I bring the Apologies from His Excellency The President of Fiji, who is unable to be with you, his fellow Chiefs this morning.
He had been advised by his Personal Physician to rest for another two days.
Na vanua i Kubuna, Gone Turaga Bale na Vunivalu na Tui Kaba
Na vanua i Burebasaga, Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi na Turaga na Vunivalu
Na vanua i Lalagavesi, Gone Turaga Bale na Tui Cakau, na Ai Sokula
Honourable Ministers/Assistant Ministers
Excellencies – Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Members of the GCC
Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow citizens of Fiji
I also bring the Apologies of some of my Cabinet Colleagues who are away overseas or away locally on Cabinet duties. They send greetings and best wishes that your deliberations over the two days of sitting will be rewarding for you and beneficial for Fiji and all Fijians.
Ni sa bula vina’a.
On all our behalf I thank Rev Turagavou, the President and Qase Levu of the Methodist Church in Fiji for the Prayer and Holy Spirit-filled Devotional message delivered to us this morning. Vina’a va’alevu, Turaga na Qase Levu ni Lotu Wesele e Viti ei Rotuma.
We also acknowledge the vanua o Korolevu for the traditional welcoming ceremony accorded to the Great Council of Chiefs this morning.
We also acknowledge that they are also, as the Vanua o Korolevu, the original owners of the land on which we gather today, and we acknowledge their great ancestors, their chiefs and leaders of today, and those that will come in the future in their places.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
I come here to pay my respects to you, traditional leaders of Fiji who have taken up your positions in the re-established Great Council of Chiefs.
I will be talking to you on issues of great significance for Fiji.
The GCC was cast aside by the previous Government. Now it has risen again to resume its time-honoured role in the affairs of this land.
Your mana is not derived from democracy. You possess authority and influence inherited from ancient systems of leadership which have had a mighty impact on the history of Fiji.
With your chiefly titles, knowledge, and ancestry, you are vital to the indigenous identity and culture, and to the functioning of the vanua.
I come before you as a Fijian from the ranks of my own vanua. I am duty-bound to serve my Chiefs and those they lead.
As an elected politician I do not act only for the iTaukei.
I am the servant of all communities that call Fiji home.
I’m going to recite to you now the roll call of our diversity.
It starts with the indigenous Fijians whose forebears discovered our islands some 3,000 years ago.
In 1879 the first of the Girmitiyas from India, with all their distinct groups, came ashore to start new lives. They were the first to be brought to Fiji in the Colonial British Era Policy of developing the economies of the New Colonies they were establishing in the New World at that time.
There are those of already mixed heritage from the colonized world; and the Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, Banabans, Melanesians; people of Samoan, Tongan, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna descent; as well as i-Kiribati and citizens from other parts of Micronesia and elsewhere.
It is my honour to head a government that is dedicated to building and strengthening unity and patriotism in this unique mosaic of people.
I see you, our Chiefs, playing a special part in this mission.
This is the second consecutive year that the GCC is meeting, and the first after it was legally restored. The GCC is now on a firm footing.
Last year in Bau, His Excellency reminded us of the GCC’s evolution. And he quoted the famous words of the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna at the ground breaking ceremony of Queen Victoria School in 1950….[I quote] “….today’s impressive ceremony will surely be recognized as an outstanding landmark in the forward march of the Fijian race”.
In November 2023, the GCC was reinstated by law, 17 years after its suspension and 10 years after its dis-establishment.
Just short of 30 years ago, the GCC heard what became one of the most famous speeches in Fiji’s history.
The late Mr Jai Ram Reddy, then Leader of the Opposition, was the first Indo Fijian to address the Council.
He did so as a dominant figure in a bi-partisan effort to bring the country together and set it on the right course for achieving complete nationhood.
He was present at the GCC at my invitation. As parliamentary colleagues and political leaders, Mr Reddy and I were working as virtual partners in the interests of everyone.
I still recall the memorable, powerful statements he made on that occasion.
I’m going to summarise two of them.
Mr Reddy called on the GCC to be a foundation of unity for our nation. And he submitted that those listening to him were Chiefs, not just of the indigenous Fijians but of all the people of Fiji.
I could never match the eloquence of Mr Reddy, but I can echo what he said.
Like him, I believe you have a destiny that goes beyond tradition.
You must be Chiefs for all.
I understand very clearly that you have a particular agenda to expedite the progress of the iTaukei. I very much agree with that.
But I also ask you to use your combined wisdom, knowledge and authority in an inclusive manner that will generate benefits for everyone. If you can help the Government with its policies to reduce poverty, and create more opportunity and prosperity across our communities, then you will be models of leadership for a new Fiji.
In all humility I urge you to join in this great mission of making Fiji once again a symbol of hope for the world.
Today, we meet not to celebrate the return of the GCC, but to chart the path forward as bearers of our collective history and architects of a shared future.
I stand before you, imbued with a profound sense of honor and responsibility. Today marks a historic juncture in our nation’s journey—a journey that has seen its share of trials and triumphs, pauses, and progressions.
The GCC is a beacon of leadership, guidance, and unity. It is a symbol of our enduring traditions, and our collective aspirations for the future.
We need to be reminded of how we arrived at this point. The past isn’t dead and buried. And the GCC isn’t even a relic of the past as it continues to evolve. I do not need to recite here its history. But we do need to remind ourselves that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.
What’s remarkable about today is how the GCC overcame the odds; how it was able to make a way out of no way.
Today, we see the light of a new chapter in our nation’s story, we are at the crossroad of history and hope, where every Fijian craves for unity underpinned by the strength of our destiny.
There will always be skeptics who question our decisions and challenge the paths we choose, but it is through these debates that we forge stronger convictions and clearer visions for our future.
And to the future we now look.
Let me begin with the Government’s expectation of the GCC. The Government’s policy statement on the GCC is clear: while the body is intrinsically linked to the governance and well-being of the iTaukei, it carries a profound obligation to embrace and advocate for every member of our diverse society. Peace must be its cornerstone.
The GCC will now be guided by the outcome of the review in 2023. This includes oversight of eight thematic areas covering iTaukei well-being including climate change and ocean. This aligns seamlessly with my vision of the Pacific as an Ocean of Peace, underlining the GCC’s crucial role in realising a future where environmental stewardship and sustainable development are central to regional-harmony and prosperity.
On Monday I addressed a high powered meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Nadi. The main agenda was mostly about finance, economic and development issues.
In my remarks, however, I went far beyond those issues. I described in some detail a vision I have for our part of this ocean for Fiji and the 15 other nations making up the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
And then I outlined briefly how we could get to this new place.
Chiefs of Fiji, I’m going to speak to you now of that vision and what it can mean for us all here and across our maritime realm.
And perhaps beyond.
My thoughts are driven by the images and reality of a world wounded and threatened by war. The dreadful conflict between Russia and Ukraine grinds on with no sign of ending. Russia is a nuclear power with cruise missiles. Does it intend to use them?
The Middle East, especially Gaza, is gripped by terror, violence, and bloodshed. The fighting could spawn wider battle fields.
Here at home war’s shadow came close when 200 Fijian pilgrims were trapped in Jerusalem following invasion of Israel by Hamas. We worked hard under intense pressure to get them home safely.
When I last checked, about 30 armed confrontations plague other countries, a majority of them in Africa.
Rivalry between the two most powerful nations, the US and China, remains intense. Late last year they were signs there might be a rapprochement. We will have to wait and see.
There have been dangerous confrontations between Chinese and Filipino ships in the South China Sea. We cannot avoid the question of whether this will bring the US into an encounter with China?
Tensions over Taiwan continue with the potential for an armed face-off, or worse. Again the main adversaries would likely be those behemoths, China and America.
A senior UN official declared publicly that our planet has the highest number of violent conflicts since the last global war. More than two billion people lived in areas affected by the armed violence.
World War II ended 78 years ago. It was cataclysmic. Bloody battles erupted in the quietness of our Pacific with massive loss of life. The full brunt of the conflagration struck neighbouring countries and Fiji was under direct threat.
Chiefs of Fiji, it is quite evident the current international circumstances have created a menacing moment in history.
Several months ago, as the world veered further towards conflict and catastrophe, I began to spend much time thinking about this and about our Pacific Ocean, its Islanders, and where we stand at this time of crisis. As strife among nations continued to rise, I wondered whether we were once again heading towards the abyss.
I am sure my feelings and emotions were intensified through my experiences as a peacekeeper in strife-torn places. As Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Fiji Infantry Regiment serving with the UN in Lebanon, I lost four brave and loyal soldiers. I remember their deaths like yesterday.
It wasn’t long before I conceived the idea of creating an image of peace for our vast area of ocean, also termed the Blue Pacific. The image I saw would also address the reality of peace. I remembered as well that the word Pacific itself means peaceful.
To me our planet needs a deluge of peace, a torrent. This would be the antidote to war. The people of the world can make this happen.
The very word peace is filled with power and meaning, and inspires and uplifts. Peace creates communities of compassion, care and charity. It nurtures prosperity.
Right here in our Pacific island area there is an Ocean of Peace waiting to be born. It is currently named Oceania.
It encompasses some 32 million square kilometres of the South Pacific. That is only slightly smaller than the combined land areas of Russia, China and the United States.
Our original ancestors were some of the greatest of all navigators. They discovered this vast area of sea which remains the centre of our lives. It is our heritage and hope. It separates us but keeps us together as brothers and sisters in its very large bosom. It is ours through history, settlement and Exclusive Economic Zones.
If we can unite around the concept of proclaiming an Ocean of Peace, we would be custodians of a powerful symbol of co-existence and friendship. While the earth might be afflicted by raging wars and threats of more armed hostilities, our newly baptized Ocean and its people would be emblematic of peace.
Peace for everyone; for the environment; on land, in the sea and sky. We would send that message everywhere. There are many ways to do this.
The peace I envisage cannot be just a name and an image. Fiji and the other countries bound together through their membership of the Pacific Islands Forum, would be called upon to live by values reflecting peace as one of the highest virtues.
This would require our leaders, including you the traditional Chiefs of Fiji, to work with the people to ensure peace is central to national life. Our cherished “Pacific Way” of patient dialogue and consensus would remain a fundamental part of our societies.
There is something else. I envisage the Ocean of Peace not only as a response to the threats of today. It would also honour our ancestors, those brave men and women who travelled through the endless waves towards far horizons and fresh beginnings. We praise them.
Fiji cannot pursue the Ocean of Peace project by itself. It requires the support of the PIF. I presented this dream of peace to PIF leaders at their annual meeting in Rarotonga in Cook Islands.
While the leaders were impressed with the idea and officially welcomed it, they deferred making a final decision. More comprehensive consideration will be on the agenda of their next meeting in the Kingdom of Tonga in August.
I am quietly confident that the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the region will ultimately embrace the proposal. If all goes well, our 16 countries, along with PIF members New Zealand and Australia, will choose one day in history to announce our Ocean of Peace to the world.
I anticipate we would do this in the presence of invited guests from many nations, including major countries classified as PIF partners, with America and China among them.
Peace does not mean PIF states will relinquish normal security and legal arrangements. Responsible governments should always have these in place to protect their sovereignty, their citizens and natural resources.
I see a region free of militarisation, with a careful definition of what that means. I believe strongly that the emergence of the Ocean of Peace will further strengthen PIF relationships.
There would be a new bond between the Islanders connected directly to our joint ownership of the new ocean.
From this would come a common, closer embrace throughout the region of the principles of peace in daily and national life.
It is my belief that a global profile for our region, through the Ocean of Peace, will produce many benefits and rewards.
This would lead to a lessening of dependence on foreign aid and an increase in development, tourism, investment, and commercial diversification.
This Dream for the Ocean of Peace must be your Dream, because Fiji must Start the movement for Peace led by you our Chiefs.
Government will facilitate the GCC’s transition to a fully independent institution honouring the wishes of the iTaukei – ensuring its autonomy in serving the true interests of our community.
This also complies with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Your first Paper for Information and Discussion today will be on this great Document adopted by the United Nations in the 1990’s, after Fiji has had its own upheavals in 1987.
This year, Government will review the other indigenous institutions: the Fijian Administration, the Native Lands Commission and the Native Land Trust Board.
Members of the GCC will hold different views on the issues they discuss.
Ambitions will be in conflict. And they may have serious disagreements about how best to serve. But they know that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they have an obligation to work collaboratively about how best to serve the iTaukei and national interests.
And so the GCC’s restoration is not a step back into the past but a leap forward, recognizing the indispensable role of the GCC in not only safeguarding the interests and well-being of the iTaukei but in its broader mandate to foster inclusivity and harmony among all ethnic groups that call Fiji home.
Imagine a Fiji where the wisdom of our elders and the vitality of our youth converge in the GCC, forging a future that is resilient, inclusive, and prosperous. A Fiji where the GCC acts as a cornerstone of governance, peace, bridging the gaps that have emerged over the last 16 years, uniting us in our diversity, and steering us towards common goals.
The re-establishment of the GCC heralds a new era of governance, one that recalls its illustrious past achievements while embracing the challenges and opportunities of the present and future. With its rich legacy as our foundation, the GCC is poised to play an even greater role in our national discourse and consceince, embodying the principles of good governance, respect for all cultures, and the pursuit of collective well-being.
Thirty years ago, I was honoured to have been given a life membership status of the GCC. I thank our chiefs past and present for their wisdom in conferring such status on me, then. Having seen how the GCC was treated, I have for truth and honours sake stood fast and suffer long and I was never tired, so long as I can see far enough.
Two years ago, I promised to reinstate the GCC. It’s now done.
I feel like I have reached the mountaintop. And like Moses, I have seen the promise land but I will not cross over to it. This generation of Chiefs must now take us there.
Today we recall the foundation upon which we built the GCC. We remember our chiefs who valiantly fought to safeguard its position. There will always be challenges to face, but our resolve, inspired by their courage, shall guide us forward.
Therefore, my call to action is simple yet profound: let us, the people of Fiji, rally around the Great Council of Chiefs. Let us support its revitalized mission, engage in its endeavors, and contribute to its success. Together, we can ensure that the GCC stands not only as a symbol of our past but as a beacon for our future—a future marked by unity, respect, and shared prosperity.
As your Prime Minister, I pledge my unwavering support to the GCC and to all Fijians, as we embark on this journey together. Let us renew our commitment to one another, to our nation, and to the ideals that the GCC represents.
May I humbly request you, that to ensure the power is in my Message to the World for the recognition of the Pacific as the Ocean of Peace, starting with the Pacific Islands Forum in Nukualofa in August, is believed and received and respected, that I take the Message with the backing and support of my own Great Chiefs of Fiji witnessed by the Visiting King and Royal Dignitaries from Aotearoa, and the Pasifika.
It is my profound honour this morning to open the two-day GCC meeting.
May God bless the GCC
May God bless us all
God bless the Peoples of the Pacific
May God bless Fiji.
Vinaka saka vakalevu.
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