The Honourable Mark Brown, Incoming Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, and Chair of the Polynesian Leaders Group
Your Excellency, David Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, and Chair of the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit
Colleague Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Ni sa Bula Vina’a saka and a very good evening to you all.
Firstly, allow me to acknowledge what a tremendous honour it is for the Coalition Government and I, to host our Pacific Vuvale on Fijian soil this week.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which this Special Leaders’ Retreat is being hosted, Ki Navatulevu, vua na Turaga na Momo na Tui Nadi, Vinaka vakalevu saka.
I am particularly thankful that so many of you, Leaders of Government, have made it to Nadi, despite your very busy schedules.
Our theme for the week is like the proverbial wind in our sails, as we explore opportunities to reflect, renew and celebrate the age-old linkages, that have underpinned our solidarity as a Forum Family over the last five (5) decades.
As a Pacific Islander and as an i-Taukei, I have always valued the richness of our cultures, and the uniqueness of our traditions.
We are a region set apart from the world. A region that shares a history that is centered around our Ocean, and whose future is dependent on the one Ocean, that we all share.
This gathering is like no other. It is a gathering of a family reconciled. A family that has worked through its differences and as a result, stands stronger and united today.
I hope that at the end of our Talanoa tomorrow, we will celebrate our unity; our diversity; and most importantly, the renewal of our collective commitment and our common interests, as one Forum Family.
Excellencies, Honourable Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, I was extremely humbled by the warmth and hospitality of the i-Kiribasi people, on our recent visit to that great sea-faring nation.
The depth of the exchange that took place in Kiribas on the 20th of January, shall be forever etched in our memories.
I can only say that while our language and culture differ, our spirits are united when we were able to share our cultures and traditions with each other.
It reinforced for me, the importance and vitality of our own Pacific Way of leadership.
My visit to Kiribati was definitely a highlight of my short tenure as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, a role I assumed on my appointment as Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, on Christmas Eve last year.
For me, returning to this leadership role as the oldest Leader-in-Office in our region, means that I do not have the luxury, nor the flexibility to make mistakes this time around.
It also means that I bring to the role a depth in experience and learning, that I have accumulated over the years – most especially when it comes to leadership and in particular, our very own Pacific Way of Leadership.
Allow me to acknowledge and pay my respects to the founders of this Pacific Islands Forum, and all past leaders. Some of us are fortunate to have rubbed shoulders with these giants of the region, and to have walked in their shadow. Now, it is our turn to pass on our learnings.
I remember well, in 1999, in my first term as Prime Minister, the following leaders, some of whom have passed on:
The recent challenges within our Forum Family have, for me personally, reaffirmed the need for us as Leaders, to make considered efforts to invest in the leadership potential within our region – but not just any kind of leadership – we need to invest in leadership that is contextualized, to our Pacific cultures and traditions.
We have seen how this worked in my recent visit to Kiribas, and I pray that it will also contribute to a stronger and united Forum Family now that Fiji has performed earlier today, the traditional ceremony of matanigasau, our proven and age-old ceremony of rebuilding relationships by seeking forgiveness for wrongs that have been committed.
We share common values that are built around our people, our communities, our cultures and our traditions.
At its very core, they are the very values that underpin our solidarity as a family; our collective effort as a region; and our shared vision for our people.
Having emerged from a global pandemic, we continue to grapple with economic recovery, we navigate the daily threat of climate change and now we find ourselves having to contend with increasing geo-political interest, both bilaterally and as a region.
These complexities demand innovative approaches and solutions and require stronger collaboration and partnership.
My visit to Kiribasi was an incredible eye-opener. I was in awe of the magnitude and majesty of our Pacific Ocean. The contrast between land and sea, perhaps more stark in the aerial approach to Kiribasi.
It was a reminder for me, personally, that the Ocean is, and will be our future. And we must invest in innovative ways and means, to sustainably utilize the ocean in our collective interest.
Indeed, the challenges of the 21st Century demand a stewardship of the Ocean that is both rooted in tradition, and also cutting-edge science and technology. The onus is on us, as Leaders, to champion this change, moving forward.
Looking ahead, Excellencies, Honourable Prime Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2050 Strategy sets our collective vision for the next three (3) decades. It is an aspirational strategy that will be grounded with an implementation plan that will guide the key areas of collective advocacy, and priority moving forward.
As our officials formulate the implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy, I hope that we, as Leaders, can use this Retreat to discuss preliminary ideas and proposals framed under the 2050 Vision that we can consider further as a collective and unified platform.
While the 2050 Strategy articulates our collective aspirations, the implementation plan will guide our action. Once the implementation plan is is completed, there will be much work to be done to ensure that we have an efficient and fit-for-purpose architecture, to support and implement our collective political strategy.
But for tonight, Excellencies, Honourable Prime Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us celebrate our convening as a Forum Family this week. Let us enjoy each other’s company, and let us renew with one another our commitment – to our Forum Family, to our region and most especially, to our Pacific people.
Vina’a va’a levu.