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March 8, 2021       State House, Suva.

Celebrating a Connected Commonwealth

The Honourable Prime Minister, Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama;

The Honourable Speaker of Parliament, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau;

The Honourable Cabinet Ministers;

The Honourable Members of Parliament;

Excellencies – Heads of Missions/Ambassadors/High Commissioners;

Members of the Diplomatic Corps;

Heads of Religious/Faith Organisations;

Heads/Chief Executive Officers of International/Regional Non-Government Organisations;

Distinguished Guests;

Fellow Citizens of Fiji.

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Ni Hao, Noaia ‘e Mauri and a very Good morning to you all.

It is a pleasure to be able to celebrate this year’s Commonwealth Day with all of you—my fellow Fijians, representatives of our fellow Commonwealth nations, Friends of Fiji and the Commonwealth.

A little less than one year ago, a gathering like this would have been unthinkable because of the restrictions on gatherings that we were compelled to implement and enforce to combat the Coronavirus – COVID-19 Pandemic. We managed to celebrate Commonwealth Day 2020 just before we went into a nation-wide lockdown that forced us to hunker down at home for most of the rest of the year. The streets were empty and quiet. And we had no idea when we would emerge from the dark world that had enveloped us. But today we can gather again to celebrate Commonwealth Day more than 320 days from Fiji’s last local case of the coronavirus, and with a new dawn on the horizon in the form of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

This weekend, the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrived to Fiji, thanks to the support of the WHO, UNICEF, and our development partners, including many in the Commonwealth. As that new dawn is arriving we should be proud that we are meeting it together, as a true Commonwealth of Nations.

A Commonwealth is a political community founded for the common good, and it is in times like these that we are all called to be more caring and compassionate towards one another and work together selflessly. The theme for Commonwealth Day this year is, ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating and Transforming’. We often speak in general terms about our common future - about greater prosperity, higher standards of living and mutual security, and we must keep making progress on those. But our commitment to a common future today must be more specific, because we have three pressing matters before us. 

We must take ambitious and unrelenting action to combat climate change. We must work very hard to ensure that vaccines are administered in an equitable way across the world and within each nation. And we also must get to work on an inclusive economic recovery from this terrible pandemic. That is where we must connect, innovate and transform.

Today’s celebration coincides with International Women’s Day, which is a reminder of what inclusivity and equity mean. Women here in Fiji and throughout the Commonwealth have a critical role in the development of their country, and they are disproportionately affected by crises like climate change and the pandemic - and despite our efforts to improve their lot, they still suffer from domestic abuse and sexual assault throughout the Commonwealth.I do not want to give the impression that women are just victims. They have also been leading the COVID-19 response to save lives, empower communities—as community leaders, medical professionals, humanitarian workers, development specialists and caregivers. These help ensure that all voices are heard and all experiences understood, and that is the point of departure for an equitable and inclusive response.

The Commonwealth contributes immensely to the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment, both through assistance programmes and moral suasion and we must redouble those efforts. The theme the United Nations has developed for International Women’s Day this year is, “Women in Leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID- 19 world.” It aligns perfectly well with the theme for Commonwealth Day. And so we have both these very important events that underpin the significance of engagement, collaboration and creating an enabling and inclusive environment for innovation and creativity appropriately addressed today.

Our Membership is diverse, yet through this diversity we find strength, with each Member reaffirming the common values we share of peace, democracy, good governance and the promotion of the rule of law and human rights. This annually celebrated Commonwealth Day event also offers opportunities for the people, governments and institutions of this richly diverse family of nations to celebrate milestones and explore opportunities together through the challenges we encounter. The aim is to celebrate the unity, diversity and links of the modern Commonwealth and to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the Commonwealth’s achievements and role. With enduring commitment through times of great change, successive generations have demonstrated that whilst the goodwill for which the Commonwealth is renowned for may be intangible, its impact is very real and continues to be relevant.

Fiji acknowledges the unique support and solidarity of the Commonwealth family, especially on issues and priorities close to our hearts such as climate change, health, and education, whilst also recognising the importance of trade, governance and infrastructure development.This enduring cooperation is a true reflection of the spirit of the Commonwealth in promoting our common values. 

From its earliest beginnings, and through successive stages of expansion and development, the Commonwealth has been a pioneer of invention and innovation, whilst embracing diversity and inclusiveness. So as we look forward and plan through these especially challenging times – let us renew our commitment to multilateralism and solidarity by drawing on and adding to the power, potential and influence of ‘A Connected Commonwealth’.

May Almighty God continue to bless the Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, The Commonwealth Group of Nations and our beloved Fiji. Thank you.