The Second Annual Constitution Day Celebrations
September 7, 2017 Churchchill Park, Lautoka
The Honourable Prime Minister,
Members of the Judiciary,
The Honourable Leader of the Opposition,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Chiefs and Community Leaders,
Leaders of the Religious Organizations,
Ladies and Gentlemen, our youths and our school children.
Muju Cola Vina, Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Ni Hao, Kona Mauri, Talofa, Noa’ia‘e mauri and a very good morning to you all.
On this day, we come together to celebrate our Constitution for the second time. As I had stated last year, we will celebrate each Constitution Day in different parts of Fiji. Last year, we had it in the Capital. This year, we are holding the ceremony here in Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city.
Next year, we will have it in the North, in Labasa. This is because the Constitution is not a document only for the capital or cities. It is not a document written only for Parliament, or for the courts, or for the various legal institutions. It is not something that is distant and unknowable. It is a document for all the people. It governs and guides our daily lives. It is always with us, sometimes in ways that are not obvious. It deserves to be commemorated in a national holiday. And we must celebrate it everywhere.
I love with all my heart the idea of Fiji as a land governed by laws and high principles, not by the whims and desires and ambitions of individuals. And what fine principles our Constitution enshrines and upholds! It says that all Fijians are equal before the law, with equal rights and an equal voice in their government. It says that we do not distinguish among Fijians by ethnicity or religion or socio-economic status or where they live. It says that all Fijians have a right to education, to healthcare, to equal justice, to decent housing and to basics like clean water. It says that we must care for the poor, the weak, the elderly and the disabled.
In short, it lays out a blueprint for how a good and decent people can live together. And we Fijians are a good and decent people.
Most importantly, our Constitution does not simply make suggestions. It does not simply state principles and ideals. It instructs our government and all of us to act on those principles and ideals. There is no ambiguity and can be no misunderstanding. It tells the government what it must do and what it should not do. It is very clear and courageous, and it demands clarity and courage of all of us.
I say it demands courage because sometimes it takes courage to do what we know is right and what the law demands, because we might have to put our own interests or our own point of view aside. But that is the only way a civilised people can live together.
Over the years, we have seen our Constitution in action. We have seen how its guiding principles have helped your Government translate Fiji’s economic growth and prosperity directly into opportunity for the Fijian people.
We have seen basic services extended to the furthest reaches of our islands. We have seen a wide range of social protection programmes put in place to protect those who are most vulnerable. W0e have seen development for every Fijian – and the West has certainly seen its share, with networks of roads and infrastructure that rival what you would find in the developed world. That development – that commitment to every Fijian – is what is demanded by our Constitution. Every day, it shapes our lives. Every day, it serves as a guide for those who serve us all. And every day, it makes Fiji a better place to call home.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls:
Our Constitution is a living document. Last year, it was my honour and privilege to share the podium with several young students from all over Fiji who read sections of the Constitution. That should have reminded all of us that our Constitution is not just a Constitution for today. It is a constitution for the ages. If we are wise, we will keep it, and it will guide us in the future as we confront issues we cannot foresee today. It gives us a framework for developing new laws for new needs.
Later today, you will hear from Miss Aliha Anshira Nisha of Xavier College in Ba, who was the winner of the first Constitution Essay Competition, which was judged last October. And as a result, she won a trip to Paris.
Aliha’s essay focused on the importance of eradicating discrimination. She believes that a society can build solidarity among its people if it fosters a climate of acceptance. She believes that unity will inevitably lead to peace and development, and that only when all people feel truly equal will they be able to put their full trust in their elected government.
I think those are very wise thoughts for someone my age, let alone for a 16-year old student. And I congratulate you, Aliha, from the bottom of my heart, for your wisdom, your high ideals, and your love of your country.
You will also hear from Deepsha Lal, a Year 12 student from Penang Sangam High School who was another of our runners-up in last year’s essay competition. She will be reading her essay “Youths, the Ambassadors of Equal Citizenry” which touches on the critical role that our young people play in shaping the direction of our nation.
The selection committee reported that it was very impressed by the quality of the essay submissions, and that should please all Fijians. It shows that our young people are preparing themselves to be contributing citizens of a representative democracy. They are our future and our hope. And they must carry the ideals and meet the very high standards of this Constitution well into the future and long after many of us are gone.
A constitution must stand for broad principles, and to do so it must be enduring. If a constitution is easy to change, it becomes easy to ignore. It loses its authority.
It becomes a document of convenience rather than a document of enduring principle. In the end, only the people can amend this Constitution, and only by referendum. And that is how it should be.
This Constitution was written by people from all over Fiji, who attended sessions to discuss the draft and who made suggestions in person and by letters and email. Different institutions representing different sectors made their voices heard. And so did ordinary Fijians, speaking for themselves. Many of you can see the ideas that you put forward in this Constitution, and you should be proud, It is truly a Constitution of the people.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls:
I have been speaking about how the Constitution gives us a guideline and a framework, that it gives us a way to decide issues and settle disputes peacefully. It also instructs the government. But it also challenges us as a people, because we must live up to those ideals. How do we do that?
We will have a test in the coming year, when we have an elections.
This will be our second election under the Constitution. For the first time, a government elected under our Constitution will go to the people to defend its track record, and opposition parties will try to convince the people that they can do better. This is an element of our democracy.
We will be tested in this election. We will be and should be challenged to participate in this election on the basis of policies and principles—and truth. Although it may be tempting in the heat of an election, we will be tested not to descend into demagoguery, race-baiting, ethnic profiling, diminished dignity and lies.
Elections are an integral part of democratic governance, but it is a sad truth that the elections are used to extenuate political differences. Each party will try to distinguish itself from the others. But through all of this, we must remain united as a nation.
Our 2014 elections were well-run and eminently credible by international standards. Our Electoral Commission is busy preparing for the upcoming elections, and the leadership and staff there have done an excellent job establishing the technical framework under which these elections will be contested. Indeed the manner in which the Fijian Elections Office and its supervisor of elections have conducted themselves, have won them international acclaim and recognition.
Only a few days ago Fiji was elected to the Executive Board of the Association of World Election Bodies representing the Oceania Region. The Association of World Election Bodies comprises 106 election Management bodies globally and this is the first time an Oceania seat has been included. This is proof that our electoral system, our electoral processes and the calibre of our personnel at the Fiji Elections Office have integrity and credibility which are compliant with international standards and norms.
We are currently on a path of unprecedented progress, with eight straight years of economic growth and numerous opportunities in our economy that are helping our people better their lives and the lives of those around them.
That has happened because members of the public have engaged with their government, made their voices heard and helped shape our nation’s future.
We need to keep Fiji on this path of progress. We need to keep moving forward. And that means we need to keep the concerns, the everyday struggles and the bold ideas of every Fijian at the heart of Government’s decision-making.
The Constitution also challenges us to be our best selves, to look deep into our hearts and live up to its ideals. For the ordinary Fijian, that may mean demanding your constitutional rights in court, and maybe even challenging the government if you believe it acted contrary to the Constitution.
For those who serve in government, it means loyalty first and foremost to the Constitution. Civil servants must heed what it commands them to do and how it commands them to act—with impartiality, integrity and utmost professionalism.
And for all of us, it means striving for unity. For it is a fact that the Constitution is a document that gives us a path to unity. It recognises our diversity, but it sees diversity as a strength for Fiji. We must be wise enough to embrace the unity that our Constitution holds out to us. It is our Constitution’s precious gift to the Fijian people.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls:
We celebrate today the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, the law that defines us as a nation and guides us. But it is more than a body of law. It is a beacon on a hill that lights the way to greater things for Fiji. It lights our way to unity. It lights our way to progress. It lights our way to prosperity. And it lights our way to greatness.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: I wish to give my deepest thanks to all the people who have worked hard to make Constitution Day a success—our disciplined forces, the city of Lautoka, all the citizens who have participated today and most of all our students who are here in large numbers.
I say this to you and especially to our young Fijians:
The Fijian Constitution must be cherished and celebrated, because it represents our aspirations as a people and it has given us the power to unite in the common cause that is this great country—Fiji.
A Very Happy Constitution Day to you all. And May God Bless our beloved nation Fiji and all Fijians.
Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Xièxiè, Ko bati nraba, Fa’afetai, Fai’eksia and Thank You.