Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Hon. Veena Bhatnagar
Honorable Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Members of Parliament
Honorable current and former MPs from the Parliaments of Tonga, Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australian State of Victoria
Parliament staff from Partner Parliaments, Deputy Secretary-General and Secretariat staff from the Fiji Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen:
Yadra vinaka, Namaste and good morning.
It is my honor and privilege to be here this morning to speak to the newly elected Parliament of the Republic of Fiji. I would like to start by congratulating all 51 Members on your successful election and wish you a productive term in Parliament.
UNDP is pleased to be working with the Fiji Parliament to host the MPs Retreat for the new Parliament term. Thanks to partnerships such as ours, UNDP is the world’s largest implementer of parliamentary strengthening programmes, helping parliaments around the world to build their capacities to effectively legislate, provide oversight and represent citizens – and help achieve Agenda 2030 with its dedicated Goal 16 on building peaceful and inclusive societies.
UNDP, through the Fiji Parliament Support Project (FPSP), has been working with the Fiji Parliament since it re-started in 2014. Our support, which will continue to 2020, has focused on key areas such as professional development of MPs and staff, the improvement of Committees’ legislative and oversight work, and support to parliamentary outreach and citizen engagement roles.
The retreat programme covers a range of topics: Parliament as an institution, its main functions and role of MPs, the budget process and how Parliament can effectively engage with civil society and the media. You will also hear from the Judiciary, Auditor-General and the Ministry of Economy on their respective areas of work.
We are happy to have in attendance distinguished resource persons and observers from the Parliaments of Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand and Victoria in Australia, whose knowledge and expertise will provide important insights to the Honorable Members.
A key focus of discussions over the next three days will be on legislative, oversight and representation roles of MPs.
Your legislative role is central to the work of any Parliament. The retreat will outline the formal processes of lawmaking, with an opportunity to discuss how Parliaments can effectively scrutinize legislation and ensure public participation in the legislative process.
Your representation role means you are in Parliament on behalf of the voters. You are the bridge between government and citizens. In a constituency electoral system, this is a vital role especially in Fiji, given its geography and remoteness of some of its localities that need proper representation.
Your oversight role is equally important. Scrutiny of government is the role of all MPs and not only those in Opposition. Good governance means scrutinizing the implementation of policies and suggesting ways in which policy and implementation can be improved.
As elected parliamentarians, you will play a crucial role in shaping Fiji’s national development policies and laws that advance human development and ultimately accelerate progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
For the benefit of first-time MPs, please allow me to briefly highlight the SDGs. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals with poverty eradication as the overarching objective of the agenda, alongside the promotion of economic, social and environmental development. The ambition of this agenda is to be transformative and leave no one behind, including the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.
These 17 goals are interconnected. Often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another. The goals are also integrated and “localized” into Fiji’s National Development Plan.
As the foremost democratic institution, Parliament is central to the realization of SDGs. In line with Goal 16, strong, transparent, accountable and inclusive institutions are key for the achievement of all 17 Goals.
But attaining the global agenda requires local action in every single country and jurisdiction – and Parliaments are powerful agents of change. It is by ratifying international agreements, translating the global goals into real development at national level, adopting laws that respond to Fiji’s development priorities, and monitoring their implementation while keeping the Government to account, that your Parliament can drive that change.
The Fiji Parliament has made great strides in localizing the SDG action. In the previous term, it made history by becoming the first Parliament in the world to have carried out a self-assessment on the SDGs.
Ladies and gentlemen:
I extend my special congratulations to the 10 women who have been elected to the Parliament. In many countries, politics remains a male domain with substantial barriers and challenges to women’s political participation and leadership. As an example, three countries of the four in the world that do not have women MPs are from the Pacific.
This issue is very dear to our hearts, and we are very pleased to note the increase in number of women in the Fiji Parliament, the highest number ever in Fiji’s history. This is truly a powerful demonstration of the growing confidence that the Fijians have in women as national leaders and decision-makers.
UNDP support to this engagement was made possible through the generous assistance of our project donors: the Governments of Japan, New Zealand and Australia. In addition, this particular induction program also received support from the UK High Commission in Suva, for which we are very grateful.
Honorable Members, I hope that you find the content of the Retreat useful. Do rest assured that, together with our partners, UNDP remains committed to supporting you in your important function of bettering the lives of all Fijians across the country.
Thank you, vinaka vakalevu and dhanyavaad.