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National Address - Fiji Day 2010

October 10, 2010       Government House, Suva

Greetings to you all, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste.

Today we celebrate a milestone in our history - the 40th anniversary of independence of our nation; a nation all of our forebears helped to build.  A nation that is home to all of us.
The call for us today is to “Celebrate our Fiji”.

But first let me enlighten you – especially the youth of our nation - of the three important events that took place on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th of October, 1970, that made the shedding of our colonial status and our entry to independence unique in the history of the Commonwealth.

These were, on the 9th October, the lowering of the union flag, and on the 10th October, the acceptance of the constitutional instruments by our first prime minister and the raising of the Fiji flag. Although they were separated by sixteen hours they were integral parts of one ceremony.

At sunset at 5.30p.m. on the evening of 9th October, at a packed Albert Park, in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Charles, representing the Queen, Fiji ended its colonial status when the union flag was lowered for the last time by Regimental Sergeant Major Isoa Vakaciwa.  The orderly officer was Captain Isimeli Bainimara.

There was complete silence, except for the distinctive tones of the last post, during that most moving and highly charged ceremony of beating retreat.  There were no cheers.  But there were many tears and sighs of isa, isa, isa. The silence was shattered by the blast of one round fired from a 25-pounder field gun.  The band then played God Save the Queen and marched off.

Forty years ago today, on the morning of 10th October, all the flagpoles in Fiji were bare for Fiji had no flag. 

At 9.30 a.m at a parade on Albert Park, his Royal Highness Prince Charles, again representing Her Majesty the Queen, read a personal message from Her Majesty to the people of Fiji and handed the constitutional instruments creating Fiji an independent state within the Commonwealth, to the first Prime Minister of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

We are reminded of the spirit of humility in which Ratu Mara traditionally accepted the constitutional instruments then in true Fiji tradition went down on his knees, observed the ceremonial clapping and made an acceptance speech in Fijian.  At the end he rose and made his acceptance speech in English.

The solemn but happy ceremony of raising the flag as part of the parade was then held commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George Mate. 

A few minutes before 10.00 o’ clock, the first Fiji flag was presented folded at the parade by Captain Ratu Namosi Komaisavai. The Fiji flag was unfolded and laid on a pile of drums of the Fiji Military Forces Band, at the base of the flag pole. 

The Fiji flag was blessed by the chaplain of the Fiji Military Forces, Reverend Samisoni Vugakoto and then prepared for raising. For a brief moment it was held stretched before it was slowly raised by Regimental Sergeant Major Lemeki Savua.

This spectacle was observed in silence and awe and subdued excitement.

But when the Fiji flag reached the top of the pole, it was greeted by a crescendo of applause and cheers which rolled on for many minutes accompanied by the vigorous waving of miniature Fiji flags.  The moment was magic.

Today, we acknowledge with great pride those historical moments when we severed our links and when we took our first steps towards self-determination.

Today, we are more determined than ever before to remain on that path of self-determination and to make the bold decisions about Fiji that affect the lives of the citizens of Fiji.  We will not be dissuaded from that path and from our duty. 

Many decisions have been made over the forty years by our leaders in their firm belief that the decisions they made would take the nation forward. 

So we should remember with gratitude all those who contributed to the development and modernization of Fiji.

Among the most important decisions were the decisions taken by our forebears in the 19th century, when they eventually saw the light, and embraced Christianity, ending years of tribal warfare and cannibalism in our nation.

Fiji, as a member of the global community, is now more closely connected to the rest of the world so our international responsibilities are always under close scrutiny. 

As part of the global community we respect the sovereignty of each member country and all we ask of them is that they do the same for us.

At the same time, it is important, timely and apt that we fully acknowledge that fiji is a nation where we have rich and diverse cultures and religions and peoples of many races. 

It is this Fiji that we celebrate today. A Fiji that is our identity, our history, our home.

But we have not been spared from the challenges and trials of progress and development.  We have had our share of pain and heartaches. We have paid highly for some decisions and actions that were taken in the past, but we cannot afford to give up now for we have journeyed this far.

And we will not give up, believing in the words of our first prime minister, “that we are bearers of a proud legacy that surely mark us as a people of strength, courage and will.” 

Despite the challenges that confront us, we must press on, deflecting by good argument the waves of opinion – some of them misguided, spawned locally and based mainly on cheap rumour - that strongly seek to divide us.  We must remain united and be responsible to our cause.

It is to this end that each citizen of Fiji has a responsibility. 

For it is not the responsibility of government alone to address the problems of poverty, of housing, of unemployment, of health, of education, of land, of the environment and all the other problems that beset us in Fiji. It is our collective responsibility and commitment as a nation to look within ourselves for the answers. 

All of us, regardless of whether we live in the remotest part of fiji, or whether we have a string of qualifications behind our name, whether we are a single mother, a businessman, or an individual shunned by society, whether we are a person with a day job, a chief, a pensioner, a young person, or a student we all have a role to play in building this nation.

We have to remind ourselves that we have a god-given talent which we should use wisely for the betterment of our own lives and the lives of our fellow citizens, and indeed contribute to advancing our nation.

In celebrating our Fiji, we are mindful of the path that the government has taken to make life better for us, its citizens. 

While some may not agree with the approach that government has taken, let me remind them that government is determined to make right the ills of the past but at the same time to highlight the strengths and the achievements.

The call for resilience is much stronger now then it ever was before.  We should never linger in the past, but if we are wise we will learn from the past. 

We have learned a great deal about what we lack as a nation and what we need to do to address it. 

The “Peoples Charter for Change, Peace and Progress” expresses the minds and hearts of a very broad section of our society, in support of a different Fiji, a Fiji where greed, hatred, discrimination, and corruption are spurned. 

As a Vision Statement the People’s Charter, captures our desire for a strong and united nation, diverse and enriched with tolerance, goodwill and understanding.  Indeed, these are the principles that will exalt our nation.  It is my firm belief that these are some of the good principles of life. 

You are already aware that a major concrete expression of our desire for real change is currently in motion.

The Strategic Framework for Change was launched on July 31st last year, and is currently being implemented by its co-ordinating office. 

As a planning and working document it ensures through the Strategic Framework for Change Co-Ordinating office that the decisions taken towards our strategic priorities are actioned.

Government ministries, departments and agencies are monitored in terms of their commitment to the vision of government for a different and better Fiji, as espoused in the People’s Charter. 

Public service and public sector reforms are also currently in motion and the old laws are now being replaced in line with the spirit of the people’s charter.  

I am also pleased to mention that the lingering issue of land often exploited by ethno-nationalists and some politicians for their own ends has again been fully addressed to ensure that more available vacant land is utilized for productive purposes. 

Government to this end has endorsed the land use decree 2010 which established the land use unit within the ministry of lands and survey. 

The decree facilitates a fairer return to the landowers and provides a security of tenure. 

On our relations with the international community, we have clearly stated that we be allowed to govern our nation the way we know best. 

We have been criticized and shunned by some for determining our own destiny, but we will not be deterred.

We will work closely with those who care to consult with us and to understand our deep complexities. We will embrace their assistance in helping us to find suitable solutions.  To those who have closed the doors on us, we will tirelessly seek through quiet diplomacy to reopen those doors including those doors of the Commonwealth.

In this connection, you will have noted government’s decision to join the countries of the non-aligned movement. This will allow us to expand into new horizons of engagement.

Our government’s commitment to the achievements of the millennium development goals attest to its unwavering belief that it is responsible for the well being of all the people of this nation. 

Although we are faced with many challenges we must continue to trust that if we choose to work hard and with honesty, we will reap the benefits of our labour and, in due course, we will achieve the MDGs and hopefully by 2015.

Our aim is to improve health and educational services, reduce, and hopefully, eliminate poverty, instill efficiency in the public sector, strive for high economic growth, and encourage leaders in the true spirit of servicehood. 

A word about one of the scourges facing mankind including Fiji – this is HIV/AIDS.  Our ignorance of HIV/AIDS is still an issue in some quarters.  We will continue to educate those who are ignorant.  We will continue to preach the use of condoms – like these I have here – for safe sex.

I say again to all of you as I have done so many times before – be wise, use a condom. 

The catch phrase is “get in on before you get it on”.
We will further strive not only to understand our youths, but also to educate our elders, and to keep allowing and organizing open and bold educational debate about HIV/AIDS.  We will give them all the support that they will need.

But, while we are engrossed in the Fiji Day celebrations, let us not forget how very similar we all are in our pursuit of happiness, let us not forget how far we have come and what we need to do today to lend meaning to the lives of our citizens – all of us, Fijians.

You and I have a responsibility in this new dawn for a brighter day. 

We can only carry out this responsibility if we rightly believe that we are here for a purpose; to work hard, to love and respect others and eventually to share the blessings of this nation.

To our government leaders, our traditional chiefs and elders, our community leaders, our religious leaders and our youth leaders, I ask you to continue to lead with a vision. 
The timeless words of the Bible in the book of Proverbs chapter 29, verse 18 says, “where there is no vision, the people perish”.  These words remind us of our responsibility to this nation’s future and our role in that future.

To our young people, the youth of Fiji, lest you forget. I say to you enjoy your youth and appreciate the talents that have been gifted to you, use them wisely to live a full life, to improve your life and the lives of your fellowmen and women. 

Above all, heed the advice and the coaxing of your parents and teachers and apply yourselves so you can achieve all you goals.

To all the citizens of Fiji, and to our friends and supporters wherever you are. I thank you most sincerely for whatever contribution, large or small, you have made towards the development of this nation.  We have much cause to celebrate because we have come this far. 

We have great hope for a brighter future for our nation.  The journey is a long one – but you are all aware of that - and with God’s grace and our unwavering faith, we will get there in the end.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a very happy Fiji day! 

God bless you all and God bless Fiji!

Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu. Bahoot dhanyavaad