On the second Monday of March each year, we the member countries of the Commonwealth come together to observe Commonwealth Day. Commonwealth Day is a celebration of unity, diversity and the links we share of the modern Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth of Nations, generally known as “the Commonwealth”, is a free association of sovereign states comprising the United Kingdom and its former dependencies – those that have chosen to maintain a community of nations with shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law as enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter. The Commonwealth is also a space for inter-governmental cooperation, dialogue, collaboration and exchanges on education, sports, economic cooperation and in other specific areas of mutual interest. For small member states like Fiji, the Commonwealth has rendered support in areas of empowerment, gender equality, higher education and most recently in our efforts to tackle and adapt to climate change.
This annual day of celebration is an opportunity for everyone in the Commonwealth to reflect on our achievements, reiterate our shared goals and to renew our commitment to the enduring values of this community of nations.
And on this Commonwealth Day, it is most appropriate but humbling that I, as Speaker of the Fijian Parliament express to Her Majesty the Queen the hearty congratulations of the Fijian Parliament as this year – 2022 – is the Platinum Jubilee of her accession to the Throne. And in doing so I also express the Fijian Parliament’s best wishes to Her Majesty for continued good health and happiness for many more years to come.
The theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day is, ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’. Delivering a Common Future – which highlights how the 54 member countries in the Commonwealth family are ‘innovating, connecting and transforming’ to help achieve goals such as fighting climate change, promoting good governance and boosting trade.
The challenges faced due to climate change is on the top agenda of the Commonwealth as it affects every member of the family. The Commonwealth Secretariat helps member states to tackle climate change and adapt to its worst impacts. The majority of members, about two-thirds of the Commonwealth family are Small Island Developing States (‘SIDS’) and they share common issues and challenges. The Commonwealth as a multilateral organisation has given SIDS, such as Fiji, a platform to raise their issues and challenges.The Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (‘CCFAH’) was established by the Commonwealth to assist countries to bid for and gain increased access to climate finance. The CCFAH also provides assistance through the deployment of national climate finance advisers to climate vulnerable island countries such as Fiji, Tonga, Seychelles, and the Solomon Islands to name but a few.
Apart from climate change, the Commonwealth also contributes to education initiatives and works towards ensuring that young people and learners in member countries can benefit from equitable and inclusive access to quality education.
Fiji’s international and diplomacy networks are continuously strengthened via our membership of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (‘CHOGM’) is held every two years since its inception in 1971, where the leaders of 54 States review international political and economic developments, examine avenues for Commonwealth co-operation for development and where leaders meet and mingle to strengthen the sense of Commonwealth itself.
An extraordinary example of how our member countries come together to pool knowledge and resources which deliver transformational change through innovation is the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Since the adoption of the Commonwealth Blue Charter by CHOGM in London in 2018, Fiji is committed to uphold and actively participate with the Commonwealth family to solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development.
The COVID-19 pandemic for almost 2 years has challenged Commonwealth member states to fight the pandemic and to work together in support of each other. The pandemic has physically separated leaders of the Commonwealth States but the ideologies shared between the states has ensured mutual support of each other during these unprecedented times.
On this special day, I acknowledge the Commonwealth member states commitment in supporting each other to progress the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDGs’). The Commonwealth has established a fund to assist the economically poor member states to meet their needs and provides technical assistance and expertise to the less developed members. It promotes the development of education by offering scholarships and exchange programmes. It has also promoted good governance through holding regular meetings by the Members of Parliament and sending observers during general elections. The Commonwealth SDG Tracker provides a comprehensive assessment of the progress made by all 54 Commonwealth countries towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
For the Fijian Parliament, our strong membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (‘CPA’) has been of immense benefit especially through the kind assistance of parliamentary experts from member Parliaments since Parliament’s re-establishment in 2014. The CPA is one of the oldest established Commonwealth organisations and is an officially accredited and associated Commonwealth organisation. Our Members of Parliament and secretariat have benefited immensely from capacity-building events, attachments, knowledge exchanges and sharing of best practices with CPA members.
We are proud to continue our contribution to and to maintain our ongoing active engagement with the CPA and its various initiatives that include the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (‘CWP’) group and the Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disabilities (‘CPwD’) network. The CWP is a CPA initiative to further the representation of women, enhance their participation and promote their issues in Commonwealth Parliaments. The CPwD was established to facilitate activities and programmes to champion and increase the representation of persons with disabilities in Commonwealth Parliaments. The CWP Fiji Group which consists of membership of all the women MPs was established in May 2019, and in December 2020, we joined the CPwD Network Pacific Region. Through the support of the CPA, the CWP Fiji Group has been actively supporting charitable causes such as the donation of female sanitary kits to the Fiji Red Cross Society cyclone relief efforts in 2020 and the annual fundraising initiatives of the Fiji Cancer Society. In December 2021, we held the inaugural Parliament Open Day for Persons with Disabilities in Fiji supported by the CPA’s CPwD network. The event also showcased new audio equipment for Parliament’s sign language interpreters purchased with the CPA’s kind assistance.
The Fijian Parliament is a key participant in the CPA’s governance system, being one of three representatives of the Pacific branch of the CPA on the association’s Executive Committee. This is a reflection of the Parliament’s progress in taking up a leadership role amongst the Pacific Island Parliaments and with the wider inter-Parliamentary community.
The Parliament’s engagement through the CPA undoubtedly provides support towards Fiji’s commitment to the Commonwealth and its ideals.
Public engagement is crucial for Parliaments and legislatures. In 2022, the Fijian Parliament hopes to revive its public outreach and civic engagement particularly for young Fijians. The gradual lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions allows us to restart these initiatives which were put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic. We are moving towards restarting Parliament tours for schools, young people and the public; and rebooting our community outreach programme. We hope that these activities will educate, engage and inspire more young people on Parliamentary democracy and the shared values of the Commonwealth.
In summary, the governments and people of our richly diverse family of 54 Commonwealth nations, of which Fiji is proud to be a member, connect at many levels through extensive and deep-rooted networks of friendship and goodwill. Together we are tackling challenges such as the impacts of climate change, COVID-19 and working to find better ways to sustain our lives and our future.
I wish you all a happy Commonwealth Day.