2001 INDEPENDENCE DAY SPEECH
(By the Hon Prime Minister, Faimalaga Luka)
Your Excellency the Governor General, and your good lady.
The Honourable Speaker of Parliament and your good wife.
The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister and your good wife.
Honourable Cabinet Ministers and good wives.
Honourable Members of Parliament and your good wives.
The President of the Ekalesia o Tuvalu and good wife.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
1. I am honoured to welcome you all here today, and to address the nation on the occasion of Tuvalu’s twenty-third anniversary of Independence. I also have the pleasure of welcoming our overseas friends, who are joining us in our celebrations.
2. First, let me begin by apologizing for holding this year’s anniversary events today rather than on Monday, the first of October. Early next week I am attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane. As you know, Tuvalu was admitted as the fifty-fourth Member State of the Commonwealth in September last year. At the Brisbane meeting Tuvalu will be formally inducted into the Commonwealth, for which I must be present. And it will be the first time Tuvalu will sit down with other heads of the Commonwealth as a full member.
3. I want to take a moment now and reflect on the past twenty-three years of independence. Tuvaluan’s everywhere should stand proud at the progress we have made during that span of time. For sure, the work has not been easy. We have faced, and continue to face, many uncertainties. The risks then and now continue to be high. And yet we are swept along by our enduring unity, peaceful culture, and inherent perseverance which has allowed us to survive and overcome the collective challenges we face as a community.
4. I think it appropriate to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all Tuvaluans who, over the last twenty-three years, have made valuable contributions large and small to the development of Tuvalu.
5. I wish to pay special tribute to past and present members of Cabinet and members of Parliament, each island Kaupule, the island communities, the civil service, those in the private sector, and of course the public-at-large, for Tuvalu is an entity of which we are each a vital part. On behalf of the nation, I thank each of you for your devotion, determination, and tireless enterprise.
6. National unity, strong cultural bonds, and a peaceful society have surely helped us use what limited resources we have on the task at hand; creating greater prosperity for each and every Tuvaluan. A glance around the Pacific, however, tells us that some of our neighboring countries sadly lack these luxuries. Some no longer have the stable and peaceful environment that we enjoy, and this has undermined their advancement socially and economically. This is a lesson to us. We must respect the prosperity we have earned by strengthening our national identity, by safeguarding the peaceful law-abiding culture in which we live, and by maintaining a common purpose, a purpose that enriches us and creates prosperity that reaches every segment of the Tuvaluan community.
7. The pace of infrastructure development continues to gain speed. The Funafuti road improvement project currently underway in the capital is scheduled to be completed in April 2002, and includes the laying of new underground telephone and electricity cabling, building a new airport taxiway, followed by the resurfacing of the northern part of the airstrip.
8. The $7.5 million dollar roads project is a milestone: it is the most costly project ever undertaken in the country. Even more remarkably, the government is financing the entire project. This is a clear demonstration of our ability to finance national development, on a large scale as well, without having to rely on outside assistance.
9. The long awaited construction of the new government office building, a thirteen million dollars project funded by the Republic of China, is about to begin. The project is presently out to tender to pre-selected construction companies in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Tenders will close on the fifteenth of October, with construction expected to start early next year.
10. The renovation and expansion of the Princess Margaret Hospital, a project funded by the Government of Japan, is scheduled to commence early next year. The new hospital will have vastly better facilities and equipment than we have now, significantly improving national health care. The Government is doing its part by continuing to invest large sums in training more doctors and nurses and other medical professionals to staff the new hospital.
11. The new multi-purpose inter-island vessel, also funded by Japan, is expected to arrive in Tuvalu in March next year. This new vessel, combined with existing inter-island services of the Nivaga II, will mean more regular shipping schedules, greater volumes of cargo and passenger traffic to the outer islands, better inter-island communication and opportunities for more commercial activity, especially for the Community Fishing Centres.
12. The DotTV Corporation International is nearly two years old. The company has performed well, so far earning Tuvalu revenues in excess of thirty million U.S. dollars. This revenue has let the Government embark on a number of major new initiatives, such as the electrification of the outer islands and the Funafuti roads project. Both projects will drastically improve the quality of life for people living in the capital and in the outer islands.
13. The plan to take the DotTV Corporation public in the United States – that is, to publicly sell shares in the Corporation to private investors – has been indefinitely delayed due to the economic slowdown in the U.S. Coupled with the frightful terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. market conditions in the U.S. are not likely to improve anytime soon, and will probably get worse before getting better.
14. Because the long-term success of this venture is so important to Tuvalu, the Government has recently established a Task Force to deal more actively with dotTV management. Our purpose first is to protect Tuvalu’s national interests, and second to explore new ways in which we might earn even greater returns on the dotTV asset.
15. The Falekaupule Trust Fund now has a total capital value of about eleven million dollars at the end of its first financial year, which ended in March 2001. The Fund generated income of over eight hundred thousand dollars, distributed to each of the island Falekaupule.
16. New matching contributions from the Asian Development Bank and the Tuvalu Government will be made this year, raising the Fund’s maintained value by an additional $4.4 million dollars.
17. The government is aware of, and highly sensitive to, the concerns regarding the formula for distributing the Fund’s earnings. At the Fund’s most recent Board meeting in June, even after lengthy discussions, the issue remained unresolved. To break the impasse a number of initiatives are being considered. These include members of the Board visiting each island Kaupule to discuss the distribution formula, followed by a national conference in which the island leaders themselves will settle on a formula that is considered fair and acceptable to each island community.
18. Tuvalu’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York was established in June, and is now fully operational. Since its establishment, the mission has greatly improved communications between the government and the UN, and has made the government much more aware of UN activities of interest to Tuvalu.
19. Tuvalu is using its mission in New York to raise our concerns on matters relating to globalization, climate change, the vulnerability of small island states, and other matters we believe are of material significance to Tuvalu. This work is being conducted alongside UN member states with similar concerns, through both the General Assembly and other UN forums.
20. The tragic and appalling acts of terrorism against United States resulted in the loss of over seven thousand innocent lives. Tuvalu has condemned these acts in a letter of condolence to the United States government. We will work with the UN through our mission in New York in support of whatever action is deemed necessary to bring those responsible to justice, and to support whatever action is required to combat terrorism around the world.
21. The last few years have witnessed a strong national economy. Real incomes are growing, the Tuvalu Trust Fund is performing well, and recurrent levels of income from fish licensing and dotTV have remained high. But government believes that trouble may lie ahead, as overseas income drops.
22. The outlook for international markets, particularly the U.S. market, which was weak even prior to the recent terrorist attacks, is uncertain an economic recovery may not occur anytime soon.
23. The national budget, historically, has been driven by revenue, not expenditure. The government is therefore planning for the very real possibility of revenue shortfalls by taking the precautionary measure of reigning in spending in next year’s budget.
24. The government has adopted the budgetary theme, “Financial Reconciliation and Coordination”. The emphasis is on clearing all advance accounts, repaying outstanding debts, and severely curtailing spending on non-essential goods and services. As usual, the overall budget framework – that is, the limits on revenue and expenditure – have been set at a level considered financially sustainable in the long term.
25. The government’s support for education is still a top priority. With the Education for Life (EFL) programmed now in its second decade, the government considers it timely to review the education system from top to bottom. The ministry of Education, Sports & Culture is embarking on an ambitious agenda, starting with a national public forum involving teachers, administrators, school committees, island leaders, and parents.
26. The outcome of this forum will provide the Department of Education with a basis for designing and implementing changes to the educational system that are both practical and sensible, and which will ultimately lead to improved education standards in Tuvalu. This effort will especially target weak spots in primary education, secondary education at Motufoua, and at the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute.
27. The government will conduct a national census on November 17th, 2002. The first since the last census conducted in 1991. The new census is vital if the government is to better address matters of social and economic importance, divert resources where they are needed most raise standards of welfare, and develop the relevant policies to meet these objectives.
28. One, other very important event scheduled to take place before the end of this year is a national referendum. This is purposely to address one of the long and complex issue that has been raised in parliament, on a number of occasions. The envisaged referendum is basically to establish as to what type of Republic Government, which the general public will prefer for Tuvalu to adopt.
29. Finally, parliamentary elections are tentatively scheduled for August 2002, and the preparation work for the general election including the registration of voters for each island will commence early next year.
30. Your Excellency the Governor-General, Honorable Speaker, Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen:
31. Let me close my remarks this morning by reminding us that, small as we are, Tuvalu is now part of the global economy. The country is no longer as insulated as it once was. What happens abroad can effect us here, and with potentially serious consequences. We must therefore prepare ourselves for the unexpected, and be cautious in how we utilize our precious resources, especially financial resources. The government will ensure that essential services are met but will prepare for sacrifices if need be. Our goal now, as it always has been, is the financing of national development within sustainable means.
32. Lastly, I want to call on each and every citizen to keep up your traditional communal support, uphold the practices and ideals of our culture, and, as ever, honor peace and well-being for all.
33. I wish all of you well, and offer the nation a special blessing on this our anniversary day of Independence.
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