President's Christmas Message
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Youth and Children of Fiji,
Warm Christmas greetings to you all!
In the aftermath of Cyclone Evan, Christmas 2012 will certainly be different from those of the past years. The nation is now engaged in picking up the pieces and getting life back to normal. Government, led by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, is doing all it can to assist those who were affected by Cyclone Evan.
Government has announced a state of natural disaster for the Northern and Western Divisions and is now directing all available resources to assist our people in the affected areas. The non-government organizations, the business community, and foreign countries, as usual and thankfully, have also come on board or pledged their support. I have no doubt that the collective assistance will see life for many returning to normal in the earliest possible time.
On this occasion, I wish to thank everyone for getting yourselves ready for Cyclone Evan.
In all my years as a member of the Military, the Fiji Red Cross, St John and as a former Minister for Provincial Development, which is responsible for the Natural Disaster Management Office (NDMO), this was one of the most impressive times when the nation heeded warnings and was prepared for a cyclone. The state of readiness, beginning from the advanced cyclone alerts and warnings to the extent of preparation had actually paid off. People heeded government’s directives – you tried to secure your homes and property, stored food and water, and even moved to the evacuation centers voluntarily.
The restriction of movement helped to keep all of you safe either in your homes or in the evacuation centers. Cyclone Evan, projected to be one of the strongest at category 4, had come and gone. Fiji had been very fortunate not to lose a life.
Fiji’s state of readiness on this occasion is a great sign of change. It is a sign of progress from what used to be a laid-back response by some to alerts and warnings to a more pro-active and willing participation. I do not think that we are 100 percent perfect, but the change in response is admirable and strongly encouraged.
As we go about getting our lives back to normal, let me thank each and every one of you for this change in approach. I also encourage you all to continue to always heed the warnings to be prepared. Your lives and especially the lives of our children, and our future leaders depend on our collective ability to respond to misfortunes such as a natural disaster.
I also wish to acknowledge with sincere gratitude the work of all those men and women who worked during the height of the cyclone attending to the essential services. They include the members of the National Disaster Management Team in Suva and in the Divisions, the members of the Military, Police and the Corrections Services.
I also acknowledge the many other men and women who are now part of the rehabilitations efforts.
My thanks also go to the Management and Staff of the Public Utilities like the Fiji Electricity Authority, the Fiji Water Authority, the National Fire Authority, those responsible for our roads and medical services, the Fiji Red Cross, St John, the prison inmates, and all other workers and volunteers alike.
I thank also the management and boards of the schools who again readily allowed their schools to be used as evacuation centers.
Thank you all so very much for your contribution towards bringing life back to normal.
Ladies and gentlemen, Cyclone Evan, like the floods that we endured earlier this year, are minor setbacks to our progress as a nation.
They only served to strengthen our resolve and commitment to do well for our country and all our people.
As we count-down to Christmas 2012, I also take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support towards the ongoing work of re-building our nation since 2006.
I am pleased and thankful to hear the overwhelming support that many of you have expressed and given to the government. Thank you for the faith you have in your leaders.
I confirm today – as you have already been reliably informed - that Fiji’s draft Constitution is now in my possession. This is the document that contains our collective aspirations and hopes for a new Fiji.
A modern and progressive Fiji that is devoid of all forms of discrimination.
I have already begun my reading of this important document – a pleasant task which will occupy me intimately during this festive season. And I do so with the trust that it will bring all of us glad tidings.
I thank all of you who participated in the constitution-making process especially those who made submissions.
Your contributions were important in the formation of a Constitution that is inclusive and that will greatly assist towards building a better Fiji.
The draft Constitution will be given to the constituent assembly which will comprise of representatives from a wide-cross section of our society.
I take this occasion to again encourage relevant organizations and individuals to apply to be considered, as members of the constituent assembly and to play an active role in laying the foundation for a prosperous future for our country and our children.
I also wish to encourage all of us to renew our commitment to living a happy, healthy, wholesome and long life.
We can start through a thorough review of our health status. I encourage you all to be active and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We can, for instance, control the rise of non-communicable diseases. This is within our sphere of influence. It is within our control. We need to ensure that we eat healthy and eat locally grown food and that we also participate in daily physical exercise.
I have been actively involved in advocating against the spread of HIV and Aids. This is a role I intend to continue in earnest.
I have, this year, visited 25 secondary schools and spoke to over 12,000 students who are part of the most vulnerable age-group in the world and in our country. I advised them to be more responsible with their decision-making, especially on issues relating to practicing safe sex and using condoms. I do this because 70 percent of our HIV and Aids cases were through heterosexual transmission with the epidemic evidently affecting our young people with over 50 percent falling within the age group of 15-29 – the youth, the bulk of the labour force, the most sexually active and the most vulnerable. I will continue my visitations to the remaining secondary schools in Fiji in 2013.
Over the past years since my active involvement in advocating against the spread of HIV and Aids, I have come across many members of society including close relatives of mine who had advised against the use of contraception. Many of the advice were based on religious and cultural interpretations.
I am happy to note, however, that Fiji is now changing, and that the religious organizations now accept the reality which is that we must openly discuss HIV/Aids and sexuality with the hope of finding a solution to saving our nation by saving the lives of our future generations.
I am adamant about the advocacy against HIV/Aids because Fiji sadly, was not one of the 25 countries that featured in the global report of recording a drop in rates by 50% of HIV new infections. Our rates had increased. And our Sexually Transmitted Infections – STIs – are far too high.
I emphasize that HIV and Aids is not just a medical problem.
It is very much a social and development issue that must be addressed in a holistic, pragmatic and timely manner.
The Government and its stakeholders have launched a new strategy towards controlling the spread of HIV and Aids.
The faith-based group comprising of the majority if not all religions in the country has also launched for the first time a strategic plan aimed at addressing the issue of HIV and Aids. I have no doubt that this new approach by the religious organizations will significantly help Fiji to achieve the commitment, of getting to zero - zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths.
The welcome introduction of the faith based group strategic plan is a blessed comfort as it gives us the added impetus, the pastoral reach, hope and the desire that we will be able to achieve all the millennium development goals.
So I strongly encourage all leaders in society to renew their advocacy towards achieving the three-zeros because we have less than 1000 days before the deadline of the 2015 global aids targets and the achievement of all the Millennium development goals.
Last and certainly not the least, let us not forget to set aside a time to pray for our beloved nation and especially those who were seriously affected by Cyclone Evan.
Cyclone Evan may have had an impact on our physical structures, but we should not allow it to dampen our spirits.
We should also remember our diplomats, the members of our armed forces, and the other individuals who are serving in foreign countries around the world.
May you all have a blessed Christmas and a prosperous and meaningful New Year.