Opinion

SPEECH: PM’s Respone To The President’s Speech On Opening Of New Parliament Session

Full text of PM Voreqe Bainimarama’s response to the President’s speech at the opening of Parliament. I  join all the honourable members of this Parliament in thanking His Excellency the
23 Sep 2015 11:04
SPEECH: PM’s Respone To The President’s Speech On Opening Of New Parliament Session
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

Full text of PM Voreqe Bainimarama’s response to the President’s speech at the opening of Parliament.

I  join all the honourable members of this Parliament in thanking His Excellency the President. We thank him for his inspiring and challenging words, which remind us of our duty to the people of Fiji and to our democratic way of life.

We thank him for his strong leadership as President of our newly created true democracy. We thank his Excellency for being a steadfast moral exemplar who has stood for principle and integrity while remaining above politics and self-interest. And we thank him for his lifetime of extraordinary service to this nation as military leader, diplomat, Minister, statesman, President and humanitarian.

It has been my honour and personal pleasure to know His Excellency for a large part of my life.

I can tell you, honourable colleagues, that it was clear early-on that he was destined to achieve great things, and that his calling was to serve the people of Fiji, not to satisfy personal ambition. Fiji is fortunate, indeed, that His Excellency was the national leader to guide us in this time of critical transition, when others may not have been brave enough to do so because it was not politically correct to do so at that time.

There are times when a person’s temperament, values and preparation combine to call that person to high service because he is the obvious choice to lead. This was the case when His Excellency was called to serve the position that he will soon leave. Our nation has been most fortunate and is most grateful.

Very simply, His Excellency the President RatuEpeliNailatikau, was the right man in the right place at the right time.

As Prime Minister, I have been grateful for his energy and commitment in his work being one of the Government’s direct link to the people.

He is a man of great heart and compassion who has endeavoured to eliminate the gap between the most chiefly and the most humble Fijians. I have also been grateful to have his non-political voice as a guide, even when he reminded me of things I preferred not to remember.

Every Prime Minister needs to hear an authoritative voice or wisdom that remains above the fray. I have heard His Excellency’s voice, and I have listened.

 

Madam Speaker,

As head of state, His Excellency has asserted Fiji’s leadership role in the Pacific region. He is the first Fijian head of state – and perhaps the first head of state in the entire region — to have visited his counterparts in neighbouring countries.

He visited eleven Pacific Island Countries in 2013 and 2014, in many cases, reassuring them of Fiji’s support for their development or our assistance in recovery from disaster.

Through him, Fiji became the first country in the world to offer support to the low-lying Pacific island countries that are beginning to confront the destructive effects of climate change and the resulting rise in sea levels.

A major foundation of who he was to become is rooted in his military service. He enlisted in the RFMF as a young man of 21.

Six years later, he was Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Fiji, Sir Derek Jakeway, and following that, to Sir Robert Foster.

He served in Borneo, attended staff colleges in New Zealand and Australia, diplomatic training at Oxford, and was given the honour of serving as Fiji Equerry to His Royal Highness Prince Charles at the Fiji Independence Celebrations.

He rose to the rank of brigadier general and eventually the commander of the RFMF.

I saw first-hand the extraordinary leadership ability, sharp intelligence and innate sense of fairness of this man.

The military is a place where merit is rewarded. Chiefly lineage, personal wealth or political connections are irrelevant to whether you can lead others. You are judged continually by fellow soldiers who know that their lives may depend on you one day.

They count on you to do your duty, even at the risk of your own life. They trust you to give well-considered orders. They depend on you to be fair-minded and honest; a person of good character. They expect you to be prepared mentally and physically for your duties.

His Excellency embodies all these qualities. His men believed in his leadership, trusted him to always do the right thing and he earned their admiration and loyalty.

The qualities that made him a most honourable military leader have served him well throughout his life.

Since the beginning of my military career to this very day, His Excellency, President RatuEpeliNailatikau, has set an example, he has been a mentor to many, and I am indebted, personally, to him for helping me to navigate through our most difficult times.

As the United Nations Special Ambassador for the Pacific on HIV/AIDS prevention, His Excellency‘s work has earned Fiji the status as a respected voice for compassion, rational policy and energetic action in the fight against this horrible disease.

He has travelled the world over to encourage other nations to be proactive, and he has exchanged views with political and health leaders.

And importantly, His Excellency has matched his strong message abroad with action here in Fiji—reminding us that we cannot shrink from our responsibility to strive to solve one of the most difficult issues of our time.

He has tirelessly spread the message that HIV can be prevented if we speak frankly about it and educate people about how to avoid it, beginning with our young people. He has also advanced the messages of acceptance and empathy– that sufferers of HIV/AIDS should not be cast out, but should be treated with the same compassion as any other afflicted person.

 

Madam Speaker,

His Excellency has excelled in this diplomatic role in part because of his long experience representing Fiji before other nations and in multinational settings – as Minister for Foreign Affairs, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and diplomatic assignments in Canberra and the United Nations.

 

Madam Speaker,

His Excellency the President has not taken a single day of leave since he committed himself to his work as Head of State, such is his extraordinary devotion to duty.

And I would like to call the nation’s attention to another fact about our President that may have gone unnoticed:

Although he is a very warm and sociable man, he is not a self-promoter—he has never accepted media interviews that are aimed at discussing his personal life. He simply does not seek personal attention.

He puts principles ahead of personality.

 

Madam Speaker,

We Fijians are a family. And like all families, we have our differences. But also like all families, we unite permanently and unquestioningly around certain things—things that are part of our identity, that transcend politics, religion, geography, ethnicity, class or education.

One of those transcendent institutions is very much on the minds of all Fijians now.

I am speaking, of course, about Fiji Rugby.

So I want to say right now that there is still plenty of rugby to be played in the UK, and I am keeping my plans to be at Wembley on October 31 to watch our Flying Fijians play for the world championship.

You can be sure that none of the other teams in our grouping have stopped worrying about us after one defeat. They know that rugby is in our blood, that we are a nation with more than 80,000 registered rugby players, and that we have gone to England to win.

We Fijians are not only tenacious, we also learn and adapt quickly. While the first game jitters and the electrifying Twickenham Stadium with 80,000 yelling English supporters may have caused mistakes, too many referee interruptions and lack of concentration for the full 80 minutes, I know our Flying Fijians have learned a great deal in this first match.

We will improve in our game against Australia, indeed, we must.

 

Madam Speaker,

As His Excellency the President reminded us, we are the representatives of the people, and we are honour-bound to work in their interests. Elections are about differences, but legislating is about finding solutions. The unfortunate truth about democracy is that it drives us to sharpen our differences, to draw distinctions between parties and candidates at election time.

But in doing so, it gives us the means to understand what the people want and to go forward with a legislative programme.

Sometimes we will simply have to disagree and go to a vote, but there are many things on which we can agree or find ways to agree if we put the needs of all our people first. We must always put Fiji and Fijians first.

 

Madam Speaker,

After one full year in office, my Government’s philosophy and priorities are well known.

The Ministers speaking before this august body are outlining some details of their plans, and we will reveal many more details in the 2016 Budget. The budget is the means by which we put our philosophy and promises into action, and that is what we intend to do.

We will adhere to the philosophy and priorities that are the bedrock of this Government:

  • Creating equal opportunity for all Fijians and equal access to Government services and the modern marketplace;
  • Doing all we can to lift up the poorest and most isolated Fijians so that they can enjoy the blessings of modern society;
  • Managing the economy prudently and staying on course with the process of reform that has brought unprecedented growth, investment and employment to Fiji;
  • Continuing to improve our infrastructure, which is critical to the support the first three objectives;
  • Ensuring the continued protection and advancement of all rights provided under our new Constitution.
  • And asserting Fiji’s interests in the international arena, creating a more hospitable climate for Fijian exports and overseas investments in Fiji, and continuing to play a leadership role in areas of vital importance to us, such as international peace and climate change;

 

Madam speaker,

My Government has taken the view that our nation cannot continue to mature as long as large numbers of Fijians are marginalised. That is not just a matter of policy, it is a matter of principle. As our economy grows, two things will happen: We will have a greater ability to directly improve the living conditions of the poor, and the number of people living in poverty will shrink.

 

Economy

A strong economy – an economy that creates jobs and small-business opportunities – is the only effective long-term cure for poverty. We have set our priorities to deliver more resources for education, health, transportation and basic community services, and we have adjusted programs to ensure that those in need receive the most attention.

We must go beyond stopgap solutions. Our goal must be to eradicate poverty.

Poverty alleviation programmes combined with a robust economy, a commitment to equality, and intelligent infrastructure development can do that. They raise people up over the long term.

It starts with education. As you know, distinguished colleagues, I consider it a great achievement of my Government to establish free education in Fiji.

This reform was long overdue, and my pride in having accomplished it is mixed with some shame that we, as a nation, took so long to wake up to the fact that we simply cannot afford to waste the potential that resides in our people.

Free quality education has been the key to every successful country’s development, and we will harness it for Fiji’s future.

Our economy is growing and becoming more sophisticated. We are creating more jobs that require skills and education, and we must produce Fijians who can fill them.

A future leader of Fiji could come from anywhere in our country, and we need to educate that boy or girl. That is why we have amongst other initiatives, given particular attention to residential schools for children from remote areas.

It is not only fair, it is better for the country. Free education only works if children have access to it. That means we cannot overlook those children who live in the isolated parts of our country.

Our geography has very particular challenges, and we always must be mindful of our citizens who live in remote rural communities and outer islands.

 

Madam Speaker,

We are also deeply concerned about the health of our people, and particularly about the alarming incidence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. These health tragedies are preventable, and we must prevent what we can.

Diabetes Fiji reports that one Fijian experiences a diabetes-related amputation every twelve hours, and that one-third of these people don’t even know they have the disease until they go to the hospital and face the loss of a limb. This is an unacceptable situation.

Diabetes is only one health challenge among many facing our medical system.

This state of affairs indicates that people are not well enough informed and are not seeing doctors often enough so that disease can be discovered and treated before it is too late.

Within this situation is also an indicator of an inequality that must be set straight, because it is the poor and under educated and isolated Fijians who are more likely to undergo a preventable amputation.

We are investing to improve our hospitals and to improve public education about important health issues, including diabetes, and we are recruiting more doctors and nurses to deliver more and better care to rural areas.

It is not only about bricks and mortar and machinery, it is also about basic awareness, values and health education.

Recently, we have been confronted with the tragedy of childhood and adolescent suicide.

Fiji does not have a high suicide rate compared with other countries, but until three primary school children killed themselves, suicide was a subject we didn’t discuss very much.

It seemed to happen on the margins of our national life, and families and friends were left to grieve privately for their loved ones.

Suicide is a terrible thing, and it leaves much pain in its wake.

There have been 89 suicides in Fiji so far this year, and 30 were younger than 25, including 10 children under the age of 16.

Another 80 people attempted suicide and, thankfully, failed. Seven were younger than 16, and 35 were between 17 and 25.

This is a crisis for the nation, and my Government is already taking decisive action to raise awareness of the causes of suicide and develop the means and the resources to prevent it.

 

Some family members and communities blame themselves and ask:

”What could I have done to prevent it?”

“Why didn’t I see this coming?”

“How could I not have known how troubled my friend was?”

 

One solution is to talk about it openly and take it seriously. Child suicide descends to a level of tragedy that is almost unthinkable. No child should feel so bereft of hope that suicide becomes the answer to his or her problems.

 

Madam Speaker,

The economy has been steadily and strongly growing under my Government, and so far, 2015 looks to be again a good year. We often speak about the economy in numbers, but those numbers tell a story – a story of households with more stability, of children who are being prepared in school for the future, of businesses that are growing, of new graduates who can find jobs, of cities that are more orderly, and of a country that is more prepared for the future. I am proud of the new strength and vigour of our economy, but my Government can only take credit for having the good sense to put policies in place that encourage and allow people to do business – businesses small, medium and large. The rest is up to the Fijian people to take advantage of those policies.

Government’s job is to create a level playing field, to encourage investment, and to establish sensible regulations to protect workers, investors and the environment—and then get out of the way and let the people get to work.

Well, the people have gotten to work, and the results are excellent. This year will be our third consecutive year with investment above 25 percent of GDP.  And significantly, most of that is domestic and private investment. There has been a remarkable surge in bank lending for investment purposes –76 percent so far this year alone. Construction is up, and job offerings are up nearly 20 percent, according to the RBF’s survey. This shows that the reforms are working as intended and that people are confident about the future. And that confidence is certainly at an all-time high. It’s a good time to be in business in Fiji.

 

Madam Speaker,

Economics is very much a matter of both logic and perception. People make rational decisions based on the factors they see before them. If they believe the economic system will reward them for hard work, they will work hard.

If they believe the future is strong and secure, they will plan and invest for the long term. If they believe that Fiji is a safe place to invest their money, they will keep their money in Fiji—or bring their money to Fiji from abroad.

Our economy is receiving the faith and trust of Fijians at all levels of society, from the investor to the wage earner, and from those Fijians living and working outside Fiji.

They all have a stake in a robust economy, in an economy that welcomes and rewards their energy, their ideas, and their commitment. It is our duty to make that trust and confidence permanent.

So we will hold fast to our reforms, and we will devise new reforms to eliminate waste and unnecessary obstacles to growth and development wherever we find them.

Most importantly, the Fijian people can count on us to continue to invest in education, health and infrastructure.

We have borrowed wisely, and the results of our borrowing have been strong growth. We will continue to use the prudent management of debt to modernise Fiji to be more competitive and to give the Fijian people the means to produce.

 

Madam Speaker,

The world continues to be a dangerous place, and Fiji is at the forefront of two great crises.

Fiji has gained a well-deserved reputation for professionalism, integrity and courage in trouble spots around the world for our long service of United Nations peacekeeping duties.

Today, our troops are carrying out critical peacekeeping missions in Syria and Sinai. Fiji’s role as peacekeepers is a responsibility we fulfil as our contribution to building a better world.

We will all be grateful when our troops come home from Syria, where they have faced some tough situations. But we know we will be called on again and that we will answer the call.

The second great crisis is global climate change and its disastrous consequences – sea levels rising and warming oceans.

Fiji has been outspoken in insisting that every nation in the world do its part to combat this phenomenon.

Fiji is doing as much as we can as we develop the greenest economy possible, but the major changes must come from the large industrial nations of Europe, America and Asia; they must make commitments now to roll back the emission of greenhouse gases.

Yes, it is costly and difficult, but the nations that are the biggest contributors to the cause of global warming can no longer wallow in denial.

 

Madam Speaker,

The time for sterile arguments about the causes of climate change is over. The verdict is in, and there is no doubt in the scientific community that human activity causes global warming.

For us, proof does not come from a laboratory. The real life effects of global warming are happening to our own nations; we can see it with our own eyes.

Fiji is taking the lead in advocating for the protection of small island states, some of which risk being wiped from the face of the earth as the seas continue to rise. I will spearhead the argument to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year and in every other international forum in which we participate.

It is high on the agenda in my meetings with leaders of industrialised nations that they must do more.

Nearly all are friends of Fiji, but we do not and we will not hold back in the name of friendship. At issue is nothing less than long term survival.

This is a matter of fundamental national interest to Fiji, and for all nations affected immediately and directly by rising sea levels and climate change; this will remain a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

 

Madam Speaker,

We have just entered the second year of our parliamentary democracy, and we have had some intense political arguments.

Unfortunately, sometimes the debate has descended into personal attacks, but I believe that as an Honourable Parliament, this august Parliament can learn from these events and commit not to repeat them.

The work of democracy is never finished. The beauty of democracy is that the people define it and reshape it in accord with their experience and their changing times.

The one thing that remains unchanged is the absolute requirement that democracy must produce benefits for all the people, that it must ensure fairness and equality, and that it must produce good and transparent government.

All of these things I am committed to do and I appeal to the other side of parliament to do the same.

May God bless us all. May God bless Fiji.Vinakavakalevu and I thank you, Madam Speaker.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 

 

 

 



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