British High Commissioner to Fiji, HE Mr Roderick Drummond hosted Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations in Suva on 16 June at his residence.
Following is the High Commissioner’s address at the event:
Your Excellency the President of Fiji, Major General Konrote, Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament, diplomatic colleagues, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa bula vinaka. Namaaste. As salaam alaykum.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here to our Queen’s Birthday Party, celebrating the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
For Yasmin and I this is our second QBP in a week. Because it is Her Majesty’s 90th we celebrated in Nuku’alofa last week with the Tongan Royal Family and many of our Tongan friends. We experienced 11 inches of rain – so I am glad that it is a dry night in Suva – my kilt has only just dried out!
There have been many events to mark the 90th Birthday of Her Majesty. We were lucky enough to attend the Royal Pageant at Windsor Castle in May. Among many other performances, and 600 horses, we saw a splendid performance by the RFMF Band. We also saw in the Windsor arena a beautiful Drua, carved in Lau under the direction of Engineer Joji Misaele from FNU. I found it very moving to see the Commonwealth contingents on parade, right in front of Her Majesty – as close as you are to me - Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, flanked by Canadian Mounties. Last Saturday in London there was a Birthday Parade, Trooping of the Colour and Flypast. Meanwhile, in Suva, the Fiji Arts Club Choir performed a special concert – to be broadcast by FBC on the 26th of June. On Sunday in London there was a huge street party, with 10000 people from the Queen’s 600 charities. Other events to mark her birthday have included royal walkabouts in Windsor and other towns, President Obama dropping by for a Birthday Lunch in April, many commemorative documentaries and musical concerts. It is great to celebrate it here tonight.
We will be having our own street party this Saturday. In the village of Wainiyavu, in the Namosi Highlands. This will mark the contribution of British volunteers from the Think Pacific organisation. Think Pacific are expanding their reach in Fiji, and now have students from 6 British universities teaching and working in rural and island communities.
The United Kingdom and the Republic of Fiji continue to share many special links, because of our shared history, and despite the geographic distance between us.
We share great sporting traditions. Fiji played a noble part in last year’s Rugby World Cup and were in good company, with England, in not quite getting out of the “group of death”. In a parallel competition at the same time, the RFMF team beat the British Army to win the International Defence Rugby Cup. When Rear Admiral Naupoto and I recently called on my Chief of Defence Staff, he assured General Houghton that the Trophy is safely in Queen Elizabeth Barracks, and that the RFMF will defend it in Japan in 2019.
I have become a passionate supporter of the Fijiana and the Fiji Sevens team, and congratulate them on winning the Championship for a second year under Ben Ryan’s stewardship. Fingers crossed for Rio, although you will understand that I also have to support Team GB now that Scottish players have been drafted to strengthen that team.
Of course, many Fijian rugby players have achieved fame in English, Welsh and Scottish leagues. I am disappointed that none have yet played for the Scotland XV, but I am sure it will happen one day. I still have one unmarried daughter, so perhaps some mother or father here has a 21 year old son with rugby potential and might like to discuss a mutually beneficial arrangement?
I greatly welcome the increase in visits by Fijian officials to the UK, including your Prime Minister’s visit in September, which including a good meeting with Prime Minister Cameron. The Minister for Education and officials went to the World Education Forum in January, and we have had good ministerial exchanges in international fora such as the Valletta CHOGM and UNGA. We have brought in a Priority Visa Service, which I hope will be of real value to the business community, and others.
I was very pleased that last year we expanded 4-fold our Chevening Scholarship programme in the Pacific, awarding 17 Masters scholarships – of which 6 went to Fijians. This month we will announce another 15 awards - 5 to young Fijians - and 4 from Solomon Islands, 2 from PNG, 2 from Vanuatu, 1 from Kiribati, 1 from Tonga. I really want to encourage more ambitious young Fijian and Pacific women and men to apply for next year’s programme, which we will launch in August. The details are all online.
We have continued to support Fiji’s democratic institutions since the 2014 elections. Last year, Global Partners Governance worked with the three Parliamentary caucuses. Parliament has benefitted from technical expertise from the National Assembly for Wales and Scottish Parliament organised by UNDP. Over the next two years our Magna Carta Fund for Democracy and Development will help the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK to provide training, mentoring and long term support to Parliamentarians.
The UK has always balanced traditional values and structures with the development of civil and political rights. Our own democracy never stands still – as you will have seen over the last two decades with big changes like devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the creation of a Supreme Court, and two referenda – one of which ended happily in 2014, with the other taking place next week. I look forward to learning the outcome of that.
We recently co-funded a regional Parliamentary reporting workshop with UNDP in Honiara (delivered by ex BBC reporters) – and attended by 5 Fijian female journalists. More recently 2 lady magistrates attended a workshop in Port Moresby on Anti-Corruption, Anti-Money Laundering, Enforcement and Prosecution, run for us by a UK organisation called GovRisk.
In this next year, through our Magna Carta Fund we will support the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement to encourage and strengthen young women’s participation in the democratic process. The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme has also supported youth workers – two of whom will meet the Queen next week at Buckingham Palace.
We continue to develop our cooperation in defence and police training. This September we will take some of your best officer cadets to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Britannia Naval College in Dartmouth. Royal Navy trainers recently ran a course in Nadi on Economic Exclusion Zones, vital for an island nation like Fiji. The RFMF Chief of Staff was at the UK Defence Academy last week. Bramshill Police College will conduct senior leadership training for Pacific Police Forces in August – in Auckland, hosted by the New Zealand Police – and we are discussing with the Police Commissioner what more we can do
The Fijian contribution to the British Armed Forces remains strong and deeply appreciated, as Prime Minister Cameron told your PM when they met in September. There are 1400 serving in all three services, and last month we restarted recruitment to address skill shortages in specialist areas. I believe it will provide a good career for a number of young Fijian men and women in this next decade, as it has in the past. The details are all online.
We continue to value our links to the Royal British Legion Fiji and BRISFAF, and I am grateful to our BASO office led by Jim Hall, which looks after the welfare of the Fijian-British Forces community. This is valuable work, often emotionally draining, and the team does it well.
The UK is also a small island nation and we understand the challenges of climate change. We worked together to achieve a good outcome at the Paris Conference in December. We will continue to support Fiji and the Pacific in fields like renewable energies, and adaptation projects to mitigate against rising sea levels and other pressures. Some of this is financed through our 15% contribution to EU programmes. But I would also highlight new funding streams – notably the Green Climate Fund – which make available grants or concessional finance for climate change projects, working with agencies like SPREP and the ADB.
The UK contributes 10% of the GCF, US$1 billion, and we want it to make a real impact in Pacific island nations - before 2020. The recently approved Suva water and sanitation project was the first GCF project in the Pacific, and we are working with partners to approve projects in other nations – I hope there will be new announcements next week. And British universities and researchers are working with partners like USP, to address issues like sustainable sea transport, and develop new technologies to provide solutions that work for Pacific island nations. The UK Hydrographic Office is looking to expand its cooperation.
2016 is of course a year which saw Fiji physically marked by Cyclone Winston. We have all been amazed by the incredible resilience of the Fijian people, impressed by the crisis response of the Fijian authorities, and by the generous support of its friends in the region, notably Australia, New Zealand and France, and the UN and international agencies. The UK also responded – with support for UNICEF, then through EU humanitarian aid, and through our 23% contribution to the UN’s central humanitarian funds. We have since supported additional EU funding, and the provision of EU direct budgetary support for the first time.
Individuals in the UK also raised funds and took collections for post-Winston relief, donating over FJ $50,000 to the Fiji Red Cross and other charities – and sending 3 containers of supplies. PhysioNet UK continued its work to support the disabled, and sent two 40ft containers of equipment, one in direct response to a needs assessment done after Winston. And Her Majesty the Queen made a private donation to post-Winston relief.
I would like to salute the way the Fijian government has re-engaged with the Commonwealth over this last year, as your Prime Minister told my Prime Minister he would. At the Valetta CHOGM I know Fiji was a strong supporter, with other Pacific Nations, of the election of Baroness Scotland as Commonwealth Secretary General. Having someone from a small island at the helm can only strengthen the Commonwealth’s work in the Pacific in ways that help Fiji and all of her neighbours – and I understand the Secretary General plans to visit the region soon.
I sent my congratulations this week to Ambassador Peter Thomson on his election as President of the UN General Assembly for a year. The UK looks forward to working with him on our shared priorities, including SDGs, climate change and other issues important to SIDS.
In the field of culture, I am pleased that the VOU Dance Group is currently in the UK, heading to the Edinburgh Festival in August, which is the biggest open arts festival in the world. They will perform their show “Stronger than Winston”, which will create a huge impact. I also found out this week that VOU have been asked at short notice to perform at the Glastonbury Festival, another feather in their cap.
This week we announced my successor, Melanie Hopkins, and I know she and her family are looking forward to arriving in September. She has worked on Pacific issues before – and she is Welsh so of course she understands the importance of rugby!
Yasmin and I will leave Suva and the Pacific in September, no doubt with a few tears when we hear Isa Lei, and say our farewells nearer the time. We are very grateful to all of you for your support and advice. We have had some incredible experiences and will take home wonderful memories, and true friendships.
We are not done yet, the British Government will work us up to the last minute. There are still highlights to come. Next week I will sail the Tall Ship Tenacious, from the Jubilee Sailing Trust, together with some disabled Fijians and youth, whom corporate sponsors and Rotary readily agreed to support. It is not a cruise – we are the crew and it will be hard work. The JST’s mission is to give sailing experiences to disabled people, to demonstrate what they can achieve when properly supported. I know our friends in the media will help showcase their stories. And I will get to see Viti from the top of the mast, which will be awesome.
I would like to thank my BHC Suva team who have worked so hard to put tonight together – and the Tonga QBP last week. The kitchen team led by chef Vetaia, the Comms and Corporate Services teams who ensured the work got done. And my dedicated PA Jasmine Tam, who master-minded the QBP. And to my wife Yasmin, for everything. Vinaka to all.
I know Her Majesty has a very special affection for Fiji and other Pacific nations, since she came here early in her reign, only a few months after her 1953 Coronation – and visited Fiji again 5 more times. You can see on our television some of the iconic and evocative images of those visits.
I shall be pleased to report to Her Majesty that we celebrated her birthday tonight in Suva in style. To mark the occasion I would like to present His Excellency the President with a book, specially printed to commemorate her 90 years. Your Excellency, please accept this token of our esteem, as a mark of the friendship between our peoples.
Before we play the national anthem, I would like to offer you a toast, if you could charge your glasses.
The toast is: to the President, the Government and the People of Fiji. To Fiji.
Vinaka vaka levu. Shukria.