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

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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:

Speech

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,

Speech

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:

Speech

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:

Speech

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:

Child #5:

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:

Speech

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.

Speech

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

Photo: Ron­ald Ku­mar

Vashist Muni Col­lege stu­dents dur­ing Con­sti­tu­tion day cel­e­bra­tion Al­bert Park Pavil­ion and Grounds in Suva, yes­ter­day.

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