WRITING A NEW CHAPTER IN OUR COUNTRY’S HISTORY
‘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 demo
The following is President Mjor-General Jioji Konrote’s address at the first Constitution Day at the Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds yesterday.
The honourable Prime Minister, The honourable Chief Justice and members of the judiciary, the honourable Speaker of the Parliament, honourable ministers, The honourable leader of the Opposition, honourable Members of Parliament, your excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, our youths and our school children Ni sa bula vinaka, mamaste, asalaam alaykum, ni hao, kona mauri, talofa, noa’ia‘e mauri and a very good morning to you all.
We gather together as a nation to celebrate our first Constitution Day. To commemorate the day three years ago when the 2013 Constitution first came into being. To honour our supreme law and the blueprint for the direction of our nation. And to remind ourselves of its provisions, including the political, social and economic rights it guarantees for every Fijian.
In this first year, our Constitution Day is not only being celebrated with a national holiday but with a formal ceremony confined to our capital. But from next year, we will have ceremonies in other parts of Fiji at which our people will gather. And we intend to make Constitution Day, September 7, as much a fixture on the national calendar as Fiji Day on October 10. Because Constitution Day is a celebration of our values as a nation, just as Fiji Day is a celebration of our independence and sovereignty. Today is a double celebration because this is also the first State occasion to be held in the new Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds, that were officially opened by the Prime Minister on Monday. I’m sure we can all agree that these facilities are a wonderful asset to Suva and we look forward to many more such events in the months and years ahead.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: When my predecessor, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, gave his assent to the Constitution on the day before it became law three years ago, he made a speech in which he highlighted its special importance for young people. He spoke of being excited by the way in which the Constitution empowers young people. Whether it is guaranteeing them access to education or granting 18-year-olds the right to vote and giving them a say in the country’s direction.
“We all know that Fiji’s future depends on our young people”, he said. “And more than anything else, this Constitution is for them”. And so today, it is the young people of Fiji who will lead our commemoration. As sections of the Constitution are brought to life through the voices of the students who are with me here on the podium, and who you are about to meet. Our Constitution may be our supreme law and the law from which all other laws flow. But it is not a document gathering dust on a lawyer’s shelf. It is a living document. A document relevant to every Fijian. A document for every Fijian to read and re-read. A document for successive generations to cherish. And to defend and protect, which is why our men and women in uniform are also part of this commemoration.
I call on the first of our young people to read the Preamble to our Constitution, which sets out the fundamental principles on which the Fijian nation is based. Please give a warm welcome to Marisilina Pesamino from St. Joseph’s Secondary School and Pauliasi Volau from Jai Narayan College:
We, the people of Fiji, Recognising the indigenous people or the iTaukei, their ownership of iTaukei lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language;
Recognising the indigenous people or the Rotuman from the island of Rotuma, their ownership of Rotuman lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language;
Recognising the descendants of the indentured labourers from British India and the Pacific Islands, their culture, customs, traditions and language; and Recognising the descendants of the settlers and immigrants to Fiji, their culture, customs, traditions and language,
We the people of Fiji, Declare that we are all Fijians united by common and equal citizenry;
Recognise the Constitution as the supreme law of our country that provides the framework for the conduct of Government and all Fijians;
Commit ourselves to the recognition and protection of human rights, and respect for human dignity;
Declare our commitment to justice, national sovereignty and security, social and economic wellbeing, and safeguarding our environment,
Hereby establish this Constitution for the republic of Fiji.
Thank you, Marisilina and Pauliasi. So excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: That is the foundation on which our democracy is based. A clear statement of our values. Who we are as a nation and people.
The 2013 Constitution was the first in our history to establish the principle that every Fijian is equal, whoever they are, wherever they come from or whatever their religious or political beliefs.
Before that, some of our citizens were established in law as being more equal than others. Their votes carried more weight than others. They enjoyed more privileges than others. And this could never be a proper base on which to build a modern nationstate, which is what we intend to do now that we are finally one nation, one people, with equal rights and equal responsibilities. Let’s remind ourselves of what the Constitution says about our nation in Chapter One. Please welcome Sanat Kumar of Nehru Memorial Primary School:
The Republic of Fiji is a sovereign democratic State founded on the values of… common and equal citizenry and national unity; respect for human rights, freedom and the rule of law; an independent, impartial, competent and accessible system of justice; equality for all and care for the less fortunate; human dignity, respect for the individual, personal integrity and responsibility, civic involvement and mutual support; good governance, including the limitation and separation of powers; transparency and accountability; and a prudent, efficient and sustainable relationship with nature.
Thank you, Sanat. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: What you have just heard are a set of principles that any nation would be proud of, which is why our Constitution ranks among the world’s most progressive, the world’s best.
As I’ve already said, the Constitution is our Supreme Law. But what exactly does that mean? Let’s hear about the Supremacy of the Constitution as outlined in Chapter One, Part Two. Please welcome Riona Mani from Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Primary School:
This Constitution is the supreme law of the State.
Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, any law inconsistent with this Constitution is invalid...
This Constitution shall be upheld and respected by all Fijians and the State, including all persons holding public office, and the obligations imposed by this Constitution must be fulfilled.
This Constitution shall be enforced through the courts, to ensure that laws and conduct are consistent with this Constitution; rights and freedoms are protected; and duties under this Constitution are performed.
This Constitution cannot be abrogated or suspended by any person, and may only be amended in accordance with the proper procedures. Any attempt to establish a Government other than in compliance with this Constitution shall be unlawful…
Thank you, Riona. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: As well as being the first Constitution to guarantee every Fijian equal opportunity, the 2013 Constitution is also the first in Fijian history to contain a Bill of Rights. We’ll hear about some of its provisions shortly. But here’s Isoa Gavidi from Suva Primary School to tell us what the Bill of Rights does, as outlined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution:
The Bill of Rights binds the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government at all levels, and every person performing the functions of any public office. The State and every person holding public office must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights and freedoms recognised in the Bill of Rights…
…Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, this Chapter applies to all laws in force at the commencement of this Constitution.
…Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, laws made, and administrative and judicial actions taken, after the commencement of this Constitution, are subject to the Bill of Rights.
Thank you, Isoa. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: In the Bill of Rights is a range of political, social and economic rights for every Fijian that had never been guaranteed before.
These include the right to education, health, adequate food and water, the right to economic participation, equal access to the law and freedom of speech and expression. 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.
I urge every Fijian to read the complete Bill of Rights in the copies of our Constitution that are not only available in English but in iTaukei, Fiji Hindi and Braille.
As well as setting out the rights of adult Fijians, there is specific reference to the rights of children. And here to remind us of them is Ilisoni Raikadroka from Hilton Special School:
Every child has the right to be registered at or soon after birth, and to have a name and nationality; to basic nutrition, clothing, shelter, sanitation and health care; to family care, protection
and guidance, which includes the equal responsibility of the child’s parents to provide for the child; to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, any form of violence, inhumane treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour; and not to be detained, except as a measure of last resort…and the best interests of a child are the primary consideration in every matter concerning the child.
Thank you, Ilisoni. excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: no society on earth can claim to be a just society unless it protects and empowers the most vulnerable of its members - whether it is women, children, the elderly, the sick or the disabled. In Fiji, we are proudly making a special effort to take everyone with us on our journey forward as a nation.
And that includes people with disabilities. And we are determined as a nation that, as far as possible, disability should be no barrier to advancement. Our first paralympian gold medalist Honourable Iliesa Delana is now our Assistant Minister for Youth and Sports. Please welcome Naomi Lewakita from the Fiji School for the Blind to tell us what the Constitution says about the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Naomi is reading from the Braille version of the Constitution.
A person with any disability has the right…to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information; to use sign language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication; and to reasonable access to necessary materials, substances and devices relating to the person’s disability. A person with any disability has the right to reasonable adaptation of buildings, infrastructure, vehicles, working arrangements, rules, practices or procedures, to enable their full participation in society and the effective realisation of their rights.
Thank you, Naomi. That was very inspiring.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: what we have heard this morning is just a fraction of what is contained in the full Constitution.
I urge every Fijian – and especially our young people – to familiarise yourself with what is in it. And to encourage young people to do so, we have launched an essay and art competition in the nation’s schools asking students to tell us what the Constitution means to them.
The closing date for this competition – which has some attractive prizes has been extended and details will be provided in the next few days. There will also be an opportunity for our professional artists in visual arts to enter the competition.
Details of this will also be released in the next days. And the winning entries will be announced, read, published and displayed on Fiji Day in five week’s time.
It is also my great privilege to wind up the formal part of our celebration by making an important announcement. To commemorate Constitution Day, the road opposite us here that runs along the side of our National Parliament is being renamed. From today, Southern Cross Road becomes Constitution Avenue. It is a permanent reminder of the critical importance of our Constitution in our national life and its critical importance to our democracy - the Parliament we elected under that Constitution at the general election two years ago next week. Southern Cross Road – as many of you know – was named after the small plane that the great Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith, landed here in Albert Park when he made the first Trans Pacific flight in 1928. But 88 years on, our Constitution is clearly more important. And the Southern Cross and Kingsford Smith’s remarkable feat will continue to be remembered in the plaque that stands at the corner of Albert Park facing Victoria Parade.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, youths, boys and girls, that brings to a close the formal part of this commemoration.
But I hope that you will all stay on to enjoy the entertainment that we have for you. My thanks go to the many people who have worked so hard to make Constitution Day a success, our men and women in uniform and our young people who have travelled here from all over Suva and all over Viti Levu. And I’m sure you will join me in extending a special thanks to those who have read the passages from the Constitution to us and read them so well. Let’s give them a big round of applause!
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, youths,boys and girls: I want my final words today to be those of my predecessor when he gave his assent to the Constitution three years ago. And I think they apply just as much today as they did then. “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.” A Very Happy Constitution Day to you all. And May God Bless our beloved nation Fiji and all Fijians.
Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Xièxiè, Ko bati nraba, Fa’afetai, Fai’eksia and Thank You.
President MAJOR-GENERAL JIOJI (Ret’d) KONROTE
Vashist Muni College students during Constitution day celebration Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds in Suva, yesterday.