His Excellency Ratu Wiliame Katonivere – Address at the Opening of the 2024 Session of Parliament

  • Honorable Speaker of Parliament;
  • The Honorable Acting Chief Justice and Honorable Members of the Judiciary;
  • The Honorable Prime Minister;
  • Honorable Deputy Prime Ministers;
  • Honorable Cabinet Ministers and Assistant Ministers;
  • Honorable Leader of the Opposition;
  • Honorable Members of Parliament;
  • Your Excellencies, High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
  • Distinguished Guests;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.

Miau sa bula re and a very good morning to you all. Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Please allow me to acknowledge and greet our countrymen and friends joining us this morning via television, live streaming and Walesi platforms or radio. I acknowledge your keen interest in the State Opening of our Parliament.

It is an honor for me to be here today, to open this new Parliamentary Session. As I look upon the Honorable Members of this August House, I am humbly reminded of the immense responsibility that comes with representing the diverse voices and aspirations of our people.

As democratically elected representatives, I ask that you listen to the voices of our people, not only those who elected you, but to all our citizens young and old, men and women.  I urge you all to faithfully embrace with resolve the principles of democracy and humanity as enshrined in our Constitution. In doing so we will continue to respect the integrity and dignity of our Parliament.  We must acknowledge and recognise our differences; however, we must be united with one common goal to ensure that we live in a progressive and prosperous nation.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, it is my solemn duty to announce the government’s proposed legislative agenda, policies, and programmes as stipulated under Section 81(4) of the Constitution for this term of Parliament. At the outset, I humbly seek your indulgence and allow me to make a few remarks, which I believe, are pertinent to the continued progress and prosperity of our people and our nation as a whole.

I spent several happy years of my youth in Macuata with Indo-Fijian farming families during sugarcane harvesting season.  Our integrated community in Macuata taught me many important lessons in life which include hard work, respect for our elders, family unity and respect for other ethnic communities. The two major ethnic communities in Fiji have always lived in harmony together.

It is however, unfortunate that, some unscrupulous politicians continue to instigate mistrust among our communities for their own political ends. This has led to the perception of communal differences within our society. Honorable Members of Parliament, I humbly plead to you all to continue to promote harmony and embrace diversity in our nation.

I would like to remind Members of Parliament the importance of respectful debate as it has an impact on inter-ethnic relations of our different communities. As leaders, we are required to leave aside our differences for the common good of our people. We must focus on our shared destiny and commonality rather than our small differences.I sincerely believe that we can all adhere to these fundamentals, to me, that is what true leadership is all about.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, I always believe that financial literacy will empower our people with financial security and self-reliance. Encouraging a culture of financial responsibility can have a positive impact on national prosperity and a secure future.

By providing access to comprehensive financial literacy supported with the enabling environment and necessary financial resources, we all can make informed decisions about saving, investing, and managing our finances effectively. For example, I would like to see Jone, who is a dalo farmer and Ram who sells sweets at his cart, learn how to manage and have access to finance.

At the same time, encourage a culture of saving which will allow the development of a sustainable investment plan for their families long term security. I would like to see members of our communities learning and sharing from each other’s expertise, so we can all prosper together.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, I would now like to take this opportunity to expand on the Coalition Government’s progressive agenda and legislative programme. A major priority for the Coalition Government this year is the formulation of a new National Development Plan that will set our collective vision and key initiatives and programs that will allow the nation to grow sustainably in the short and medium term.

The key fundamental of Government’s development agenda is inclusive development, to improve the well-being of all our citizens. Nationwide consultations are currently underway, and I am encouraged by the participation from our different communities. It is anticipated that the Plan will be finalized by June this year, before the budget announcement.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, our domestic economy will surely return to the pre-pandemic level based on the latest statistics available. As such, a broad-based growth of 3.8 percent and 3.0 percent is anticipated for 2024 and 2025, respectively. Today, our debt is around $9.9 billion, equivalent to 75.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product, which is unsustainable for a small vulnerable country like ours.

Despite Government’s emphasis on fiscal and debt sustainability, new global risks and existing challenges, linked to climate change, present significant potential risks to the medium-term

macro-economic forecast. Government is committed to strike a balance between rebuilding fiscal buffers, and promoting growth, by allocating sufficient resources to key priority sectors, particularly the resource-based sectors.

This means investing in robust and resilient infrastructure and enhancing social safety nets for the disadvantaged and low-income households. Accelerating key structural reforms, enhancing efficiency in public service delivery, by reducing wastage, and executing public and private sector initiatives to foster growth in the short term, will be a priority. To strengthen public finance management, the Financial Management Act and related laws, regulations, instructions, are being reviewed to enhance transparency, accountability, and fiscal discipline.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, with regard to our foreign policy, the Government will continue to pursue Fiji’s interests under the three key pillars which include sovereignty; security; and prosperity. With strong multilateral and bilateral ties, we have restored the confidence of our development partners, improved cooperation and strengthened our foreign policy motto of being friends to all and enemies to none. Government, for the first time, is formulating a White Paper on our foreign policy.  The paper will project Fiji to the world; elaborate on our identity, our values, and approach to diplomacy.

The current global geopolitical tensions, wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and more than thirty other armed confrontations around the world, have created more uncertainty and fear particularly in the global trading environment due to disruptions in the supply chain. We are in a menacing moment of history. Therefore, it is critical that we must continue to promote peaceful solutions. Peace creates communities of compassion, care and charity and leads to prosperity and development. This has given the Government the opportunity to promote the concept of the ‘Ocean of Peace’ for our Blue Pacific – custodians of a powerful symbol of co-existence and friendship.

Our Prime Minister will continue to champion the concept of the Ocean of Peace in the region and in the international arena. The Ocean of Peace concept is designed to help move Pacific Island member nations to the next level of cohesiveness, prosperity, security and influence while enhancing and not reducing each state’s full sovereign rights.

It is anticipated that the Ocean of Peace concept, once accepted and embraced by all Pacific-island member states, would effectively create a 32 million square kilometers of the member states’ territorial waters as a major geo-political block which will enhance the Pacific position in the global scene.  It will also enhance the protection of each state’s natural resources, maritime and other natural heritage and the unique and diverse culture, language, and beliefs of each member state.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, the Coalition Government is committed to protect and preserve our traditions, cultures, and languages to promote social cohesion among our people. To accomplish this, the Ministry of Multi-Ethnic Affairs will launch a new policy framework that will enhance social cohesion among all ethnic communities through sound policies, consultations, and inclusiveness.

Government is working with our development partners in exploring options for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the pain and scars left by the events of 1987, 2000 and 2006. To revitalise the Sugar Industry, a number of initiatives have been developed to increase cane production to 1.8 million tonnes in the 2024 season compared to 1.6 million tonnes in 2022.To support diversification within the industry, alternative livelihood programs will be developed to augment farmers’ incomes against world market price fluctuations.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, we, like other countries in the Pacific directly bear the brunt of climate change on our coastlines, communities, livelihoods, and security. This is despite the fact that our contribution to global emissions is negligible. The unjust burden placed on Pacific Island countries requires urgent action to address this threat to our very survival and identity.

Therefore, we must increase our collective effort in implementing climate mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize the risk associated with climate change and sea level rise, not only here at home, but also as a region.  In the spirit of international agreement and conventions, Government will continue to implement policies to:

  • reduce emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels;
  • protect our people from climate and disaster impacts; and
  • support the well-being, resilience, and sustainable development of our communities.

Effective collaboration among all stakeholder’s vis a vis Government, Private Sector, Development Partners and Civil Society is critical to our climate change response. We cannot do it alone, we must all work together. Accelerating this response will require strong partnerships and access to climate financing.

The relocation of the people of Nabavatu to their new village site at Nadoiviri will commence this year.They were forced to leave their original site in 2021 after Tropical Cyclone Ana, which caused a geohazard event. The relocation is funded with $5.9m from the Climate Change Relocation Trust Fund with support from development partners and civil society organisations.

In addition, Government is mindful of the need to relocate an additional 44 communities affected by climate change around the country. Processes are in place in the preparation of a robust Policy Framework to support the existing SOP for Planned Relocations. Lessons learnt from previous experience will be the basis of the Policy Framework.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, the Government is committed to greater accountability, transparency, and good governance practices in all Public Sector Entities including Public Enterprises. The re-establishment of the Higher Salaries Commission has resulted in an independent and transparent approach in the determination of remuneration relating to top Executive positions in public sector entities.

Government will continue to improve collaboration and efficiency in the Civil Service. I am pleased to announce that Civil Service Day will return this year on 28th of June to celebrate the contribution of civil servants.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, with regard to our tourism sector, it is encouraging to note that visitor arrivals have surpassed pre-COVID figures. By the end of 2024, we anticipate welcoming one million visitors for the first time. Tourism is a key driver of our economy.

A higher number of visitors means increased demand for the necessary support services that will be required to support the influx of arrivals. Government will implement a 10-year strategy for the industry through the National Sustainable Tourism Framework, which will position Fiji in the global travel and tourism market.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Education will continue to be a priority. The implementation of the Education Summit outcomes outlined in the Denarau Declaration, will be pursued. This includes the review and modernization of the Education Act and relevant laws, policies and programs.

The formulation of a new Sector Strategic Plan for the next 10 years, is aligned to the needs of the labour market, and will also address the issue of labour mobility. An Education Commission will be appointed to undertake a holistic review of our education system so that it is adequately aligned to our needs.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Government is committed to expanding Fiji’s trade by broadening exports with our trading partners. The Government will continue to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operatives by enhancing regulatory compliance, access to markets, and sustainable finance.

Most importantly, Government will continue to promote value addition in our resource-based sectors to allow the effective participation of our resource owners. Government is also committed to digital transformation with initiatives such as the National Digital Strategy and the National Cybersecurity Strategy.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Government, is committed to implementing the National Action Plan for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Gender-responsive budgeting across all sectors will be implemented this year. The Child Justice Bill and Childcare and Protection Bill to modernize and strengthen the legislative framework for children, will be a priority this year.  Government will continue to enhance social protection programmes complemented with coverage for climate and disaster shocks through the adaptive social protection framework.

As announced last year, the National Defence Review is ongoing to address the changing security landscape. The recent seizure of approximately four tonnes of methamphetamine requires the review of the Illicit Drugs Control Act and related legislation. The Police Force will collaborate with counterparts in source-countries to curb the smuggling and trans-shipment of illicit drugs to and through Fiji.

Partnerships with religious bodies, traditional and community leaders, and other stakeholders are crucial in the fight against crime and drug trafficking. The review of Defense, Immigration and National Security legislation will be given priority.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, in our health sector, Government is committed to addressing the significant challenges posed by the burden of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases, which impose a substantial burden on our population and the economy. Our health strategies and programmes will be directed to ensure effective delivery in revamping health programs relating to:

  • Child and Adolescent Health,
  • Immunization and Early Childhood Development,
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health including HIV and AIDS,
  • Maternal Reproductive Health, and
  • Cancer Prevention.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, the Great Council of Chiefs has been re-established under the iTaukei Affairs Act. The successful meeting last week saw the appointment of members of the Council, and the Chair and two deputies to lead the Council.

The Council will now examine the Final Report of the GCC Review Team, which made various recommendations to ensure the independence and new structure of the Council. Most importantly, to ensure political neutrality. I am pleased to note that after extensive consultation process, the Bill on Traditional Knowledge and Expression of Culture will be tabled in Parliament later this year.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Government will review the State Lands Act and related legislation to streamline procedures and further improve revenue collection.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, water is a basic need and crucial for our socio-economic development. Our water and sanitation infrastructure requires long-term planning. The Water Sector 2050 Strategy outlines necessary investment and enhancement initiatives in the water and wastewater sector. The Government is committed to ensure that all our citizens have access to clean drinking water.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Government is committed to revitalising the shipbuilding industry with the construction of a new facility in Lautoka that will be able to serve both domestic and foreign-going vessels. This will be achieved through Public and Private Partnerships and support from development partners.

The review of the Maritime Transport Act 2013 is intended to align with international standards and promote a safe and sustainable maritime transport sector.

The National Energy Policy 2023–2030 underpins Government’s commitment to a resilient, cost-effective, and sustainable energy sector. The objective is to achieve universal access to electricity by 2026, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, by 2030 and transition fully to renewable energy by 2036.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, Agriculture will continue to be the backbone of our economy for food security and export. Government is committed to provide every citizen access to adequate, safe and nutritious food, whilst fostering a competitive and sustainable agriculture sector.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, associated with the development of our agriculture and other resource-based sectors, rural development is a key national priority.

Government will implement a wide range of socio-economic activities to support the goal of growing the rural economy and raising the standard of living for our rural communities. Government will prioritise a wide range of programs to revitalise the rural economy and encourage self-reliance include funding for:

  • Self Help Programmes,
  • Community Access Roads,
  • Footpaths and Footbridges,
  • High risk water and sanitation projects,
  • Rural Housing Assistance Programme, and the
  • Rural Outer Island Development Programme including improved shipping services.

A new National Disaster Risk Management Bill to replace the Natural Disaster Management Act has been approved by Cabinet and will be tabled in Parliament later this year.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, I am pleased to note that a tripartite labour fora has been re-established with representation from workers, trade unions and Government working together to address issues relating to our labour force. These fora will play a pivotal role on issues relating to employment, productivity, workplace relations and the national minimum wage.  The Employment Relations Act and its subsidiary legislation is also being reviewed.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, there are numerous challenges in developing the fisheries sector, which is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Government will develop strategies and programs to support responsible fishing practices to meet the growing demand for seafood while sustainably preserving our oceans. The Fisheries Act 1941 and related legislation is also currently under review.

In our forest sector, the emphasis will be addressing climate resilience and sustainable forest management, Government will continue with the campaign to plant 30-million-trees-in-15-years an initiative started in 2019. The review of the mahogany industry has been given priority by Government, and the focus will be on sustainability and value addition to improve foreign exchange earnings and enhance the participation of resource owners.

Government will work with the private sector and stakeholders to:

  • develop public housing infrastructure,
  • improve access to finance and
  • encourage construction of climate resilient and energy-efficient homes.

Government will continue to regularise informal settlements to ensure security of tenure. The revitalisation of municipal markets will be a conduit for the growth of economic activities, and special attention will be given for further improvement. Government is committed to empowering ratepayers to elect their own representatives to city and town councils.  The review of the Local Government Act and Elections Act is ongoing to facilitate municipal elections.

Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament and Distinguished Dignitaries, as we embark on a new Parliamentary Session, I urge you to consider sentiments expressed by your fellow citizens and bring their concerns to this August House. I challenge our Parliamentarians to work across the aisle, find common ground on critical issues facing our nation and put the people first, above petty political interest and personal ambition.

Let us not see challenges as mountains, but as common missions to ascend and resolve with open and constructive dialogue, with a view to build social cohesion.

To all our citizens, wherever you are viewing this address from, I challenge you to stay informed about the policies and decisions made by your elected representatives, and to hold them accountable for their actions. I urge all our citizens to continue to engage in constructive, respectful dialogue and to seek understanding and common ground in our diverse society. This is the democratic way that we all must value and cherish.

I wish you all great success for this year and it is now my duty and great honour to declare the 2024 Parliamentary Session open.

May God Bless us All and May God Bless Fiji!

Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank you very Much!