PM: The Will Of Ordinary Fijians Has Built The Fiji We See Today

The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s speech during the opening of the 2017 Attorney-General’s Conference at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa in Natadola on December 8, 2017.
11 Dec 2017 10:12
PM: The Will Of Ordinary Fijians Has Built The Fiji We See Today
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama

The following is Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s speech during the opening of the 2017 Attorney-General’s Conference at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa in Natadola on December 8, 2017.

The last time I had the pleasure to open this conference was four years ago, as Fiji readied itself for our 2014 national elections – the first under the 2013 Constitution and the first genuine elections of equal votes of equal value under common and equal citizenry. We were a country poised to realise our full potential as a modern and truly democratic nation state – and a people ready to embrace a new path, a new direction and a new Fiji.

Four years on, I reflect on our achievements with deep pride and profound gratitude. I am proud, because our accomplishments are borne from my Government’s consistent vision for Fiji’s inclusive development, and our unrelenting political and administrative will in bringing that vision to pass. And I am grateful, because a Government cannot go it alone, we need the Fijian people, civil society and our independent institutions to take our nation forward. It is the will of ordinary Fijians that has built the Fiji that we see today. It is their ambition that has shown us what is possible. And through our proud democracy, their aspirations have lit a fire of high expectation and accountability.

We have met those ambitious aspirations these past four years, and we’ve done so by holding to simple truths:

That every vote and every voice, regardless of wealth, power or privilege, counts the same as any other; and that every Fijian, no matter their background, religion, location, age, gender or ability, deserves full participation in our national life and in our national development and are equal before and have the full protection of our laws.

What kind of nation do we want?

Ladies and gentlemen, again, we stand at the cusp of our general elections sometime next year. While we have made great progress in the past four years, we now find ourselves at a familiar crossroad. And, again, we must ask ourselves: What kind of nation do we want?

I’ve had some very long flights over the course of this year, as I’ve spent time abroad building our place in the world. Frankly, I would rather be on the ground or at sea, as some know, air turbulence and I don’t go well together. But being suspended in the air for  prolonged periods has given me a lot of time to think about the world we are building for our children and where our nation is headed.

That direction, and that focus on the world we will leave behind for future generations, was eminent as we successfully moved forward the Paris Agreement on Climate Change while presiding over the COP23 negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

As the first Small Island Developing State to oversee the COP negotiations, our presidency oversaw major victories in the global campaign for climate action. I won’t go in-detail over everything we achieved, but I’d like to give you all a snapshot of what emerged from the negotiations.

We launched the Ocean Pathways Partnership to protect our oceans and marine resources from the growing threat of climate change and a renewed commitment to the International Partnership for Blue Carbon to protect and manage coastal blue ecosystems. We secured greater funding for critical climate adaptation work, and advanced the process of ensuring that the Adaptation Fund shall serve the Paris Agreement. We launched a global partnership to provide millions of climate-vulnerable people around the world with the view to providing affordable access to insurance, including crop insurance. And countries reached a historic agreement on agriculture, among a long list of other major accomplishments.

As part of our presidency, which we will hold for the next year, I will be travelling to Paris to attend the One Planet Summit, alongside our Attorney-General and our Minister for Agriculture, who is our Climate Champion, at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron. There, we will continue to advance our campaign for climate action, discuss existing and emerging challenges in climate mitigation and adaptation, and keep this critical issue, which affects human rights, food security and the very survival of humanity, at the top of the global agenda.

On this issue and many other great challenges facing humanity, Fiji has earned a reputation as a leader and committed partner among the community of nations – one that puts people at the heart of global decision-making. And at home, we’ve built our nation atop a solid foundation of laws and institutions. That foundation supports the progress and prosperity we have achieved, and will serve us in everything we have yet to accomplish.

That foundation is set in stone by our Constitution – our supreme law, which sets the basis for the three arms of the state. Our Constitution establishes our common national identity, as equals, as Fijians. And as a result, we stand together today, more united than at any other time in our history.

However, despite our great progress, the old forces that once sought to divide us still lurk beneath the surface. And our bond, as one nation and one people, must only grow stronger in the face of that threat. We cannot take even one step backward. We cannot slip back into the dark years of ethnic and religious division and weak institutions. We must condemn—powerfully and openly – any who seek to drag us back to that destructive, backward and personalised way of thinking.

We’ve put Fiji on a new course of prosperity, with eight straight years of economic growth. Together, we are building a society that is better educated and growing more capable every day, and we are rewarding merit and hard work. Together, we’ve put stock in ability and we’ve invested in the potential of all of our people, including our young Fijians. Together, we’ve emerged on the global and domestic stage as a champion for the causes affecting vulnerable people and their human rights. And only together, and with consistency in policies, can that success continue.

On the Constitution

The rapid rate of our progress is also owed, in many ways, to our Constitution. Our Constitution has settled – once and for all — issues that were once deeply mired in politics; protection of the ownership of communally owned iTaukei lands, rights of tenants, citizenship, identity and civil, political and socio-economic rights.  With those matters legally and constitutionally settled, we have and can move on to issues that carry far more weight in unleashing our nation’s full potential; economic empowerment, transparency, inclusiveness, accountability and building strong, independent institutions. Such an approach will mean tangible, practical outcomes to give and maintain the dignity of individuals and further human rights and strong institutions.

Our Constitution also builds the strength of our institutions by granting them unquestionable independence. The Judiciary, for example, today has administrative and financial independence for the first time in Fijian history.

Such legal provisions, and strict adherence to these provisions, give us lasting and independent institutions that are not subject to the whims and fancies of individuals, but that build the rule of law and protect the best interests of the Fijian people.

It is our institutions that are often on the frontlines of the interpretation, implementation and enforcement of our Constitution and all subservient laws. Our Judiciary, our judges and legal professionals – help build the wealth of jurisprudence that serves our nation today, and generations of Fijians to come. That, by design, is how our Constitution confronts new and emerging realities. And that work must continue, as that, and a forward looking Parliament, is what keeps our laws relevant in a changing world.

My Government – in accordance with the Constitution – has put public access to information, and to the law, at the core of our democracy. We have strived to adopt new and innovative ways to ensure that every Fijian is armed with the necessary information to know their rights. That was why my Government translated our Constitution into the two major vernacular languages, and made it readily available at no cost through pocket-sized copies, and it is also why we are among the few countries in the world to have our Constitution translated in braille. We didn’t want our supreme law to be some mystical document, only understood by a few. We wanted it read and understood by every Fijian. So that all of our citizens know what they are guaranteed, and could hold their government and institutions accountable. That is the recipe for a healthy and thriving democracy. That is a recipe for building strong institutions.

Many in the room today depend on facts and evidence every day as a necessity in their professions. In a modern society, this truth-seeking should be a vital exercise for each and every Fijian. This isn’t always easy, especially when some find it in their best political interest to spread misinformation to try and derail our progress and cause instability.

On social media

For example, social media, when used correctly, can be an invaluable tool for spreading information, and encouraging healthy discourse.

However, it is also increasingly becoming a tool that is misused to manufacture lies, breed intolerance, and incite confusion. Such abuse, of course, as seen in other countries, may require deterrent measures. As such, I ask all Fijians to operate as independent fact-checkers, especially in the upcoming election. Look at Fiji through a critical lens; whether that’s with social media or the news media or just talking among fellow Fijians. Rely on facts, rely on evidence and use information to spread and do social good.

When we do that, we can continue to add new levels of rigour to our national dialogue. We can continue to make best outcomes for ordinary Fijians the overriding focus of our development and legal agenda, and put ordinary Fijians on the forefront of that agenda’s implementation.

Every year, we’ve held nationwide consultations to bring together Fijians from all across the country to give their views on our annual budget. We have also started budget consultations with secondary school students, putting the voices of our young people in the mix of our national development like never before.

Our commitment to education and engagement extends far beyond our classrooms, because the strength of Fijian society can best be measured by the strength of our most vulnerable. And every Fijian, including those living with disabilities, must be mainstreamed into society. We’ve held special consultations on our national budget with Fijians affected with disabilities, and we’ve put in place a wide range of protections and incentives to make them full participants in our national life, and beneficiaries of our prosperity. And I would like to acknowledge the presence of the UN Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of Human Rights by Persons with Albinism here this morning, who will also be contributing to this conference.

We’ve empowered our people in other ways, through policies that have attracted investment, widened our economic base, supported budding industries and vastly expanded access to all levels of education.

We’ve established one of the most favourable tax regimes in the Pacific by spreading the burden of tax and reforming the taxation system to ensure fair and reasonable tax obligations. We’ve put in place laws to make the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service a more efficient, transparent and consistent institution.

By delivering on our ambitious agenda to construct high-quality infrastructure across Fiji, we’ve shown the Fijian people their taxes are being put to good use and that everyone ought to pay their fair share. Your session on transfer pricing, base erosion and profit shifting will help in our understanding of this issue.

We’ve recently introduced the Personal Property Securities Act which will give lenders greater comfort when taking security over property other than land – such as cars, equipment, crops and livestock. This will encourage lenders to provide loans secured over personal property, which will boost access to finance for ordinary Fijians, and small and medium enterprises.

Accident Compensation Commission

We’ve established Fiji’s first-ever Accident Compensation Commission, to provide an efficient, fair and expedited compensation scheme to victims of motor vehicle accidents and their families, which will begin serving the Fijian people early next year.  I’d like to thank the Government of New Zealand for their assistance in setting up and launching this Commission.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are moving quickly as a modern nation state. Our laws need to keep pace with new initiatives, changing circumstances and new technologies. The complexities of the challenges we face require diverse and global perspectives to overcome. This conference routinely puts our legal fraternity on the cutting edge of both domestic and international law. Every year, at this conference, you discuss new and existing laws in a space where you can push the envelope, think outside the box and be creative about how the law can take on new developments. The session on jury or judge trials will be most interesting in this respect. The conversations that begin here shape our national dialogue in the year ahead, a dialogue that can lead to new laws and reforms, and impact the very fabric of Fijian society.

We are grateful that so many thought leaders are here today, and as a nation keen to exchange knowledge and learn – we very much value their input.

These past four years have been some of the most momentous in our history, and have set us up for even more historic years ahead. We’ve achieved great things, both at home and abroad. We’ve shown our resilience in the face of adversity. And we have much to be proud of.

We are charting a new way forward. One nation and one people, united in common purpose under one common identity, and we are fulfilling our constitutional duty by taking every Fijian with us. That truth shows the tremendous good that the law can achieve.

As members of the legal fraternity, you can do a lot of good as sons and daughters of Fiji. You can lead our nation by example, and set high standards of professional and personal behaviour. And as respected members of our society, you can set your sights on what sort of nation we are building together, rather than being susceptible to the day-to-day rumblings of so many politicians.

We all have our political leanings, but I would like to think that we can all agree that equality, substantive justice, inclusion, compassion, transparency, consistency in policies and building strong and independent institutions, should be permanent values in Fiji. If we subscribe to these values, we can be confident that Fiji will always successfully move forward.

In this room today are some of Fiji’s preeminent legal minds, dedicated civil servants and speakers from around the world to share knowledge and exchange unique perspectives.

As we finish out a truly historic 2017 for Fiji, I urge you all to take in these perspectives to help broaden your own. And as we go into a new year, may 2018 be guided by the conversations and ideas that are borne from your discussions.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year. Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.


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