The Honourable Speaker of the Parliament,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,
The Special Administrator of Suva,
My Fellow Fijians,
Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I have started to call this a golden age for Fiji in the wake of our Rugby Sevens Gold medal victory in Rio, our record seven years of economic growth and the opportunities we are giving young Fijians to take their rightful place in the world.
And what a golden evening this is for Suva, as we celebrate the revival of our capital by opening yet another jewel in her crown – the new Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds.
I am sure that like me, the citizens of Suva will be filled with civic pride and all Fijians will be filled with national pride as we launch this magnificent 17-million dollar facility.
Finally, the revival of our State Precinct – the site of our Independence and so many momentous events – is almost complete. All that remains is the refurbishment of Thurston Gardens. And the work being done at the State House to enable its grounds to also be open to the public.
What a wonderful sight presents itself to us all this evening. Across the park, our magnificent Government Buildings and National Parliament. The finest structure of its kind in the South Pacific. Now restored and looking the way it should be, with its clock chiming out the passage of time. And the entrance to our Parliament visible for the first time after we demolished the old grandstand that blocked it from view. How tremendous it is to look out from our new Pavilion and see the seat of our new democracy and the rest of this fantastic scene.
On the harbour side, the very grand Grand Pacific Hotel, which has stood there for more than 100 years and has played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Noel Coward, James A Michener and Somerset Maugham (Mawm). And more recently the Prime Minister of India, along with many other dignitaries. The GPH was a rat-infested ruin during our wasted years as a nation. But now the Grand Dame of Suva sparkles again in the evening light after her facelift and also fills us with pride.
And in front of us, Albert Park, where our national flag was first raised on a brilliant, sunny day 46 years ago and Independent Fiji was born. And where 88 years ago, the great Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith, landed his small plane, the Southern Cross, during one of the greatest feats in aviation history – the first flight across the Pacific.
Over the years, countless Fijians have walked this ground or played on this ground. Whether it is the sporting events that have always taken place here or the Hibiscus Festival held here from 1956 until just a couple of years ago.
Countless numbers of Fijians over the years have also been present to witness the great occasions of State and the military parades that are a treasured part of our national life. The anniversary of Cession Day before 1970 and Independence Day since.
In two days’ time, we will again gather here to celebrate our first Constitution Day. To commemorate the date in 2013 that our Supreme Law and the blueprint for our new democracy came into being. The Constitution that gives us the political, social and economic rights every Fijian now takes for granted. And in precisely five week’s time – on Monday, October the 10th – we will celebrate our 47th Independence Day. And the first in which we will be able to properly accommodate our dignitaries and guests in this world-class facility.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this new pavilion finally gives us a structure worthy of this historic and wonderful place, a building that is in keeping with its surroundings and also provides us with the ability to accommodate 1000 people under cover and in comfort.
We have also upgraded the notoriously difficult surface of the park itself, fixed its drainage problems and covered it with the latest turf. It is now up to international standards.
To all those involved in the project – the Ministry of Local Government, the Suva City Council, the project manager, architects, engineers, turf specialists and the Yanjian Group (Fiji) that constructed the Pavilion – vinaka vakalevu. This is yet another project that has enhanced our capital and made us proud.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have called this the Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds, not the Albert Park Stadium, to distinguish it from the ANZ Stadium and avoid confusion. We don’t want people telling taxi drivers “take me to the stadium” and ending up in the wrong place.
Many young Fijians may not know that Albert Park is named after Prince Albert, the consort or husband of Queen Victoria, who was the Queen of England when Fiji was ceded to Great Britain in 1874. . It is a symbolic link to the past as we strive as a nation to continue to build our new and exciting future.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, as I gaze out on this wonderful scene, someone like me who is old enough to remember the birth of our nation here in 1970 is filled with pride. Many of us were pained by the neglect and decay that had robbed this place of its splendour. But at last, we have not only restored it to its former glory. We have made it better by bringing it into the modern age. With a redeveloped ground and new facilities that we can all enjoy now and is worthy of the generations to come.
As it happens, we have done the same with our nation. Reversed the years of decay and neglect and set ourselves on a new course – a quest for greatness.
As One nation, One people, One Fiji, we are finally putting the lost years behind us. And are fulfilling the promise of that magical day 46 years ago when in this very place, Independent Fiji came into being.
As I keep saying – it is a wonderful time to be Fijian. And nothing exemplifies that more than the scene this evening. The seat of our democracy and site of so many great occasions revived. And bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun disappearing behind the mountains that ring our beautiful harbour.
I think tonight of all those Fijian men and women who witnessed the same scene from here but have since passed on – our parents, grandparents and previous generations. And I know they are with us in spirit. Because Albert Park – the green heart of our capital – has always occupied a special place in the hearts of every Fijian, whether they live in Suva or not.
With these new facilities, we have given it a new lease of life and reinforced its treasured place in our national life.
Thank you again to all of you who have contributed to this wonderful project. And I now have great pleasure in declaring the new Albert Park Pavilion and Grounds open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.