PRIME MINISTER’S ADDRESS MOVING THE MOTION IN PARLIAMENT TO THANK HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT FOR HIS MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH IN OPENING THE 2024 PARLIAMENTARY SESSION-(11-03-2024)

Honorable Speaker of Parliament; Honorable Deputy Prime Ministers; Honorable Cabinet Ministers; Honorable Leader of the Opposition; Honorable Assistant Ministers; Honorable Members of Parliament;

Good morning to you all.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament please allow me to acknowledge and say Ni sa Bula to all Fijians and visitors visiting Fiji as Tourists and all listening in via television, live streaming and Walesi platforms or radio. I hope you are getting good receptions where ever you are, and acknowledge your keen interest in the affairs of our Nation and the proceedings of your Parliament.

It is my distinct honour and privilege, as Prime Minister to move the Motion now being debated in the House and that is to ‘Thank His Excellency the President for his most Gracious Address’ while opening this 2024 Session of the House, last Monday, 4th March 2024.

May I also congratulate the Hon Speaker, the Secretary General and all Staff and the PWD Workers and Supervisors wo worked tirelessly around the clock to ensure these Chambers and the Support IT Infrastructures were ready for use when we walked in here for the Opening.

I also congratulate Ratu Meli Derenalagi and our Drua Rugby Team on their victory over the Canterbury Crusaders at Churchill Park in Lautoka on Saturday. I am fortunate to have watched all their three victories at home here in Fiji, the first two by the very slimmest of margins and last Saturday’s with quite a respectable margin of 10. I also congratulate the Coaching Staff and Management and all who contributed to the performance of the Team, and to the big crowd that came to see them play.

I also thank the Administrators of Lautoka City and the Fiji Sports Council for a great morale-boosting event.

Yesterday, Honorable Speaker, Sir some of us celebrated Fathers’ Day in our Churches and at Wesley, we also celebrated Harvest Sunday. I congratulate all the fathers in this Honourable House and all Fathers in Fiji, and to all who were able to present the fruits of their first harvest this year, Congratulations.

At our Fathers’ Day worship yesterday, we also remembered the fathers who departed this life during the year since our last Fathers’ Day.

One of the Speakers in Church reminded the Fathers that many of the Social Ills of today, such as drug and alcohol abuse, violence against women and girls, ill-discipline in schools, etc. have all stemmed from the failure of fathers to exercise loving but firm leadership in families and communities.

In his address, His Excellency encouraged us, as democratically elected representatives, to listen to the voices of our people, not only those who elected us, but to all our citizens young and old, men and women. He urged us all to faithfully embrace with resolve the principles of democracy and humanity as enshrined in our Constitution. By doing so we respect the integrity and dignity of our Parliament and honour all Fijians. His Excellency further urged us that while we acknowledge and recognize our differences; we must be united with one common resolve to ensure that we live in a peaceful, progressive and prosperous nation.

The Honorable Speaker, Sir, and Honorable Members, His Excellency reminisced on his days as a boy growing up in his village and its environs and people.

I am sure we can all relate to his story.

He spent several happy years of his youth in Macuata with farming families during sugarcane harvesting season. Their multiethnic and multicultural integrated community in Macuata taught him many important lessons in life which include hard work, respect for elders, family unity and respect for other ethnic communities. The two major ethnic communities in Fiji have mostly lived in harmony together.

His Excellency however, rued the unfortunate fact that, some unscrupulous politicians continue to instigate mistrust among our communities for their own political ends. This has led to the perception of communal differences within our society, and His Excellency has pleaded with us, Honorable Members of Parliament, to continue to promote harmony and embrace diversity in our nation.

When I was a young boy attending Drekeniwai District School, in my village of Drekeniwai, Navatu, Cakaudrove, where my father taught, our house was the Government Workers Billet when they passed through the village or came to work in it.

There were two Mail Carriers who would traverse the coastal villages between Matakunea and Natewa on the Eastern Coast of Natewa Bay, riding on their faithful horses. One was Mamaj and the other Lachmaiya. They brought their own pots and pans and some cutlery and utensils, because, as my mother told me, they would not be able to eat food prepared in pottery etc. that had been used to cook or serve food that were forbidden in their religions, but my sisters and I could eat any of the food they prepared for themselves and some times they would cook for the whole family.

They were very kind hearted and honest and cheerful for us the young children in the villages, many of us even called them Kuku Mamaj or Kuku Lachmaiya – and they loved that! We were family.

Many years later, I was SO1 Operations and Training in the RFMF when, one day, the Telephone Operator at the RFMF Switchboard put a call to my Extension saying; “There’s a European man from Taveuni wishing to speak to you. He said it’s about a relative of his wishing to join the E Company Recruit Intake next month.”

I asked; “What’s the European man’s name?”

The Operator said; “Mr. Glanville, Sir!” “Put him through”; I said; “That’s a Retired Officer of 1 FIR, and fought in the Malayan Campaign.”

The ‘relative’ of Mr Glanville was accepted and turned out to be one of the best in that Recruit intake and served for more than 18 years including a few Middle East Peacekeeping Tours.

When the SVT-GVP Coalition lost the Elections in 1999, I went to pay my respects to the Chiefs and voters who voted for me starting at Somosomo, Taveuni where Mr Glanville was Na Turaga Bale Na Ai Sokula, Na Tui Cakau, and the late Ratu of the Honourable Speaker of this August House, who was assigned by Na Turaga Bale Na Tui Cakau to organize the yaqona in the Provincial Council Hall, where I met the retired NCO who joined the Army in 1981 on the recommendation of the late Ratu Glanville Lalabalavu, Turaga Bale Na Tui Cakau sa bale, who said to me in 1981; “Tu’aqu, qo e dua ga vei iratou a weitou qo e Naqara, me la’I curu mada yane qai mai vu’ei tamana e na nodratou Bisinisi!”

The Honorable Speaker, Sir, I do not blame any Honorable Member who might have looked at me when His Excellency mentioned ‘some unscrupulous politicians who continue to instigate mistrust among our communities for their own political ends.’

Honourable Speaker, Sir, while I cannot change my past, I can contribute to our joint efforts to change the future of this country and I will.

His Excellency went on to remind us, Honorable Members, of the the importance of respectful debate as it has an impact on inter-ethnic relations of our different communities. He implored us to leave aside our differences and strive for the common good of our people. He asked us to focus on our shared destiny and commonality rather than our small differences. He believes that we can all aspire to these fundamental truths, that demonstrate what true leadership is all about.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament His Excellency went on to mention his belief that financial literacy will empower our people with financial security and self-reliance, encouraging a culture of financial responsibility that can have a positive impact on national prosperity and ensure for all, a secure future.

Before the Honorable Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Finance, the Honorable Professor Biman Prasad went on his recent Official Trip to India, I asked him to study the developments introduced by Prime Minister Modi to ensure that every person in India, all 1.408 Billion of them, has a Bank Account, every Market and Street-side Vendor has a Credit Card Terminal or EFTPOS, or Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale, as part of their Financial Literacy and National Savings Encouragement Programmes.

I was inspired to ask Hon Prasad to do that in India, when I noticed a young Caddy pulling a Golf Player’s Bag on a ‘qiqi’ or trolley. I said to my Caddy, “How much of the Fees he’ll be paid will get home to his family?” “Probably none” my Caddy sadly replied. I told him that $40.00 would have a positive impact on a family weekly income in Wailea, or Nanuku Informal Settlements.

We can emulate what Prime Minister Modi has done in India by providing access to comprehensive financial literacy supported with the enabling environment and necessary financial resources, we all can make informed decisions about saving, investing, and managing our finances effectively. While His Excellency would like to see Jone, who is a dalo farmer and Ram who sells sweets at his cart, learn how to manage and have access to finance, I would like the young Caddies at Golf Clubs around Fiji and all Markets and Street- side Vendors to be able to do the same, and at the same time, encourage a culture of saving which will allow the development of a sustainable investment plan for their families long term security. I like His Excellency, would like to see members of our communities learning and sharing from each other’s expertise and experiences, so we can all prosper together.

There is a young man, originally from Taveuni, now living in Wailea Informal Settlement, who has a weak right hand. People in the area pay him to pound their yaqona, and he does it one- handed, using only his left hand. He now has a very well developed left arm, with strong biceps and triceps and a healthy Bank Account which a Good Samaritan helped him with. His name is Iowane, and I met him many years ago while we were both picking up plastic bottles from along the Suva-Laucala Sea Walls, some years ago.

At this stage, Honorable Speaker, I want to thank all Civil Servants, Government Workers and Provincial and Municipal Council Leaders and Captains of Industries and the business communities who have come forward to support the Government’s efforts to formulate a new National Development Plan.

The views of all members of our communities are now being heard through meaningful consultations rather than just window dressing. Meaningful consultation and dialogue will lead to better outcomes, foster ownership, inclusiveness, and social cohesion.

Ocean of Peace

Honorable Speaker Sir, the vision for a united and cohesive Fiji is dovetailed very well with my vision of the ‘Ocean of Peace’ for the Pacific.

On many occasions at home and in the international and regional arena, I continue to champion the concept of Ocean of Peace. I sincerely hope that the Pacific Leaders will discuss and embrace the concept in its next meeting this year to be held in the Kingdom of Tonga in August.

There is a need for peaceful solutions to inspire and uplift us all in these challenging times.

My vision is that we must all come together to promote and elevate peace for our vast maritime area – the Blue Pacific.

The aim is to promote peace as the highest virtue in the Pacific. We must continue to embrace the “Pacific Way” of patient dialogue and consensus building as our common heritage and core to our ‘VUVALE’ – the Pacific family.

The Government will work with other nations, through the Pacific Island Forum, to ensure that the concept of an Ocean of Peace will enhance and not reduce each state’s full sovereign rights.

Foreign Policy

Honorable Speaker Sir, our foreign policy is guided by three key pillars which focusses on our:

  1. (i)  Sovereignty;
  2. (ii)  Security; and
  3. (iii)  Prosperity.

We are currently in the process of developing a framework for our Foreign Policy through a white paper. The white paper will clearly define our identity and values, while setting a new direction, in expressing our goals, priorities and ambitions.

The intent is to better position Fiji in its role in the region and globally with clarity in our responsibility as a member of the Blue Pacific Continent.

We have renewed our Vuvale Partnership that was signed by the Australian Prime Minister and I in October 2023.

Last week through the Vuvale Partnership, I received a new Guardian Class Patrol Boat, the RFNS Puamau in Perth, Australia.

This new addition will enhance our surveillance capability at a period of growing concerns over transnational crime, smuggling and illegal fishing in our EEZ. In addition, it will support our effort for rescue, emergency response and rehabilitation during and after disasters.

The government and people of Fiji would like to convey our deepest gratitude to the government and people of Australia for this timely assistance in building up our capacity. This is in addition to the budget support and the other assistance provided.

Honorable Speaker Sir, the Government is now in consultation with New Zealand to review the Duavata Partnership following the election of a new government late last year.

And, beyond Oceania, we are building stronger ties and cooperation with our development partners including the US, UK, France, Germany, China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.

Climate Change and Environment

Honorable Speaker Sir, we must all recognize that climate change is a cross-cutting issue and is an existential threat to our very survival and identity.

This is the very reason I strongly support a bipartisan approach in addressing all issues relating to climate change because it requires ‘all hands-on deck’.

This is the very reason I invited the Leader of Opposition to join me and the government delegation to the COP28 meeting in Dubai in 2023 – so that we can all work together on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures collectively.

At the world stage we continue to press for pragmatic action rather than business as usual to ensure the availability of financial resources to address loss and damage.

Honorable Speaker Sir, in his Address, His Excellency outlined key initiatives to be undertaken by the government in addressing climate change. These initiatives include:

  1. (i)  to reduce emissions;
  2. (ii)  protect our citizens from climate impacts; and
  3. (iii)  to build resilience in our communities.

The Government in 2024 will continue to implement a range of climate change actions based on these key initiatives particularly in energy, agriculture, forestry, health, natural ecosystems, and disaster management.

We are currently in the process of finalizing our new National Development Plan. The development of the National Plan will enable the review of adaptation and mitigation strategies and the design of programmes and projects that are considered necessary and relevant to our needs.

Honorable Speaker Sir, our main environmental concern is how we manage our waste and pollution which is impacting our marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

We will review strategies to reduce dumping and littering. Flooding from recent high rainfall events has also exposed our drainage system capacity which is inadequate to effectively minimize the risk of overflow.

Good Governance

Honorable Speaker Sir, one of my immediate priorities on assuming office as Prime Minister, is to ensure collaborative, transparent and accountable decision-making processes in Government.

In 2023, the Coalition Government put into place a strategic, robust and clear decision-making machinery to support better coordination, formulation and implementation of policies and programmes.

As part of our commitment to good governance and empowerment of local communities, we will work towards the review of the Banaban Settlement Act.

We also plan to hold elections for the Rabi Island Council, complete the naturalization process for Rabi and Kioa islanders. At the same time, we will urgently address the socio- economic needs of the Melanesian Vasu-i-Taukei community.

The Small Grants Scheme under my portfolio will continue to support local communities to improve sustainable livelihoods. I have made the assurance that all commitments made by my predecessor to communities will be honored by the Coalition Government.

Development Assistance

Honorable Speaker Sir, we will also be focusing on the development and implementation of the Vanua Levu Upgrading and Sealing of Roads Project. This is a flagship project of the Belt and Road cooperation between China and Fiji, to improve access to markets, and promote economic activities on Vanua Levu. It is estimated that the upgrading and resealing of 80km of roads will cost F$300 million.

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Civil Service

Honorable Speaker Sir, our civil service plays an integral part in delivering cost effective Government initiatives to our people. The removal of the contract arrangements and the increasing of the retirement age to 60 has brought more confidence to our civil servants.

Honorable Speaker Sir, at the beginning of this year, to further incentivize civil servants, the Ministry of Civil Service through the Public Service Commission had amended the civil service open merit-based recruitment and selection guidelines by regularizing acting appointments for officers that have been acting on positions for more than 6 months.

Honorable Speaker Sir, amendments have also been implemented to relevant civil service guidelines that will allow Ministries to increase the salaries of its deserving officers based on their performance.

Honorable Speaker Sir, the Office Accommodation and Housing Unit of the Ministry is working with its development partners and Ministries to improve government owned and rented facilities including government quarters.

Digital transformation to removing red tape within the public sector will be given priority in 2024.

Public Enterprise

Honorable Speaker Sir, Public Enterprise and State-Owned Entities will continue to be supported to improve financial performance and return on investment.

The re-establishment of the High Salaries Commission (HSC) which came into effect on 16 October 2023 will promote transparency and consistency in the salaries of CEOs of all state-owned enterprises.

A guideline for merit-based selection appointment process for Board of Directors has been approved. The guideline promotes diversity and encourages more female participation to promote gender equality on board of government companies and statutory bodies.

The review of the Fiji Mahogany Industry will be a key initiative undertaken in 2024. The review will identify the necessary structural reforms to enable an efficient business environment for all stakeholders. In particular, to encourage resource owners to participate in value addition in the process of Mahogany products.

In addition, the Mahogany Industry Development Act of 2010 and Mahogany Industry (Licensing and Branding Act) 2011 will be reviewed to ensure transparency and accountability and provide optimum return on the industry.

Honorable Speaker Sir, the Ministry of Public Enterprise is currently exploring opportunities to revitalize ship building and ship repairing facilities in the country. This is in line with my commitment of making Fiji a hub in the Pacific as a free transshipment port and provide auxiliary service facilities for seafarers including fishing vessels.

With support from our donor partners, we are currently developing the most appropriate location in the establishment of a new shipbuilding, repairing and maintenance facilities.

Information

Honorable Speaker Sir, I also hold the portfolio of Information and National Archives of Fiji. The availability of timely and accurate information is critical in modern society. Public must be informed on all activities undertaken by government.

The Department of Information will continue to provide timely and effective dissemination of government’s development agenda and activities as and when it happens.

The Department of Information will continue to nurture improved working relationships with the mainstream media. This is in the spirit of government commitment for a free and independent media.

The free flow of information and transparency are the cornerstones of the work of the National Archives of Fiji. The digitization and preservation of archives will be a priority in 2024.

Honorable Speaker Sir, His Excellency the President’s Address to the Opening of Parliament reminded us to focus on our common purpose and not on our differences.

It is my hope and prayer that we work together to build a stronger nation, with social cohesion, and unity of purpose.

I urge you to deliberate with intention towards unity, thoughtfulness and inclusiveness.

To have a meaningful debate, we must commit ourselves to respect one another in considering government’s legislative agenda, policies, and programmes as outlined in the President’s Address.

May the people of this land that we all love be the ultimate beneficiaries of our collective efforts.

Together we are stronger.

May God Bless us all and May God Bless Fiji

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