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Official Dinner hosted by the President of the Republic of Vanuatu

November 30, 2017       Golden Port Restaurant, Port Vila, Vanuatu

The President of the Republic of Vanuatu,  Your Excellency Tallis Obed Moses
The First Lady, Madam Estella Tallis
Senior Officials of the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu
The Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University of the South Pacific Council, Ambassador Winston Thompson
The Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra
The Director of the USP Campus in Vanuatu, Mr Ruben Markward
Fiji’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea with cross-accreditation to Vanuatu, Commodore Esala Teleni
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and gentlemen

Good evening and Ni sa bula vinaka.

I am deeply honoured to be here in your beautiful country in my capacity as Fiji’s Head of State and Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific. And I bring the warm greetings of the Government and the Fijian people.

Your Excellency, may I take this opportunity to thank you again for receiving me and my delegation this afternoon and for hosting us to dinner. I wish to again extend to you, Your Excellency Tallis Obed Moses, our congratulations on your assumption of the Presidency of this beloved nation, and our best wishes for a very successful term in office.

My last visit to Vanuatu in June of this year was on a sad occasion, as the world bid farewell to your predecessor and one of Vanuatu’s eminent sons - the late President His Excellency Womtelo Reverend Baldwin Jacobson Lonsdale.  

Today, however, we celebrate a new chapter in your great country’s history with your Excellency at the helm as the President and Head of State. Today is also a celebration of achievements in higher education as we prepare to celebrate the graduation ceremony of students at the University of the South Pacific’s School of Law at the Emalus Campus.

Your Excellency, Fiji and Vanuatu have enjoyed close people to people relations since the 1860s when many of our brothers and sisters traversed the Pacific Ocean in search of a new life. Many ni-Vanuatu who have settled in Fiji have contributed immensely to our growth as a nation. They have certainly contributed to our socio-economic development and enriched our cultural diversity. Many have taken up Fijian citizenship or dual citizenship under our new Constitution of 2013. And, as Fijians, they are living testimonies to the cherished, lifetime bonds between our two countries and peoples. I trust that our people who have settled in Vanuatu have also contributed positively to your country’s progress as a nation.

Vanuatu has always been a steadfast partner to Fiji throughout our history, and I wish to reiterate Fiji’s gratitude for Vanuatu’s unwavering support to Fiji in the lead up to our first genuine democratic elections in 2014, held under the Fijian Constitution. We also thank Vanuatu for your support of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) which continues to explore greater opportunities to strengthen regional relations through the active participation of Governments, the private sectors and civil society organisations.

In recognition and support of the role of civil society, I will be officiating at the opening of the world assembly of civil society organisations that will be held in Suva on Monday 4 December. About 500 delegates from around the world are gathering to discuss the most pressing issues affecting civil society.

Your Excellency, Fiji certainly looks forward to strengthening our relations with Vanuatu and I wish to express my pleasure of receiving your new High Commissioner to Fiji, His Excellency Nikenike Vurobaravu when he presented his Credentials two weeks ago. This, Your Excellency, is another reminder of the personal bonds and friendship that our two countries have forged over the years. Having said this, I acknowledge that today we enjoy cordial relations both at the bilateral, regional and multilateral level. I also must admit that we have yet to fulfil the full potential of our relations as there are many more opportunities that we can and must explore together for the benefit of our peoples and our countries.

Your Excellency, I hope that the services at the Lenakel Hospital in Tanna and the schools in North Efate that our military officers had assisted in rebuilding at the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Pam, have been fully restored and to the satisfaction of the communities they serve.

On the same note, we are very grateful for Vanuatu’s support through both your financial aid and prayers, following the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji early last year. At Category Five, TC Winston was recorded as the strongest cyclone to make landfall in the Southern hemisphere. It killed 44 of our people and wiped out almost a third of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We were very fortunate and so grateful to receive much assistance from our international and regional friends like Vanuatu. Your Excellency, learning from our experiences and given the level of commitments we have through bilateral and regional frameworks that guide our relations, I hope we can further develop our level of engagements in the future.

Your Excellency, our Pacific Islands region is vast and is comprised of island-nations scattered across the ocean. In fact, we are people of Big Oceans States. But, we are constantly at the mercy of modern day challenges such as climate change and trans-border crimes such as money laundering, people smuggling, trans-national refugee migration, and illegal fishing, among others. And I have every confidence that our nations can work together to strengthen our capabilities to address these issues through our support of regional and sub-regional organizations and through sharing experiences, advice and expertise in our collective campaigns against these issues. 

I am very glad to be here today because I take my role as Chancellor very seriously. I have every confidence that some of the graduating students will go on to become the future leaders of your great nation. I certainly look forward to meeting them tomorrow. In the same way that I look forward to strengthening the friendship between our peoples and nations. This is vitally important as we are increasingly challenged to deal with issues that directly affect our peoples, and the Pacific Islands Countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that the University of the South is doing each one of us a great favour by establishing campuses in its respective member states. The real favour is in providing quality tertiary education for our children. I am a firm believer that education is the future for our region. Our youths need to be provided with better opportunities for education and empowerment to enable a better future for our peoples. Graduations like the one we will witness tomorrow are hugely encouraging signs that the future of our region is in safe hands.

Your Excellency, as you are aware, Fiji has just assumed the Presidency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP23. And on that note, I wish to acknowledge Vanuatu’s collective support towards the opportunity to promote decisive action to protect our Pacific Islands from the effects of climate change.

I would like to mention and in particular commend the presence of your Prime Minister Honourable Charlot Salwai Tabsimasmas in Bonn during COP23 responding positively to the call by my Prime Minister Honourable Frank Bainimarama seeking the support of all Pacific Leaders to rally behind him in ensuring the success of COP23.

Your Prime Minister’s presence with other Pacific Leaders were a living testimony on the solidarity we all have in our firm resolve to effectively combat the scourge of climate change to our people and communities. On behalf of the COP23 Presidency, if you may Excellency, do convey to the Honourable Tabsimasmas our sincere appreciations and gratitude for his firm support towards our COP23 Presidency.

Our Presidency of COP23 is indeed a Pacific Presidency, and I wish to assure you that during our term, we will always pour our passion into ensuring that issues of all Pacific Small Island Developing States are effectively addressed through the United Nations processes.

As you know, Your Excellency, the COP23 meeting in Bonn was a great success and should be an indicator to the rest of the world that our Pacific Island Countries are not only capable in chairing major events of international importance, but also invaluable in sharing our unique perspectives with the rest of the world.

As we take on the Presidency of COP23, over the year ahead, we continue to appeal for support from all our Pacific neighbours so that together we can form a united and strong voice within the global community. Because on an issue as important as climate change, we cannot afford to fail in our mission. We must keep this issue atop the global agenda. We look forward to standing side-by-side with Vanuatu; with your support and cooperation, we continue to work together, ensuring that all of the previously marginalized voices of the Pacific are heard more now than ever before. We need to do this for the survival of our economies, our peoples, our cultures, our very own islands, and the rest of humanity.

Your Excellency, I thank you once again for this opportunity to visit your great country. And thank you also for tonight’s dinner. I certainly look forward to receiving Your Excellency in Suva someday soon. 

Tagio Tu Mas, Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank You.