Prime Minister of Fiji, the Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka, Ministers, Excellences, Friends
Kia Orana, and thank you to the Forum secretariat staff for the opportunity to join this special occasion. It is truly wonderful to know that as we celebrate our moments of independence in each and every one of our island nations across the Pacific, our secretariat family at the home of regionalism are also doing the same, in this very space.
As I stand here within this Fale I am mindful of the mana of this moment, and the significance of this place. Many faces and events have come through this very space following that first forum communique in Wellington on August 7th, 1971. These grounds have seen many milestones since what would have been the very early years for a handful of newly born and still emerging Pacific democracies.
It's been a journey like no other for our region, and for the Cook Islands, since 1965, its an annual celebration culminating every August 4 -- the day of the raising of our sovereign identity, the Cook Islands flag.
We are 58 in 2023 -- that's a very youthful age when you take the global view of democracies that count their age in centuries. In the Pacific way, it's a great reminder that our history and cultures which we celebrate are thousands of years old. In recent days, my people of the Cook Islands have just completed our annual week of celebration, through our Maeva Nui festivities which are also now seeing a resurgence of celebration across the Cook Islands diaspora in our New Zealand and Australia communities.
Today I pay homage to the leaders who have come before me, from the late Papa Arapati Royle Henry, the first elected leader of our nation, to Secretary General Puna, who stepped away from politics to take up his role as the first Cook Islander to head the Secretariat.
Today I celebrate all the milestones my nation has enjoyed across its history so far.
In closing, may I also invite you to join us in the Cook Islands as we welcome another national and regional milestone -- our Fourth hosting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting this November, under the theme of Our Voices, Our Choices, Our Pacific Way –promote, partner and prosper.
Meitaki ma’ata, Vinaka vakalevu, tangio tumas.