Ni sa bula vinaka, namaskar, asalaamu alaykum, ni hao, kona mauri, noa’ia‘e mauri and warm greetings to you all.
It is my privilege to address the Fijian people across the nation, and everywhere they may be in the world, on Fiji Day 2018 as we celebrate the 48th year of our independence and sovereignty.
As we celebrate this Fiji Day, we do so as proud daughters and sons of a united nation. We do so as common and equal citizens, in a genuine parliamentary democracy. And we do so from a position of strength and success unrivalled in the 48 years of our independent history; a nation that is finally fulfilling its destiny. A nation on a path to greatness. A nation that stands firmly on a foundation of security and stability, and a nation that is headed towards an even brighter tomorrow; one that holds promise for all of our people, and all those who come after us.
This is the third year that I have had the honour of addressing the nation on Fiji Day, and I am humbly grateful that this year’s message will be seen more widely than ever before thanks to the introduction of the Walesi free-to-air digital television platform throughout all of Fiji.
Every year I have watched with ever-increasing pride and optimism as our nation has reached new and greater heights; realising achievement that only a generation ago would have seemed unimaginable. There have been challenges, surely. But with every setback we have encountered, together, Team Fiji has overcome. Every opportunity in front of us, we have seized for our benefit. And like any good team, every member of Team Fiji has been key to our victories and has shared equally in our successes.
This year again, we have witnessed even greater, unprecedented prosperity sweep across the country, bringing us our ninth consecutive year of economic growth, bringing us new jobs that have brought unemployment to its lowest point in decades, and bringing us new opportunities that have entered the lives of all Fijians, everywhere in our country, especially for young people. More Fijian children are in school than ever before. In fact, we have achieved universal access to primary and secondary school education now that education is finally free for all students in Fiji.
Those who are vulnerable, and those on the margins of society are being cared for by a vastly expanded network of social security. And families in Fiji, the heart of our society, are receiving a level of support that is unparalleled in Fijian history.
Our status as the preeminent nation in the Pacific is stronger than ever. We are the hub of trade, finance, communications and innovation, and we have joined hands with our neighbours to fight together on the issues that matter most to our citizens. The world has been guided by our leadership in confronting some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced; including that of climate change and the preservation of our oceans. And, as we have welcomed our prosperity, we are seeing the benefits of that success felt widely, by all of our people, in every corner of our country. Our development is reaching every Division. In urban centres and in the most remote and rural pockets of the country, we are seeing new and upgraded roads, new schools built to higher standards, new and better government services, greater flows of trade and investment, and higher paying jobs coming to Fiji, that give our people the chance to do more, earn more and learn more valuable skills in our modern economy.
This year I will be attending our national celebrations in Labasa; the first time in history that our national Fiji Day festivities have been brought to the Northern Division. Again, we are making history, as we did in the West last year, by bringing our national celebrations throughout all of Fiji. That, my fellow Fijians, is what it means to be an inclusive nation. And we are setting a new example and a new expectation for the participation of all Fijians in our national life.
Like with our prosperity, like with all of the new opportunities coming to our country, our national celebrations must be by and for all Fijians, regardless of where they live. Because we are equally deserving of the joy of our national life and celebrations just as we are equally entitled to the tremendous benefits of Fijian progress, regardless of our province, regardless of our background, our religion, our ethnicity, our ability, our gender or our social status. That is the great and sacred promise of equality enshrined for all time in the Fijian Constitution, and that is the standard we must set for the next generation of Fijians who one day inherit the reigns of leadership in our country.
This has been a historic year in so many respects. But especially so given we have concluded the first term of our genuine parliamentary democracy of equal votes of equal value. For four years, that democracy has served our national interest by realising the great promise of the Fijian Constitution: that all Fijians be treated equally and that all Fijians matter.
We are now approaching our second parliamentary elections under the 2013 Fijian Constitution. That election represents a crossroads; and the path we choose will define the future for our children, their children and their children after them. Because elections shape more than the next four years, they can shape the direction of the country for decades to come, by either laying a foundation for our long-term success, or by bringing consequences that ripple for generations of history. So the importance of our elections cannot be overstated, and, as was the case in 2014, our election will be held in a transparent manner and to the highest international standards.
It is not a time for fear, and none of us can tolerate any efforts to sow hatred or division among our people. It is a time for truth, not for lies that damage our economy and degrade our unity; the very fabric of our national life. Because regardless of whatever political differences exist among us, the bonds of nationhood and common citizenry must always triumph. That must also hold true on social media. We cannot allow social media platforms to be used as a weapon to spread lies and misinformation, we must think carefully about what we are seeing and reading, and call out lies when we see them, for the benefit of our democracy and our fellow Fijians.
It is a time to listen to all of the positions of the different political parties. It is a time for all of us to make our voices heard by voting for the political party we believe is the best suited to take Fiji forward; based on their record, based on the promises they have made and, on their ability to deliver on those promises for the Fijian people.
There will be many disagreements and debates in the coming weeks. But I know we can agree that Fiji’s success in recent years is owed to the fact that Fijians are finally participating equally in our nation’s progress, and benefiting equally from our national prosperity. We are moving forward, together. We are making history, together. We are leading the world to solve great challenges, together. And we are driving the next Fijian century of exceptionalism and achievement, together. And only, together, can our success continue.
This Fiji Day, as we gather in celebration, let us all reaffirm the love we hold for those who are dear to us, all of the members of our families, and our communities, and to our larger Fijian family that stretches all across the world. Including to our brave peacekeepers who are serving in conflict areas in regions torn apart by strife and violence. Let us all keep them and their families in our thoughts and prayers and give gratitude for their strength and sacrifice.
May God Bless the Fijian people, and may God continue to bless Fiji.