My fellow Fijians,

I’m delighted to be among so many friends this evening and can I start by thanking the organisers for the work that they have done to bring us all together. It’s been a big week at CHOGM and we can all relax knowing that once again, a lot of good work has been done to advance Fiji’s interests in the Commonwealth and the wider world. And especially to draw attention to the challenges we are facing because of the threat to our oceans and climate change.

To those of you who may not have met them, can I introduce our Climate Champion and the Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, Inia Seruiratu, the Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Faiyaz Koya, our Climate Negotiator, Ambassador Luke Daunivalu, The Permanent Secretary in my office, Yogesh Karan, the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ioane Navailarua, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Ariff Ali, and our High Commissioner here in London, Jitoko Tikolevu. And my thanks goes to all of the members of our hardworking delegation for making our participation in CHOGM a success.

Friends, I have to say that came to London very reluctantly. Because as you know, many Fijians are suffering back home because of the two back-to back cyclones since Easter.

First Cyclone Josie and then Cyclone Keni killed at least eight people, caused serious storm damage in Kadavu and flooded several of our cities and towns, including Nadi, Ba and Rakiraki on Viti Levu and Labasa and Savusavu in Vanua Levu. Once again, people’s homes and businesses and some of our nation’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. And once again, too many Fijian families were left mourning the deaths of their loved ones.

As soon as these cyclones subsided, I was out in the affected areas making sure that the government is being as responsive as possible to our people’s needs. The one positive thing I can say about these repeated events is that they are teaching us how to respond more effectively. And I’m proud of the way our Care for Fiji initiative that I announced as I was leaving Fiji is already making a big difference to alleviate the suffering in the affected areas.

This initiative cuts across the whole of government – every ministry and department - to make sure that we quickly and effectively target those areas and sectors of the economy that are most in need.

At one stage, I thought of cancelling my trip to London altogether to continue to be with our people in the affected areas. But as important as it is to extend a helping hand to our people in Fiji, we must also step up our effort to persuade the world to address the root cause of these terrible events. And that means using the authority I have as President of COP23 to keep demanding a more ambitious response from the global community to climate change.

The Commonwealth is made up of 53 countries with a combined population of 2.4 billion people – around one third of all 7.5 billion people on the planet. And it was very important for me to come to London to give voice to the concerns of Fijians and all climate vulnerable people the world over that we are simply not doing enough.

Friends, as Josie and Keni showed us just over two years after Cyclone Winston, these cyclones are a matter of life and death for our people. The world has done me the honour of making me a voice for the vulnerable as we try to move the climate negotiations forward. And in the end, I knew that I needed to have that voice heard in London, just as we must be heard in all the great forums of the world if we are to have any chance of confronting the magnitude of this challenge.

I always say that I trust the intelligence and common sense of the Fijian people. They know that I am fighting for their interests at home and overseas. And I draw great strength from the support I am getting as I lead this battle as President of COP23. Because the Fijian people know that this is a struggle not only for our own generation but generations of Fijians to come.

We must persuade the world to limit the increase in global warming that is causing these events to no more than 1.5 degree Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. We must succeed with the Talanoa Dialogue to raise the ambition of all nations to make deeper cuts in the carbon emissions that are causing this warming.

That is the message that I have conveyed in London and will keep hammering home at every possible opportunity. Because the cuts that are on the table now will result in an average global temperature of at least 3 degrees by the century’s end, not 1.5 degrees, and that will be catastrophic for the whole planet.

Friends, I want to use this opportunity to also brief you on my government’s priorities at home. Tonight is not a time for politics but many of you have asked for an outline of where we are heading as a nation together. And I want to stress the unity of that effort - the fact that we are all in the same canoe and are on the same journey towards creating a better nation, a stronger nation, and one more worthy of our children and the generations to come.

Whatever our political differences, we can all agree on certain values that define us as Fijians. And the first and foremost of these is that we are a caring nation. A nation in which we care for each other and care about the people living in other nations as well.

I was again struck in the flood-affected areas in the last couple of weeks about the way so many Fijians came to the assistance of those who were suffering. Of how ordinary people banded together to raise money or donate essential supplies. Or simply got in their vehicles and went to the affected areas to lend a hand in the disaster response and the clean-up.
This goes to the heart of what it means to be Fijian – the yalo loloma, the loving heart, that defines our relationships with each other and with the world.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of our contribution to UN Peacekeeping – our service men and women reaching out from our island home to protect vulnerable ordinary people in troubled parts of the world. As a people, we are fighting injustice at home and injustice in the world. And I want to make special mention of those of you in the room tonight who are helping to fight injustice, terrorism and tyranny in the service of the British armed forces.

The Fijian people as one salute you and thank you for that service. Because it is a fight for the values we all share with our great friends in the United Kingdom and the other nations who share the same values.

We all know people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in that struggle - for Britain and for Fiji. And I want to say to their families and friends that these are our nation’s greatest heroes. And each has a special place in our hearts and in our prayers, along with those who are continuing to place themselves in danger in defence of our common values.

Friends, at home, the top priorities of my government continue to be equality of opportunity for all Fijians, empowerment through such things as access to free education, increasing our economic prosperity to spread the benefits as widely as possible and leaving not a single Fijian behind.

Maintaining the health of our economy is our number one priority because sustainable growth is the only way path to sustainable development. And I’m very proud to say that the Fijian economy is about to chalk up its ninth successive year of growth, something that has never happened before.

My right hand man, the Attorney General and Minister of Economy and I are completely focussed on the consistent and steadfast financial management of our economy. Because we know that everything else flows from that: the record number of jobs we have created, the new infrastructure everywhere – roads, airports and all manner of development – and our ability to provide free schooling, tertiary scholarships and loans, free medicine and water and subsidised electricity for low income earners, the first social security system in Fijian history…. None of this is possible without a healthy economy. And the sound and prudent management of that economy is undoubtedly my government’s greatest achievement, along with levelling the playing field to give every Fijian child the same chance to pursue their dreams.

Friends, I can give you a long list of our achievements but I urge as many of you as possible to make the long journey home and see things for yourself. If you go through Singapore, Hong Kong and now Japan or Los Angeles going the other way, you can step onto a state-of-the-art Fiji Airways Airbus and begin to feel at home straight away.

Fiji Airways – when it was Air Pacific – was once six weeks away from crashing altogether. Now it has just made a profit of almost 100-million dollars and the staff have all shared in that windfall.

Then you’ll finally arrive at Nadi Airport and boy, will you notice the difference. A new terminal that is of global standard and has all the services we associate with the world’s best airports. Then you’ll leave the airport on a four-laned highway that now goes all the way to Denarau, lined with proper street lights that we are installing throughout Fiji.

We have put a huge amount of work into our roads and bridges to bring them up to standard. Unfortunately the punishing impact of these cyclones and floods means we often have to do the work again. But all over Fiji, you will notice the infrastructure development that my government has made possible through our sound management of the economy and our ability to raise loans to build that infrastructure on affordable and favourable terms.

The list of our achievements goes on, but the biggest thing you will notice isn’t necessarily physical but a real difference in the national mood.

You will meet children who are happily benefiting from free schooling, free textbooks and subsidised bus fares. You will meet other young people who are able to pursue higher education in our new network of technical colleges and our universities thanks to our tertiary loans and scholarships. You will meet taxi drivers who can afford to buy a better and more comfortable car. You will meet a lot more people with decent and worthwhile jobs and more money in their pockets. And you will certainly find a level of optimism that isn’t dampened by the odd setback like losing the rugby 7s Commonwealth Gold medal to New Zealand.

Friends, of course we still have a long way to go to bring the benefits of this development to every Fijian. And for my government, that effort will never cease. But the national mood in Fiji has been transformed because our reforms have unquestionably created more opportunity. People have been empowered, whether it is through our education revolution or our grants to small and micro business owners. Our assistance for agriculture and women or better access to roads, health and communications in rural and maritime areas.

Friends, Fiji is on the move. The lost years in which we argued about who deserves a bigger slice of the national cake are over. We are growing the cake, year by year, to ensure that everyone can get a bigger slice. And the unity and national focus we have created has transformed our prospects and is providing ordinary Fijians with more opportunity than at any other time in our history.

The Fijian people know it. The world knows it. And it has lifted our national stature in the global community. The world knows that we are making the Fijian Made brand of goods and services a byword for quality. More overseas visitors are descending on Fiji than ever before. The world knows that we can be relied on to deliver, whether it is in UN peacekeeping, leading the fight to protect and preserve our oceans or leading the global fight against climate change. So we have never been more respected. Nor have we been relied on so much to carry our share of the duty all nations have to work together for the good of humanity.

Friends, my government proudly governs for all Fijians, yes even the opposition. I said at the outset that this isn’t an occasion for politics. But I do urge all of you to make sure that you are registered to vote in the forthcoming election. We haven’t announced the date but it will be soon. And I want all of you who are eligible to vote to exercise your democratic right.

It has been a wonderful week for Fiji in London. And on behalf of my delegation, vinaka vakalevu for this wonderful evening and the care and hospitality you have shown us. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. May God bless us all on our journey forward together and may God bless our beloved Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.