Today is the second Monday of March, a day that is set aside every year by member countries of the Commonwealth to mark ‘Commonwealth Day’.
It is a day celebrated annually by 56 independent countries that make up the Commonwealth to highlight important themes and issues that affect its 2.5 billion citizens.
This year’s Commonwealth Day is a special one as it is the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the Commonwealth Charter signed by the late Queen Elizabeth II on 11 March 2013.
The Commonwealth Charter outlines the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth. It also expresses the commitment of member states to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth.
One notable aspect of the Charter is that it recognises and acknowledges the role of civil society in supporting the goals and values of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is especially important for the Fijian Parliament. Our Parliamentary procedures, practices and traditions originate from, and still follow some of the conventions of the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy that is shared across the Commonwealth Parliaments.
We are also an active member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), made up of member Parliaments of the Commonwealth. The CPA supports good governance, democracy and human rights. It is also an important space for inter-Parliamentary exchanges, networking, capacity-building and knowledge sharing for Parliamentarians of the Commonwealth. The Fijian Parliament is proud to be an active member of the CPA’s networks:
the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) network through the CWP Fiji Group; Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disability (CPwD) as Pacific champion; and the Small Branches network.
I join with our Members of Parliament and their CPA colleagues to celebrate this important day in our network’s calendar.
The theme for Commonwealth Day 2023 is ‘Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future’. The theme combines the active commitment of member states to support the promotion of peace, prosperity and sustainability, especially through climate action, so as to secure a better future for our young people and improve the lives of all Commonwealth citizens.
At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2022, the leaders declared 2023 the ‘Year of Youth’, demonstrating their commitment to tackling the endemic challenges facing children and young people.
This focus on youth is highly commendable considering that 60 percent of citizens of the Commonwealth are aged 29 or under. In Fiji, more than 60 percent of the population is below the age of 40 and a majority of registered voters in the 2022 general election were aged 31 to 40 years. Fiji has a very young population.
The youth of today are expected to lead our country in the future. However, they are most likely to suffer should the leaders of today not make a serious commitment to tackling some of the major challenges that are imminent today.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the existential threats of climate change have worsened the many challenges we face as a small vulnerable island country.
The problems can be tackled effectively with the strengthening of our governance system and its institutions. Parliament sits at the heart of this system, and it is where we need a lot of strengthening and renewal.
And I call on Fiji’s youths today to be part of this movement. To not only call for the strengthening of Parliamentary democracy and social inclusion, but also participate actively in Parliamentary processes. Our youths can be active advocates for the promotion of peace, prosperity and sustainable development. They are also at the forefront of climate action not because it is an honourable undertaking, but because their future depends on it.
As Speaker, I will ensure that Parliament is accessible to all, particularly our young people to be part of the national decision-making process and to hold the Executive and its various agencies to account. I urge our younger generation to have their say in Parliamentary committee inquiries and hearings, and connect with their Members of Parliament for their concerns and ideas.
I also call on our youths to aspire to leadership and not be afraid to enter politics and be the voice of their constituents. I must commend the courageous steps taken by our group of new MPs who are below the age of 40. There are others who never made it to Parliament, but fought a courageous battle in the 2022 general election.
I call on our young MPs to bring some energy into Parliament and amplify the voice of the youths of Fiji.
Have a blessed Commonwealth Day.