Honourable Members of Parliament;
Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corp;
The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Suva and Members
of the Ecumenical Community;
The PNG Diaspora and the Pacific Community and those
Tuning in Live on the Internet;
Ladies & Gentlemen.
Every once in a while, we are called on to say farewell to great Statesmen, to Honourable Leaders. And that sad duty falls to us now as we mourn the passing of Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare.
We Fijians respected and admired him as one of us, and we share the love and gratitude for him as do Papua New Guineans all over the world.
I know we have dearly loved to be in Papua New Guinea, joining in solidarity with his family and the people of PNG commemorating the life of the Grand Chief, but unfortunately the current challenges of COVID-19 make it impossible.
Sir Michael’s countrymen and women will remember him as the father of Papua New Guinea’s Independence.
The Grand Chief led the drive for a self-governing and independent Papua New Guinea through toktok, the way of peace and consensus. It was an arduous journey because he was challenged to win the confidence of their complex nation, with more than 800 different languages and tribal groups.
It may have been that experience that made him the kind of Leader who could unite the people of the Pacific, but I suspect that he had a natural ability to understand and respect the needs and aspirations of others.
He harnessed that great empathy to what seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of energy to unite his new nation, but his vision was even greater, because he saw that Independence was only a first step, and that the new, developing nations of the Pacific needed to be united if they were to prosper. And we have.
Sir Michael was a great friend of Fiji, and he had a special friendship with our first Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the other great Statesmen of the region as they shared the experience of leading their nations to Independence.
Both men believed that Pacific peoples should be masters of their own destiny. Theirs was a genuine friendship, and they truly shared a common vision for the prosperity of their countries and the Pacific region.
The founding of the South Pacific Forum, now known as the Pacific Islands Forum, in 1971 is one tangible legacy of that vision for collective action on issues that are important to our region. This year marks the PIF’s 50th Anniversary, and it is a living and active institution that solves problems and makes the Pacific a stronger, safer and more prosperous part of the world.
This reflects the true genius and the true heart of Sir Michael, that his ideals were always directed to do good, to build trust, to help people, and to bring people together. We honour that legacy through the solidarity among Pacific nations.
Now the torch has passed on to the new generation of Pacific Leaders who now must deal with the life-threatening challenges of climate change and increased frequency of natural disasters, the global health and socio-economic crises. It comes at a time when Pacific nations are rising to the global stage, no longer hindered by the smallness of their islands.
It is important for Fijians to remember who their friends are. The Grand Chief was a true friend of Fiji. He stood by Fiji as we faced our own set of challenges, urging the international and regional communities to trust judgment and respect our decisions. This is something we will never forget.
Every once in a while, we can truly remember a life that was not just well-lived, but magnificently lived. We can remember a life that made the world a better place. We can remember a life that was dedicated to others.
In remembering Sir Michael’s magnificent life, we don’t just celebrate his legacy; we live it. Every day, people of the Pacific reap the blessings of his life’s work, of the influence that he wielded and used for greater good, of the friendships that he established and maintained, and the words of wisdom that he gave us. For all of this, we must always be truly grateful.
Rest in peace, Grand Chief.