Remarks by the Chair of the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce, Mr Robin Yarrow, at the Official Ceremony to Celebrate the Cooperation Agreement between the Australian Government and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program

May 22, 2014

Remarks by the Chair of the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce, Mr Robin Yarrow, at the Official Ceremony to Celebrate the Cooperation Agreement between the Australian Government and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Program
Thursday 22 May 2014, Fale, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva

Your Excellency, Secretary for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Governor of the Reserve Bank
Our distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

The case to include the significant numbers of Pacific Islanders, exceeding 50% of the adult population in some island states, who are largely excluded from accessing formal financial services, is no doubt a compelling one. This will enable these individuals to make a more meaningful contribution to their respective national economies, whilst improving the lives of themselves and their families.

A well-functioning and inclusive financial system will attract and empower all citizens, especially the poor and the underserved to integrate into the formal economy. In this way they are better able to manage risks and to work themselves out of poverty. This is fundamental to more balanced and equitable development.

The achievements already recorded and the progress made towards greater financial inclusion here in Fiji, from the start of our Financial Inclusion ‘journey’ in late 2009, would not have been realised without the strong commitment, collaboration and support amongst the various stakeholders and development partners.

Some of the lasting impacts from the activities and contributions of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Regional Programme include;

  • Development of Fiji’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan and the achievement of the target to provide access to financial services to 150,000 excluded adults by 2014
  • A coordinated multi-stakeholder participation in the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce and Working Groups
  • A strengthened regulatory environment for branchless/mobile banking; microfinance and micro insurance
  • An improved outreach for more accessible, affordable and appropriate financial services for low income people through PFIP’s grants which established mobile banking and micro insurance in Fiji
  • Development of electronic payments to support more than 35,000 social welfare clients
  • The introduction of financial education into the primary and secondary school curriculum beginning in 2013.
  • Support for the first-ever National Microfinance Awards in Fiji in 2013 at the Pasifika Microfinance Week.

Fiji is also the first country in the region to develop a national Financial Literacy Strategy and action plan designed to create awareness and build financial competencies amongst all Fijians.

In reviewing our progress towards greater financial inclusion, it is clear that a number of ‘strengths’ have assisted greatly in our efforts here in Fiji through close collaboration and partnership. These include;

  • ‘Ownership’ of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy by a wide cross-section of stakeholders across key sectors
  • The ‘Convening Power’ of the Reserve Bank of Fiji
  • An effective NFIT structure comprising a national Task Force and 3 focussed Working Groups, all of which meet on a regular basis
  • A dedicated and able Secretariat provided by the Reserve Bank of Fiji
  • Committed and passionate members of the NFIT ‘structure’
  • Teamwork at all levels
  • Regular monitoring and evaluation

We were greatly heartened and also honoured to receive the inaugural Maya Declaration Award from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion in September, 2013. This global presentation has made us feel extremely proud to know that our efforts to assist those in real need have been recognised so highly beyond Fiji.

Now that we have completed implementation of our first financial Inclusion strategy, we nevertheless acknowledge that much is still to be done, particularly relating to usage of financial services and also in terms of quality. A new medium term financial inclusion strategy and target will be developed this year, with added resolve and continued efforts across a number of fronts.

We are comforted in the knowledge that as we build on the gains made and move to the next key phase in our ongoing Financial Inclusion journey, we have very committed partners and collaborators such as the PFIP working closely with us, backed of course by supportive donors.
In closing, may I restate our deep appreciation for the valuable support, inspiration and encouragement which we have been receiving from the PFIP and indirectly from the Government of Australia.

Vinaka vakalevu.