Business Awards. I have been reliably informed that the group of individuals who are here as potential awardees, despite their qualification as small enterprises are making giant strides in the entrepreneurial scene.
Fiji as a state and as an economy can only thrive if we have entrepreneurs—that is, the people who are willing to take risks and have the courage to go against the grain and establish a business.
I can only imagine what it must be like to venture onto this path where you take sole ownership of your work. Where you have only yourself to rely on for the most part and where the success of your enterprise depends very much on your ability to plan, to budget and to manage your daily activities and finances. It can all get quite overwhelming, as you all know.
Small businesses like these that you have ventured into are vehicles of change for our people and our economy. They create opportunities for wealth and for employment. They reduce poverty and help to utilise the resources that would otherwise have remained undeveloped, and the incomes and the earnings derived from such enterprises help to provide for a "better life" as it were, for families and communities. The expansion of any economic enterprise however, depends very much on the ability of that enterprise to enter the formal economic system. For instance, if the enterprise wants to borrow money it must have assets that are formally registered to it, which can then be used as collateral for a loan. Within the informal economic system, the presence of assets is evident—a nice home in the village, a plantation and/or a few heads of cattle or, if you hail from Kadavu a few goats on mataqali land.
This is recognised as dead capital because of the absence of documentation to represent formal ownership. I would encourage each and every one of you, if you have not thought about this carefully, to please do so and start formalising your land title ownership through leasing arrangements or purchase.
The Fiji Development Bank, in its assistance role, has financial products to assist rural dwellers and budding entrepreneurs, particularly those who have low security to offer. As the country's only development bank, the FDB works alongside government to help Fiji develop the sectors of agriculture, industry and commerce. Government also provides subsidies to the FDB for small scale agriculture projects and for Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which can be accessed for this purpose.
A policy framework for SMEs was eventually developed when it became obvious that foreign investment, together with the public sector and the formal private sector, needed a boost to provide sufficient employment for the population. The World Bank helped to assess and review the SME framework and since then, the concept of 'incubator', and 'mentoring' have been mooted to provide catalysts for the formation of a class of SMEs in Fiji. Ladies and gentlemen, Fiji had for quite some time focused on foreign investment as the key driver for economic growth. And while there were very good reasons for this, for instance in securing additional revenue and new knowledge, among others, the need for a broader approach to uplift the economy and to tackle poverty through economic activities became increasingly necessary.
Studies around the world have clearly shown the correlation of the country's total output or gross domestic product and employment growing with a large SME sector due to a competitive business environment that allows and encourages the entry of new and innovative small size farms and firms.
Small businesses play a key role in creating jobs—especially jobs for women—thus contributing to tax in the form of VAT, custom duty and other taxes; export and import revenues; facilitating the distribution of goods; and contributing to human resource development. Small businesses are the cradle of innovations and entrepreneurship.
On this note, I would also like to highlight for you, several initiatives that have been initiated by Government in an effort to drive local business. A lot more of these initiatives were announced by the Prime Minister in his Budget Address this afternoon.
In 2011, Government launched the Fijian made and buy Fijian made campaign to inspire loyalty, pride and patriotism for goods produced in Fiji. Government also introduced the industry emblem decree and its associated regulations as part of the campaign. The overall objective of the campaign was to promote Fijian made products both domestically and internationally through a national branding strategy. Through this effort it was envisaged that smaller businesses would be able to secure a comparative advantage when selling lucrative niche products such as virgin coconut oil, noni juice and honey, among others.
I am also pleased to highlight Government's support towards women which in essence, indicates that government fully recognises and appreciates the contribution of women in the development of our society. Government in 2010 launched the Women's Plan of Action for 2010 to 2019.
Specifically, the WPA aims to support women in the formal sector through providing training and eventually providing grants to establish income generating projects. The WPA also aims to elevate women's role in decision-making through an emphasis on equal participation.
In addition, the WPA further aims to facilitate easier access for women to services covering a wide range of areas from health and education to basic services; as well as to legal literacy. Government has also initiated and strengthened partnerships with agencies like the National Employment Centre, the National Centre for Small and Medium Enterprises; and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons. The ultimate aim is the economic empowerment of women towards poverty alleviation.
This year, Government launched the Feed Fiji First: Go Local initiative through the Ministry of Agriculture targeting food security and reliance on imported food. To get us started $2.276m was set aside this year to support the food security program. This consisted of potato development, of revitalizing rice, cocoa, ginger, vanilla, and having a more intensive look at the development schemes of the Sigatoka valley, the Saivou valley and Nadarivatu. Off-season production was also encouraged.
Also this year, half a million dollars had been allocated to the National Centre for Small Medium Enterprise Development (NCSMED) for the purposes of assisting Micro and Small Enterprises. Similarly through the Northern Development Programme (NDP) a further million dollars was made available for SMEs in the North. Through the Reserve Bank of Fiji, Government also made available $3m for the establishment of the Small and Medium Enterprise Credit Guarantee Scheme (SMECGS) which can be utilised by all commercial banks and licensed financial institutions. Such a guarantee scheme enables people with low security to borrow in the formal lending system.
I am told that tonight, we have a record number of women who will be receiving recognition for their entrepreneurial efforts. I am not only delighted to see that women are now entering the economic mainstream as key players, but I am also greatly encouraged that they are taking on the challenges of participating in the sectors that had been predominantly male oriented.
Let us please give a round of applause for these innovative and courageous women!
At this juncture, I would like to acknowledge a past category winner of the small business award, Mrs Makareta Matemosi, whose masi design will adorn the new Fiji Airways Aircrafts from March 2013.
Makareta started commercially producing masi and other handcraft after her husband became unemployed. From her home in Namuka—I—Lau she not only produced but also exported her handicraft overseas. Such is the quality of her work and her business acumen that we will see her efforts carried as a symbol of national pride once Fiji Airways comes online—vinaka Makareta and all the very best to you for the future.
I understand that we also have with us tonight a group of local investors. I believe that they—if given the right mentoring, in the sourcing and eventually in the infusion of capital and in the on-going vigilance for opportunities—can grow into large corporate entities as well. Some of Fiji's larger corporations started out pretty much like you and through the years they acquired the necessary knowledge, practiced financial discipline and took advantage of the market opportunities to get to where they are today.
Not all businesses stay small. They can and they do grow under the right conditions. Government and the FDB are doing all they can to help SMEs in Fiji. But, at the end of the day, Government can only do so much. The onus is on us as citizens of this country to rise to the challenge! The Fiji Development Bank Awards is into its ninth year. I acknowledge the FDB for consistently hosting the awards since 2004. There are plans to include three additional categories next year, as you have already heard, which will definitely give more opportunities for small businesses to enter and win some well-deserved prize money to help expand their businesses. To the finalists for this year's awards, I thank you for your spirit of entrepreneurship, and your courage to do what many would not dare to do. My very best wishes for your future endeavours. Getting an award is symbolic of your hard work, your dedication, and your perseverance. Even if you do not walk away with the main prize tonight, you are all still winners. Do not be discouraged. Strive to do your best always. For your courage and your entrepreneurship, I salute and commend you all. In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, it is safe for us to state that we have achieved the objectives of this year's theme which is Building Fiji Through Enterprise.
I encourage those of you who are here tonight and the many other aspiring businessmen and businesswomen throughout the country to continue along this vein in our collective quest to develop Fiji's economy and ultimately achieve a higher standard of living for our respective families and the nation at large. Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, and bahoot dhanyavaad.