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October 10, 2021       State House, Suva.

To My Fellow Fijians, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka,

Happy Fiji Day!

Today we celebrate our beloved Fiji, our resilience, our unity and our independence. 51 years ago today, our sovereignty as an Independent nation ceased to be an aspiration. It became a reality. Today, throughout our islands and abroad, pride swells in the hearts of every Fijian as we look upon our noble banner blue and reflect on the hard work, ingenuity and faith it has taken to forge the Fiji we know and love today.  

Exactly, one year ago our nation celebrated 50 years of progress and independence. This Fiji Day is our first step into the next half-century. Like so many around the world, it is also our first step into the new normal as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because, my fellow Fijians, this Fiji Day we are not only celebrating history, we are making it. Together, we are emerging from the difficulties of a dark and difficult several months. From our cities to our rural highlands, from our towns to our outer islands, and from our homes to our hospitals, we Fijians have done what we needed to do to make our country safe again. We put our faith in each other, in our leaders and in the best science and information available to us, and we acted together in pursuit of collective good and wellbeing by becoming one of the world’s fastest-vaccinated Nations.

The Fiji we remember from before this crisis is now being returned to us. Our freedoms are returning to us. There is a saying that freedom is not free. At no point in history has freedom come easily to anyone. In Fiji, we know its price.  We have defended freedom around the world –– through our peacekeepers serving in conflict-ridden regions. But not all threats to freedom come armed with weapons. That is why the most consistent price of freedom is eternal vigilance—against injustice, against corruption and against attacks on our freedom to think, speak, and worship. We have made all Fijians more free by opposing the scourge of injustice and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion. We all gave up some of that freedom in collective defense against the coronavirus. And we are fighting now to restore our freedom of movement, and our freedom to be together, by securing our victory over COVID-19. 

We have shared in the sacrifice it is taking to achieve that victory, and we will share in its success through the relaxation of restrictive measures we instituted to slow the spread of the virus. Now, our new task is to strive towards better livelihoods, a more sustainable tourism industry and the lives we knew before the pandemic. With God’s blessing, and with strict adherence to the science behind combatting this plague, we will sustain our recovery and go on to build our resilience to new threats –– like that of climate change.

In the face of adversity, we Fijians have drawn strength from each other –– even while we have been physically apart.  I take great faith in seeing that spirit shared among our people. We adjusted. We adapted. We moved our businesses, meetings, and education online. We are paying out more government assistance than in any period in Fijian history. We spent months separated by containment borders we knew were necessary to protect us. During funerals, during birthdays and personal achievements, during weddings and anniversaries, the overwhelming majority of our people adhered to the measures we had in place. We made phone calls instead of travelling to visit loved ones. Such sacrifices require more of us than discipline or respect for the rules–– they require genuine concern for the well-being of others. And we showed that sentiment of solidarity day after day after day. 

Even in the darkest moments, I never doubted that we would prevail. I have seen our people overcome even the most obstinate obstacles. We built a genuine democracy out of the ashes of inequality and privilege. We rebuilt from the strongest storm to ever strike in the Southern half of the planet. We have risen to heights that were not imagined 51 years ago. 

Fiji continues to be a major contributor to peacekeeping in the world, and a world leader in the fight to combat climate change and protect our oceans. We are the economic hub of the South Pacific, the leader in aviation, finance, telecommunications and technology, trade and commerce. We have vastly expanded our networks of infrastructure. Today all Fijians share common and equal citizenry and equal votes of equal value, along with a vast array of political and socioeconomic rights in our Fijian Constitution –– including protections of iTaukei and Rotuman traditional land, as well as their unique culture, customs, traditions and language; all of which must continue to be zealously upheld.  

My fellow Fijians, now that clouds of the pandemic are parting, we can see a new dawn of hope. If we hold fast to the principles of peace, unity, compassion, and equality, our best days remain ahead of us. 

The world is looking to Fiji once again as we champion the cause of climate and oceans action. Soon, the world’s leaders –– together with our Honourable Prime Minister –– will convene in Glasgow, Scotland, at COP26, the global climate negotiations. This will be the most important year for climate action since leaders signed on to the Paris Agreement almost six years ago. Its outcome will determine the extent of our vulnerability to climate change, as well as the security of billions of people in all corners of the world. 

To our children and grandchildren, know that preserving your future, and your potential, is our greatest priority. Your task is to strive for excellence in whatever you choose to do, in sports, in school, and even in your chores at home. Because your success stands taller than any other achievement we strive for as a nation. And we want you to stand tall on a foundation of a resilient nation. 

We are on the cusp of a recovery that can take us to new heights if we commit to it together. An ocean that is protected. Reefs that are kept pristine. Biodiversity that is preserved. Health systems, schools, and infrastructure that are more resilient. Food systems that meet our people’s needs and that are nutrition secure. Jobs that are catered to the opportunities of the future. 

For months, hope of a better tomorrow has been elusive due to the unknowns and uncertainty of the pandemic. Today, let us have the courage to embrace hope, for we have earned it. 

My fellow Fijians, Happy Fiji Day. May Almighty God continue to bless us all and our beloved Fiji.