HIS EXCELLENCY RATU EPELI NAILATIKAU
CF, LVO, OBE (Mil), OStJ, CSM, MSD
President of the Republic of Fiji
PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS TO THE NATION
– FIJI DAY 2013 –
My fellow Fijians,
Once again we are all celebrating Fiji Day – 43 years after our flag was first raised on Independence Day, 1970.
All over the country, families, friends and neighbours have gathered together on this holiday. I send my warmest greetings to you all.
Beyond our shores, Fijians are also celebrating. Because no matter where we are in the world, October the 10th is always a day to remember.
Tonight, we especially think of those Fijians serving the peoples of other nations.
Our peacekeepers and police officers in far-away places like Iraq, Liberia, South Sudan and on the Golan Heights, including those Fijians serving in other Armed Forces around the world, and our civilian volunteers working in schools, hospitals and clinics with our Pacific neighbors as well as those working in other countries further afield.
More than ever tonight, we think of their sacrifice and commitment and pay tribute to their service to Fiji and the world.
They may be far across the seas, but in our hearts, they are close to home and we pray for them and their safe return.
We also think of their families who are sharing that sacrifice – wives without husbands, husbands without wives, children without a parent, families separated for long periods.
However hard that separation must be, on this day of all days, you can be proud that your loved one is putting service to others first. Putting Fiji
First because that is the essence of Fiji Day. A time to put aside our individual concerns and think about our nation and what it means to us all.
What does it mean to be Fijian? Clearly, we have been blessed with beautiful surroundings, fertile islands and an ocean teaming with life.
It is the responsibility of every Fijian to nurture and protect our environment, which is coming under increasing pressure.
Even the youngest Fijian can play their part. If you see some rubbish on the ground or a plastic bottle lying on the beach, pick it up and dispose of it properly.
We all need to do a lot more to rid ourselves of the litter that is spoiling our landscape.
But just as important as our physical surroundings is the spirit of being Fijian, of thinking more about those things that bind us together and make us a nation.
As we all know, we have had our challenges in the past. But I believe that whatever differences have existed have been contrived rather than being innate.
Some people have tried to exploit our ethnic, religious and political diversity for their own purposes, to create suspicion and fear.
But that division has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Fijians. Because they know that only with unity comes prosperity and a brighter future – every Fijian working together as One Nation. Putting Fiji First. Making Fiji Great.
One to one, Fijians have invariably got along very well together because we all share some basic values. We have big hearts, generous spirits and a capacity to forgive.
What we do best in Fiji, especially in times of trouble, is to care for each other. And the past year has given us yet another inspirational example of this as we rallied around those affected by Cyclone Evan.
We can only ever be worthy of our promise as a nation if we do care, if we take everyone forward with us and leave no-one behind.
That is why our new Constitution is so important and that is why I have asked you all to support it.
Because for the first time, we have a supreme law that declares every citizen a Fijian….that declares every Fijian equal…that guarantees ordinary people basic rights…that gives every Fijian child the same opportunity to get on in life.
For the first time, our two major vernacular languages will be taught as compulsory subjects in our primary schools. It will be the glue that binds us together as we move into a common future sharing our stories and experiences.
And for the first time, any Fijian child can grow up to be where I am sitting now – to be the Head of State of Fiji.
Since I have been your President, I have visited 121 secondary schools in Viti Levu, and have personally spoken to more than 55,000 young people about HIV/Aids. I intend to visit the remaining 54 secondary schools around the country over the next few months.
I regard these visits as one of my most important duties to spread the message of achieving the universal access targets of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and aiming to reach zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero related deaths thus keeping our young people safe.
But it is also an extraordinary privilege to spend time with these impressive individuals who will take our nation forward, and on whom our collective hopes depend.
I can tell you – because many of them tell me – that they want to forge a new, inclusive future for our country.
We must embrace their optimism, their patriotism and passionate belief in unity and lay the foundations for a new Fiji, a better Fiji, with opportunity and justice for all.
Our new Constitution has finally given us a blueprint for that future. And before next Fiji Day, it will take us to the first genuinely democratic parliamentary election in our history.
In that election – before October 2014 – the vote of every Fijian over the age of 18 will have equal value. The vote of every Fijian will count.
Of course, the coming months are bound to be testing. That is to be expected. After all, we are doing something as a nation that we have never done before.
I appeal to everyone to approach the 2014 election in a spirit of goodwill. And to put the welfare and the stability of the entire nation above all else.
I ask our politicians to concentrate on producing constructive policies to take Fiji forward rather than looking backwards and engaging in destructive personal attacks.
I ask every voter to think for yourself what is best for you and your country rather than simply being led.
For the sake of Fiji, exercise your choice wisely in the interests of your own generation and for the generations to come.
And now, in the forty third year since Independence, and after three previous Constitutions, we finally have a document on which to build One Nation, One Fiji.
We have the opportunity to conduct an election based on best practice that is free, fair and credible, and that is enjoyed by other countries in the world.
And in doing this, we have the opportunity to finally join the ranks of the great democracies of the world.
And thus we have the opportunity of fulfilling the dreams of those of us old enough to remember Independence Day 1970 – of Fiji as a thriving economic powerhouse and a beacon for our neighbours.
On Fiji Day 2013, may God bless us all in our efforts to become a better, fairer nation.
May God Bless our beloved Fiji.
Thank you, Vinaka vakalevu, Shukria, Bahoot Dhanyavaad.