HON PM Remarks at the Reception Hosted in honour of the President of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly
The President of the 71st session of the General Assembly,
Heads of States,
Fellow Heads of Governments,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all,
Tonight is a proud moment for Fiji as we honour one of our own – the first Fijian to assume the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly.
It is, of course, an honour for Ambassador Thomson as an individual. But knowing him as I do, he will want me to say that this is first and foremost an honour for Fiji.
Never before has our nation had a stronger presence in New York, presiding now over the deliberations of the community of nations. Never before has a Pacific island country attained such a lofty position in the UN system. It is, in many ways, a coming of age not just for Fiji but for the entire region. And cause for immense satisfaction and pride.
It is an inspiring story of how the small guy in global affairs came through the pack and with perseverance and determination, broke through. This achievement wasn’t bestowed on us. We had to earn it. We had to fight for it.
We had to convince the nations of the world that we were worthy. We had to patiently secure the votes of 192 other nations in a campaign over many months to win their confidence. And we had to endure a nail biting finish and a winning margin that was extremely tight. Just four votes in the secret ballot of 193 member states.
I also know that Peter will be the first to say that this was a team effort – Team Fiji coming together to get our man across the line. Our diplomats across the world using every opportunity to press Fiji’s case. Our ministers using every formal meeting to ask their counterparts to back our candidate. And we are extremely grateful to those governments that gave us their support.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s a lesson here for all of us about the importance of persistence. Of nations such as Fiji never assuming that just because you are small, you cannot have a shot at greatness. It’s the mindset that fired up our Rugby Sevens world champions last month to bring back our first Olympic Gold medal from Rio. And what has also produced this gold medal winning diplomatic performance in New York.
I’ll never forget being in Port Moresby the week before the vote and being told that we mightn’t make it. I realised that there were some very important potential votes all around me in the form of my fellow leaders at the EU- ACP summit. So I systematically set out to lobby them by turning on the famous Bainimarama charm.
I don’t think anyone has ever laughed so loudly at other people’s jokes. And my smile was so wide for a couple of days that it hurt. I admit it was a high risk strategy. But I like to think it made a difference, just as the effort by so many others in Team Fiji helped get us across the line.
Vinaka vakalevu, Peter, for doing our nation proud. Many people may not realise that you are a fifth generation Fijian on your mother’s side. Your family and mine have had a long history together stretching back to the 1960s when your father was Commissioner Western back in Fiji and my father ran the Natabua Prison. I know your father and mother would be very proud of your achievement and I am certain they are with us in spirit tonight. Because we have all worked hard over the years to fulfill the promise we always knew that Fiji had to be a nation among the world’s best. A promise that is symbolised by this wonderful achievement.
I want to pay tribute to your wife, Marijcke, for the strong support that I know she has provided to you in your six years in New York and will also be giving you as General Assembly president over the coming months.
I especially want to warmly thank my colleagues and our ambassadors of the Pacific Small Island Developing States. Because they worked in unity with Fiji as we pursued this goal and our victory is as much a victory for them and their governments as it is for us. The voice of the Pacific coming through louder and clearer in New York than at any other time in the five decades since we began to take our places here as independent nations.
As we all know, it is not a moment too soon. Because only by speaking with one voice can we get the world to pay attention to the great challenges that face us all – climate change, sustainable development, the health of our oceans, the position of our women. All those issues that deserve a greater place on the global agenda.
As Fiji assumes the Presidency of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, we have never been in a better position to put our collective agenda forward. And I’m sure than everyone in this room joins me in wishing our former Permanent Representative well as he assumes this high office and brings great honour to our nation in the process.