By ANA VURU
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a one-day visit to Fiji, has made a historic address to the Fijian Parliament – becoming the first international to do so after elections here in September.
He later went on social media platform Twitter to say how honoured he was to do so.
During his address, which was boycotted by Opposition MPs from the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), Mr Modi spoke of how India and Fiji could further strengthen ties.
“We are prepared to work with you for a Digital Fiji. Our trade and investment (in Fiji) have been modest. Yet there are examples of our cooperation that inspire,” he said.
Mr Modi congratulated the Fijian Government, saying it had won admiration around the world.
“ What links us is that both of our Nations have women speakers. What makes a nation powerful is not its size but its vision and values. The roads you chose won you admiration around the world. Both our nations have vested the power in people,” he said.
He paid tribute to Fiji’s peoples, their different histories, ethnicity and languages.
In response, his Fijian counterpart Voreqe Bainimarama said PM Modi’s emergence as the leader of the world’s largest democracy was inspirational, since India was now a rising power in the world.
Mr Bainimarama apologized for the absence of the member of opposition in the session of Parliament and termed it as “inexcusable”. However, he added that this is in no way for a roadblock towards the relationship between India and Fiji.
Earlier, the two leaders addressed members of the media after bilateral talks and signing Memorandums of Understanding during a courtesy call on Mr Bainimarama.
Mr Modi made several announcements.
“We will also expand our defence and security cooperation, including assistance in defence training and capacity building. We agreed to identify opportunities to expand our trade and investments and work out a concrete roadmap. We are also prepared to increase cooperation in renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy, and in building capacity to adapt to climate change. In addition, we could share our experience and expertise in disaster management and response,” he said.
India has also agreed to extend Fiji’s credit line up to $70 million and provide visas on arrival for Fijians in India. There is an agreement as well to strengthen defence ties while New Delhi will double annual scholarships awarded to Fijian students.
After singing three MOUs, Mr Modi announced a $US5 million fund to promote small business and village enterprises in Fiji.
In another development, Fiji’s National Federation Party Parliamentary Leader Biman Prasad has denied any rift within the Opposition Caucus over their decision to attend the special Parliament session addressed by Mr Modi.
Dr Prasad said the decision taken by SODELPA Opposition members wai an internal one and that their decision to attend stemmed from the belief that the Fijian “Government has a lot to learn from India’s democracy.
“We respect their [SODELPA members] decision. We are two different parties although we make up the opposition,” he said.
Dr Prasad attended the special sitting with NFP Whip Prem Singh, but NFP president Tupou Draunidalo was away in Wellington, New Zealand for a speaking engagement at Victoria University.
“That was pre-arranged before the announcement of the special parliament meeting,” he said.