President of the Republic of Fiji


Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS Sunday, 20th October, 2013 - 7.00p.m.

Your Excellency, The Governor-General, Sir Frank Kabui;
The Honourable Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Darcy Lilo;
Honourable Ministers;
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Guests;
Citizens of the Solomon Islands.
Halo Oloketa, Bula Vinaka.

Thank you, Your Excellency, for those warm words of welcome. As President of the Republic of Fiji, it is indeed for me a great honour to be here and to convey to you and all the Solomon Islanders the greetings and well wishes of the people of Fiji.

This is a duty which I am proud to perform although it is tinged with great emotion because the Solomon Islands and Fiji share so much history. But let me state quite categorically that I feel very much at home here.

The first Solomon Islanders were reluctantly taken to Fiji more than a century ago, and since then Fijians of Solomon Islands descent who settled there have made significant contributions, and are still doing so to our development.

Likewise, Fijians came willingly to spread the word and lived in the Solomon Islands since the first Fijian missionaries arrived early in the 20th century. We were then both colonial countries.

But my connection with the Solomon Islands though unlike that of the earlier Fijians was just as deep.

My late father, my uncles and other relatives, like many Fijians of their time volunteered and served here in the Fiji Military Forces – as it was then called - that was deployed in the Solomon Islands campaign during World War Two together with forces from neighbouring Pacific, and Pacific Rim countries.

My father was a company commander in the 3rd battalion. It was a time when Melanesians and many others endured great hardships. So I am naturally proud of my family’s and Fiji’s contribution to the Solomon connection.

My father, as indeed all members of the Fiji Military Forces, had a very high opinion of the people of the Solomon Islands and was greatly appreciative of the tremendous part that your grandparents displayed in that campaign and especially the support they provided to our soldiers.

You are all aware that some fifty seven men of the First and Third Battalions of the Fiji Military Forces lost their lives during the Solomon Islands campaign. So, in a way we are a part of you, just as you are a part of us.

Over the years our relationship has grown more cordial and since the Independence of our respective nations this has cemented and we have remained close friends.

After all, we are fellow Melanesians - each with a proud heritage and a shared destiny. A destiny that we are now determined to set for ourselves.

Today, the Solomon Islands and Fiji are proud sovereign nations. We face new but common challenges—everything from rising sea levels to economic development to the struggle for national identity and good governance.
Certainly, we need external support from the countries that we had served with during World War II as well as those that we were against, including other countries as well, to help solve many of these challenges. So we need to have good relationships with as many nations as possible particularly those nations that have the resources to provide assistance, expertise, and markets for our exports.

But there is much that we can do for ourselves if we maintain a spirit of sharing and cooperation, and if we always remember our strong connections as Melanesians – where we are several nations, but one people.

Through the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Pacific Islands Development Forum, and the other regional institutions, we are now taking control of our destiny and helping each other. If we keep on working together, we can increase trade among Melanesian nations and raise the living standards of all our peoples, we can share our experiences not only to solve common problems but also to assist each nation to solve our own unique problems. We may be in different stages of development, but as neighbours we are all travelling in the same direction.

We Fijians are enthusiastic about what a Melanesian common market can mean for all of us—a larger market, economies of scale, greater opportunities to create employment, and the added collective weight at the negotiating table rather than just as individual nations.

A common market will lift all our economies, spur improvements and encourage sharing in our most important industries—like agriculture, fisheries, tourism, mining, timber and manufacturing. And Fiji quietly hopes to be a hub for the development of a broadband system that eventually will bring the benefits of the digital age to every Melanesian – in every settlement and in every village.

Your Excellency and honoured guests, it is not true that all good solutions come from external sources. Certainly, the developed nations have much to offer, and we need to embrace their experience and assistance when and if they benefit us. But even with the best will in the world, - as our respective histories have recorded - sadly they do not always understand our culture, our aspirations, and our challenges. So we must take a stronger hand in designing and executing assistance programs, and we must choose to learn from each other but only when learning from each other shows us the better way.

Fiji stands ready – whenever we can – to assist our pacific neighbours, based on the experiences we have had over the past 43 years as a sovereign nation. Like any country, we have made mistakes along the way but the important thing is that we have learnt from those mistakes and we can perhaps help others to avoid them.

We also strongly believe in the principle of service to others – whether it is our large commitment to United Nations peacekeeping or as civilians working in neighbouring countries.
The Fijian government is proud that Fijian citizens have volunteered to work in Solomon Islands in areas that are of priority for you.

Retired teachers have come to teach and train, and police officers are participating in RAMSI, which is of critical importance as you continue to work to ensuring that the Solomon Islands is free from violence and strife.

Fiji will always stand beside you to share experiences, knowledge and expertise.

Last year you stood by us – but not for the first time – when you made a significant donation to our flood relief. We are indeed most grateful.

While we have supported each other in dealing with the natural disasters that occur regularly in our part of the world, we also have faced similar political problems. Both our nations have had challenges with ethnic tension.

Fiji’s new constitution creates—for the first time— a society in which ethnicity is no longer a factor. For the first time in our history, every Fijian will be equal before the law, every Fijian will have an equal vote, and no Fijian will be a second class citizen.

The Solomon Islands is still but steadily going through a process that was caused by the tensions that befell your country not so long ago.
While the events in our nations took different turns, their aspirations were the same.

Your Excellency and honoured guests, Fijians believe in the people of the Solomon Islands. We are proud to be fellow Melanesians. We are equally convinced that by working together, we can counter any challenges. We are honoured to be your partner – to stand beside you and be an understanding friend - as we both deal with those aspirations.

Just as we stood by you early in the 20th century and in world war two, we stand by you today. Where you need solidarity, we will give you solidarity. Where you need assistance, we will assist you as much as we can. Where you need friendship, you will always find that with the Fijians.

And now, I have the honour to propose a toast to His Excellency the Governor General, the Government and the people of the Solomon Islands, whilst remembering your proud past, looking forward with confidence to your promising future, and just being grateful to the enduring friendship between the people of the Solomon Islands and the people of Fiji.

To that enduring friendship!

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.