Speech by the new Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu after his election as Speaker

Honourable Members of Parliament, and all those tuning in from the comfort of their home, as your elected Speaker, first and foremost, I thank the Almighty God for this great honour bestowed on me.

I must sincerely thank the Honourable Members of Parliament for the trust and confidence placed on me to serve this august House as Speaker.

Honourable Members, allow me to also congratulate you again, individually and collectively, for your successful election to this august House.

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the support afforded to me by my family, and like all our families, they are a pillar of strength and an never ending source of support and motivation. I thank you most sincerely for your unwavering support through the years.

I must also sincerely thank the Secretary-General to Parliament and her team of dedicated staff who under immense pressure and public scrutiny have heeded the call of duty to ensure that all the necessary services of Parliament are up to the professional standards demanded by such a high office. I duly acknowledge their steadfast dedication to ensure all the necessary services and processes of Parliament are given due attention without fear or favour.

This Chair is not a prestigious or glamourous one, but one that is burdened with a high level of responsibility, and due diligence. It

requires a constant devotion to the rules and principles of Parliamentary democracy.

I commend the Fijian Elections Office and Electoral Commission for their successful completion of the election process that has afforded all Fijians their right to vote for their representatives in Parliament. And I must thank all Fijians who had rightfully and dutifully exercised this right.

Whilst we have many new and young Members entering Parliament for the first time, I also notice the reduction of the number of women representatives. From the largest ever representation of 10 women MPs in 2018 to a low of 6 in 2022. I sincerely hope that this is an important challenge that we as decision-makers and as a nation can collectively strive to rectify.

But I must acknowledge the efforts of these six brave women who have successfully made to it to a space that is always dominated by men. We must also pay all due respect to all the courageous women who had put up their hands to be candidates but were unable to join their colleagues in Parliament.

Whilst, we could have done better, it is still truly a remarkable demonstration of the confidence of our often-conservative society, has in women as serious decision-makers and national leaders.

At this juncture, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of our development partners who despite the challenges of a pandemic-ridden world have given their support towards the strengthening of Parliamentary democracy in Fiji. I sincerely thank the continuous support and assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Fiji Parliament Support Project (UNDP-FPSP). I extend my utmost

gratitude to the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan for their continuous support to the Project.

I extend my utmost gratitude to our inter-Parliamentary friends for their unabated commitment to helping us build and strengthen our democratic institutions.

These include the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), our twinning Parliament of Victoria, Australia and all our inter-Parliamentary partners who have supported our progressive journey towards fulfilling the ideals of Parliamentary democracy.

Honourable Members, to conclude, it is with great eagerness and energy that I look forward to serving in this role as Speaker and work with you, to ensure that our Parliament is effective and relevant to the needs of our people.

May God bless us all and may God bless Fiji. Thank you.