International Day of Parliamentarism – Message by the Speaker of Parliament

Greetings to all Fijians!

The International Day of Parliamentarism, also known as World Parliament Day, is celebrated annually by the parliamentary democracies around the world on 30 June, the date in 1889 on which the Inter-Parliamentary Union (‘IPU’) was founded. This special day was established in 2018 through a United Nations General Assembly resolution. The day recognises the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as being the standard for political representation.

This year’s International Day of Parliamentarism theme revolves around the Geneva Declaration – ‘Parliamentary Diplomacy: Building Bridges for Peace and Understanding’ which was endorsed by the 148th IPU Assembly in Geneva on 27 March 2024. This year’s theme is absolutely relevant and critical today, as we continue the long road to recovery from a devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the existential threats of climate change, that are posing escalatory challenges to peace, stability, and long-term sustainable livelihoods and development.

Building bridges for peace and stability is not only about resolving or preventing conflict, but rather it is about understanding each other and creating social inclusion – an important condition for progressive and sustainable livelihoods for our people. Individuals and communities, irrespective of their gender, age, ethnicity and so forth, must be given all the opportunity to participate in society.

Parliaments and Parliamentarians therefore have a fundamental role in fostering dialogue, taking legislative action and effective oversight to ensure social inclusion. Parliaments and Parliamentarians have the powers to address polarisation along political, socio-economic, gender, ethnic, cultural and religious lines.

The role of parliamentary diplomacy is crucial for building bridges towards peace and understanding between nations. Therefore, participating in inter-parliamentary engagements, bilateral exchanges, and other parliamentary diplomacy initiatives enables parliamentarians to represent their countries’ interests, foster dialogue and co-operation with counterparts from other nations, and work towards building consensus on international issues.

The theme also calls for reflection and review of the progress of each functioning parliamentary democracy, and leaders to assess the developments made by their Parliaments in attaining long-term peace and sustainability which is by promoting transparency, accountability and inclusivity – in essence, it is now time to take stock of action that your current Parliament has undertaken, as part of its wider national efforts to build a peaceful and harmonious society.

Since the first meeting on 24 December 2022 for this Parliamentary term, the Parliament has seen a more inclusive and participatory process whereby Government and Opposition Members are equally involved in inter-Parliamentary engagements and bipartisan approaches, and when they attend such engagements, they represent the Fijian Parliament and not their different parties. The Parliament is now seeing more Opposition Members assuming leadership roles such as in the Standing Committees where an Opposition Member is the Chairperson; and at the IPU Assembly, the Leader of the Opposition assuming the role of Chairperson for the Small Island Developing States group. In addition, the Parliament ensures that there is an opportunity for all MPs, including women and young MPs to participate in parliamentary diplomacy activities.

Our continuous attendance in international meetings such as the IPU, CPA, APPF, APPF-GH, POCC, COP and so forth, portrays the Parliament’s underlying commitment to partnership to address the SDG’s and climate change issues, and advocate national interests at the international stage, at the same time, gain valuable insights, build professional networks and actively contribute to discussions confronting global issues.

Parliament is encouraging stronger bipartisanship on matters critical to Fiji’s nation building and sustainable development at all levels – national, regional and international, through engaging in dialogue with other Parliaments to share knowledge, experiences, and trying to address key international issues. On the international front, the Fijian Parliament has bilateral or twinning agreements with the Parliaments of Victoria, South Korea, Georgia and South-South co-operation with the Pacific Parliaments. On the local front, the Parliament has bilateral agreements with the Fiji Association of the Deaf, the Fiji Police Force and informally with other organisations.

In September last year, Parliament passed a motion to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to facilitate truth-telling, dialogue, and reconciliation on our past political conflicts since 1987 which included four coups and dictatorial regimes – Parliament must take the lead role in national healing and reconciliation.

We are now on a path of strengthening Parliamentary democracy and restoring peoples’ trust in our Parliamentary system, taking incremental but decisive steps towards social inclusion and peacebuilding in our communities. In 2023, the Parliament re-introduced the use of the vernacular making Parliament more accessible and inclusive to all Fijians thereby giving representatives the ability to get their information and messages across to the people, and allowing more non-English speaking citizens to better understand Parliamentary debates and procedures. This was further strengthened through the $4.4 million refurbishment and IT conferencing system upgrade of the audio-visual distribution system from analog to digital and the multi-language translation and captioning, which was commissioned by the Honourable Prime Minister in March 2024.

Whilst your Parliament has made significant strides in promoting parliamentary democracy, we do acknowledge that there is still opportunity for further growth. This will not only require a commitment to openness and transparency but also a willingness to engage with stakeholders and seek out innovative solutions to complex challenges.

As we commemorate International Parliamentarism Day, let us recommit ourselves to the noble ideals of parliamentary democracy and work together to build a more inclusive, transparent and accountable society.

As Speaker of the Parliament, I remain adamant that when Parliaments and Parliamentarians take well defined concerted actions at home to foster dialogue and facilitate social inclusion, they will be in a stronger position to do the same at the international level, where Parliamentary democracy can contribute to peacebuilding and security.

Happy International Parliamentarism Day!