SPEECH: HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT 2015 HEAD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OPENING WORKSHOP

Honourable Ministers,

Your Excellencies,

Bula vinaka and a good morning.

I understand that the reason why we have these annual meetings for Heads of Missions is for all of you to come back home and touch base. To take stock; to meet up with all the different ministries and; to ensure that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Heads of Missions realises and puts into practice the key objectives of the Government in the international fora.

As you are aware, the Foreign Affairs Ministries of all Governments is to further the respective Government’s objectives using the diplomatic channels. In fact, it is said that Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Heads of Missions are jacks of all trades and master of none, except diplomacy. Let me explain.

Today in Fiji, there are many issues that face our country. These issues need to be enunciated and fulfilled, at times through our bilateral and multilateral relationships. So, for example to further our agriculture, we will need technology. We will need expertise. We will need access to plants and seeds. None of which may exist in Fiji. While our Ministry of Agriculture may develop relationships with ministries of agriculture of other countries, it will require the services of our diplomats and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to consolidate and affirm the relationship between the two countries in the respective ministries. It will require your ability to source these requirements for our Ministry of Agriculture. It will require your skills to maintain an on-going relationship. On the other hand, we may require lobbying through our different Missions regarding labour issues. We will need your abilities to further the trade policy framework which falls within the Ministry of Industry and Trade. We may require our Heads of Missions to pursue our interest regarding gender equality; seek assistance for our youth groups; pursue better educational opportunities and advocate for climate change mitigation; and position Fiji to access development funds, to name a few. While none of these matters, ladies and gentlemen, are the line responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but all of these subject matters may need to be dealt with in one single day by any head of mission.

This is why it is critical that all the Heads of Missions are fully aware of what is happening in all the ministries. This is why it is critical that Heads of Missions and Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintain a close relationship with the respective ministries and are aware of the issues that are key to the implementation of the objectives of these ministries.

As you are aware, with the civil service reform that will be expedited next year and following the announcement of the appointment of the new Permanent Secretaries by the Public Service Commission, the governmental systems and processes will be further modernised, streamlined and made efficient. We have enormous expectations that all Ministries including the Heads of Missions, lift up their game and synchronise and synergise their day- to-day operations to meet government’s overall objectives.

Our economy has had unprecedented growth rates and very positive forecasts. The current economic trajectory that we are on must be taken advantage of. We cannot carry on our business as usual. We cannot continue to be satisfied with mediocrity and the old ways of doing things. We must act fast. We must act with aptitude. Otherwise, we may not be able to fully realise the potential from this trajectory.

There are currently a number of important documents that guide our overall national objectives. We firstly have the Green Growth policy framework which intertwines with the National Trade Policy framework. You will see a number of key initiatives in the new year that will be rolled out by the Department of National Planning and Ministry of Industry and Trade in regards to these documents respectively. The 5 and 20 year National Development Plans will also be rolled out by April of next year. It will be critically important for all of you to understand, comprehend and know these documents because there will be many issues from these documents that will require your expertise as diplomats to advance.

Of course, whilst we now have COP 21 behind us, culminating into the Paris Agreement, we need to remain vigilant about the issues pertaining to climate change. Our position as a vulnerable pacific island country and indeed as a leader of the voice of vulnerable countries needs to be further advanced and maintained. Many countries now look up to us, not just from the pacific but from outside the region, as a morale and ethical voice for eking out the issues that perhaps the other bigger countries fail to do so. This is why you will see, we have allocated funds in the 2016 Budget to advance research in the area of legal issues emanating from climate change and position Fiji as a centre of climate change legal discourse.

We of course, have to also understand the practicalities of the impact of climate change on our own national economic and social well-being. So this is why, while the practical implementation of climate change mitigation strategies are now centralised through National Planning, Foreign Affairs will need to, like with other national issues, continue to voice our concerns and issues and carry our message to obtain financial assistance for our country whenever required. It is critical, Ladies and Gentlemen in all of this, for us to be strategic and not make decisions on the trot or go into meetings half baked.

Our strategic move to reallocate our South African mission to Ethiopia and to expand our Mission in UAE fits in with the overall strategy. We must continue to draw alliances with the European Union, India and UAE to take advantage of their respective lead roles in different areas that will be of strategic importance to us. We of course need to maintain our relationships with other key partners such as China. Our art of diplomacy and indeed foreign policy must not mean that we are too reliant on any one or two countries, always.

Ladies and Gentlemen, each country or region in which you serve have specific strategic importance to us in various areas.

While we have a policy of being ‘friends to all’, we must always ensure that Fiji maintains its dignity and its sovereignty as an independent nation. It must always be remembered that while everyone now appears to be friendly to us, we should never be in a position that we maintain cordiality at any cost. We must always be acutely aware of our strategy and also the importance of always maintaining our independence, sovereignty and dignity.

Your Excellencies, I wish you all the very best with your deliberations and in particular your consultations with the respective ministries who are in fact your clients. They rely on you out there in the international world.

I wish to thank all of you and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for your input in advancing Government’s objective and deliverables. We look forward to improved contributions in the new year.

I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Vinaka Vakalevu.