H.E. The President- Address on the Assent to the Constitution

New York
Monday, September 9, 2013

Salutations and greetings

I have today given my assent to the 2013 Constitution through the powers vested in me as your Head of State.

That Constitution comes into effect tomorrow and will be the supreme law of Fiji.

It is also a blueprint for the future direction of ourcountry.

It establishes the principle that every Fijian is equal whoever they are, wherever they come from or whatever their religious or political beliefs.

It provides for an independent judiciary, equal access to the law, freedom of speech and expression and a range of unprecedented rights for every Fijian.

These include the right to education, health, adequate food and water plus specific recognition of the rights of the iTaukei people for the ownership and protection of their land and recognition of their culture, tradition, customs and language. Similar protections and rights apply to our Rotuman and Banaban citizens.

For the first time, the Constitution has also been published in the two main vernacular languages and has been widely distributed and read.

The community has been given the opportunity to check those translations.

I commend our new Constitution to you and ask every citizen to give it your support.

On any fair reading, it safeguards the rights of every Fijian and finally lays the basis for the development of a modern, progressive and enlightened state.

It no longer entrenches privilege or the rights of some citizens over others. It is the Constitution we had to have for us to join the ranks of the world’s great democracies.

Unlike previous Constitutions, it does not define and divide us by ethnicity. It bestows the title of Fijian on every citizen, while celebrating and recognising our cultures.

This is a magnificent achievement based on the most fundamental of democratic principles– that all men and women are created equal.

My fellow Fijians,

We now proceed – on the basis of this document – to yet another milestone – the first genuinely democratic election in our history within a little over twelve month’s time.

Already, we have four political parties registered for that election and around 540,000 Fijians registered to vote.

So to cast this as a hollow gesture - of the will of the Fijian people being disregarded - is demonstrably without foundation.

For the first time, under the terms of this Constitution, every Fijian has a voice and I am assured that voice will be heard next year without hindrance.

To be credible, the 2014 election must be free and fair - a contest of policies and ideas between the parties and candidates in which every Fijian voter is the final arbiter.

I am confident that this will be the case and urge everyone planning to stand for that election to uphold the highest standards of proper conduct, accountability, honesty, transparency and decency.

My fellow Fijians,

I also want you to envisage the kind of country we can become if some of the provisions of this constitution are embraced by everyone.

I am particularly encouraged – excited even - by the way in which it empowers young people.

For the first time, any child born in Fiji gets a much better chance of gaining knowledge and skills, with specific undertakings about access to primary, secondary and tertiary education.

So we will be a smarter nation with more people capable of getting satisfying and sustainable jobs.

For the first time, the two principal vernaculars – I’Taukei and Fiji Hindi – are to be taught in our primary schools as compulsory subjects.

So we will be a nation better able to communicate with each other and share our stories.

For the first time, anyone over the age of 18 obtains the right to vote.

So we will be a nation in which young people are able to participate in the democratic process and provide us all with their energy, idealism and fresh ideas.

We all know that Fiji’s future depends on our young people. And more than anything else, this Constitution is for them. And for their children and the generations to come.

All the old attitudes that have held us back, all the old prejudices, cannot survive that generational change if we all resolve to think differently.

With these reforms, we are bound to be more united, more cohesive, more conscious that we are one people, one nation with a wonderful future ahead of us.

Ladies and Gentleman,

We are writing a new chapter in our country’s history.We all have our place in that narrative. So I appeal to every Fijian – whatever their political affiliation - to unite behind it.

With this document, we lay to rest the institutionalised divisions and inefficiencies' that have plagued us and embrace a common future in which we all have an equal stake. And we lay the foundations of a new Fiji – taking our place among the great democracies and fulfilling the dream we all share of better days to come.

My God Bless us all in our noble quest to become a fairer and more prosperous nation. May God Bless our beloved Fiji.
 

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