As the country celebrates its 42nd birthday as an independent nation, Fiji President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has urged all citizens to dedicate this special day to reflect on the past, assess the current situation and to fine-tune their path towards the future.
"This year’s Fiji Day theme of “Celebrating a United Fiji” is a bold call to all Fijians. The theme invites all of us to be united and to remain united and positive as we face the many challenges before us," he said in his national address to the nation.
"Fiji, since 1970, has experienced many defining moments and life-changing experiences.We have had many good times as we provided and became a home to a wide range of people from within the Pacific and beyond, and from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds which contributed to our rich multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society."
"We provided an enabling environment for our entrepreneurs to establish, flourish, create employment and generate revenue, thus helping to drive and sustain the economy."
We embraced globalisation and were accepted into the United Nations where we have been playing an active supporting role but are now set, to play a lead, role in this august body through our recent nomination to Chair, by 2013, the Group of 77 which comprises the largest inter-governmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations."
"We have ratified and continue to review and implement international conventions and agreements that have not only brought recognition to the country, but more importantly that have also helped to crystallize and elevate our collective responsibility towards our children, youths, women, the elderly, and persons with special needs."
"We have and continue to contribute to peace-keeping operations in countries that need our assistance."
"And among many others, we have celebrated numerous outstanding accomplishments in the international sports arena, culminating in our recent Gold medal win at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London."
"At the same time, Fiji has had to endure many unfortunate events. We experienced traumatising situations where our social fabric was tested to the limit. Our economy became unstable and less predictable. Politically, it was chaotic."
"On closer examination, our socio-economic challenges were caused largely by our political instability. In the democratic environment we were introduced to, our electoral system encouraged voting along racial lines. This remains one of the key contributors to our political instability."
"I am certain that as we search the world today, we will hardly find any country – especially a modern, prosperous and progressive country – that votes along ethnic lines. If anything, our current voting system only served to accentuate our differences instead of appreciating the richness in our diversity."
"At some stage in our development, we opted to further divide our people through affirmative action policies which only brought about preferential treatment for certain groups of people, many of whom, very unfortunately, continue to demand that special treatment."
"Because of the lack of thorough and proper monitoring and evaluation, as well as the checking and balancing, and the close scrutiny of the protective mechanisms, we encountered many instances of poor governance. Corruption set in and became systemic and we began to see the huge disparity between the rich and the less fortunate."
"When there is a national crisis, whether it be political or economic, the larger part of the population of Fiji become victims and the effects of this cannot be measured in monetary terms or fully assessed. Nor can the victims be compensated for the trauma and other effects they suffered."
"As if these were not enough, we now hear of renewed calls to make Fiji a Christian State. This would effectively further divide our people based on religious beliefs. I humbly advise that we should tread with the uttermost caution on this issue for I am a firm believer in the age-old adage of “the separation of the church and the state”.
“The Way the World Should Be”
"If we were to study the relationship that existed between our people at the community and the village level, we would have found that the majority of our people related very well with one another. We would have found that our people had big hearts and were very caring."
"Fiji was not referred to as “the Way the World should be” for no reason. The world saw an island paradise filled with an interesting combination of people who were very friendly and accommodating. The world saw the good in us."
"However, as I mentioned earlier, our political structures of the past only served to divide us, although they were not designed to be divisive. They slowly and surely brought out racism, disagreement, distrust and hatred. These led many of our people to turn against each other, and turn our back on one another."
"Fortunately for all of us, at this extremely important juncture in our growth as an independent state, we seem to be now having things under control," Ratu Epeli added.
"In these 42 years of being a sovereign nation, we have, albeit only recently, gathered the courage to re-define our future. We have and will continue to learn from the lessons of our past, taking the cue from two great countries in our region who had bitter pasts and who have boldly overhauled their systems in keeping with international norms, and who are now enjoying the fruits of those essential changes. We should endeavour to emulate them."
"We now have a Government that is not obligated by the urges of only a certain section of its voters, but by the spirit and the determination to do what is right for everyone – all Fijians, without exception."
"We have a clear vision, real values and very clear, realistic and achievable goals. All these, and more, are contained in the People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress and the Roadmap to Democracy and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development."
"Our Constitution-making process is now well underway. We have been successful with the Electronic Voter Registration and we are now moving towards the end of the public consultation period for the new Constitution. These are unprecedented measures."
"The public service and public sector reforms are now realizing tangible results. Legislations are renewed in an effort to modernize our country. Infrastructure development is well underway with new forms of assistance from countries who are our friends and who respect our sovereignty."
"We have for the past six years stabilized our security and our economic situation. The latest advice from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority is that our revenue generation continued to increase despite the political and natural disasters of recent years. The Reserve Bank of Fiji advises that we have a healthy foreign reserve."
"Our election to Chair the United Nations Group of 77 is a clear statement of the support for Fiji’s pragmatic and systematic approach to solving its internal problems and returning the country to sustainable parliamentary democracy."
"This certainly says a lot about our capabilities to manage our country whilst contributing to the international community. However, while we should not and cannot be complacent, the achievements we have to-date must be celebrated."
"Now is the time to press forward and open the doors of opportunity so that we can rebuild a Fiji that is non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well governed, inclusive and truly democratic. A Fiji that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity and peace."
"People often comment on how things can or needed to be changed and then just sat around, waiting, fully expecting the government of the day alone, to deliver the goods. We need to change that mind-set and become proactive and say firmly “how can I or how can we, work with you to actively contribute to moving Fiji forward”.
"Each one of us has a special role to play in helping to re-build our nation. Leaders from all walks of life need to be effective and visionary. We need leaders with progressive vision that is motivating, inspiring and most importantly unifying; leaders who are role models and who can make firm and fair decisive decisions."
"Parents - you have a duty to be always there for your children and to raise them with family values and teachings that will last a life time. Had this been done lovingly in all our homes – where responsibility begins – we would have less of the waywardness that we have been experiencing."
"And now to you the youths and young adults - the future leaders - you are our hope for the future and you will have to learn to shoulder the responsibilities of steering this nation to greater heights. You have the strength, the time and the dynamism of youth on your side to make those responsibilities achievable."
"My fellow Fijians, in conclusion, I want to remind you all that Fiji is blessed with an abundance of resources that can and must be fully utilised. So, my challenge to all of you is – put them to good and lasting use for all Fijians and for our beloved nation – Fiji."
By Reginald Chandar