Kiribati is today celebrating its 39th anniversary of gaining independence.
Addressing the nation, Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau paid tribute to the first leaders who have led the country since independence.
He said that over the past 39 years i-Kiribati had witnessed many positive and encouraging changes in their country.
Looking to the future, the president cited his government's vision for the next twenty years which it launched last year
Mr Maamau said it would guide Kiribati in its journey to become a better, peaceful and prosperous nation, while preserving culture and traditional knowledge.
According to the president, the government had worked tirelessly to create employment.
Other areas mentioned by the President in his address include aims to improve education and health.
"I wish to thank all of you especially those who have taken part in our nation-wide consultation to discuss your government's vision which has now been incorporated into that plan," the president said in his address.
President Maamau described the Kiribati Vision 20 - a long term development blueprint for Kiribati - as the government's blueprint that will lead and guide Kiribati in its journey to make Kiribati, a better, peaceful and prosperous nation.
He said there are four main pillars of the plan such as the economy; peace; backbone of leadership and anti-corruption.
Several Kiribati nationals were given distinguished and excellent awards by the Kiribati government on the 39th independence anniversary in Bairiki, Tarawa.
They are former Kiribati academic and director of the University of the South Pacific campus in Tarawa, Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackenzie, current civil servants, Dr Buritata Eti Tofiga, Mr Tiaon Aukutino, and former civil servants John Kwong and Norma Timon Yeeting.
Kiribati National Order
Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackenzie
The first award the Kiribati National Order was offered to Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackenzie for his contribution to academia and tertiary education in Kiribati and the Pacific. Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackanzie was recognized by the Kiribati government for his contribution to education and academia in Kiribati and the region. He was born on 22 September 1954 and was originally from the island of Arorae in Kiribati south. He went to the University of the South Pacific in Fiji in 1978, a year before Kiribati achived independence where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. He continued his studies in 1985 at the same university where he graduated with a masters (distinct). He received his PhD in 1997 from the University of Wollongong, NSW in Australia. He joined the government civil service from 1979 to 1980 as an assistant secretary, and after that in 1995 he was appointed director of Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. He returned to Kiribati in 2001 to take up his new position as Director of USP campus in Kiribati.
The Kiribati Order of Merit
Dr Buritata Eti Tofiga
Dr Buritata Eti Tofiga was born on 23 April 1983 and originally from Tarawa, Makin and Butaritari. She started her education at one primary school in Tarawa, then carried on to do her secondary school at the government's high school. In 2006, Dr Buriata went to Victoria University in Wellington to pursue her degree in commerce and administration and international business. In 2011, she did her masters at the University of Sydney, Australia where she graduated with Master of Commerce in Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She was one an outstanding students in her class. She won the Prime Minster Pacific Australia Award in 2011. Between 2013 and 2017 she was enrolled to a PhD programme at the University of the South Pacific, she graduated and recognized as one of the best and excellent student by the university.
The other awardee was Mr Tiaon Aukitino born on 10 August 1981 and hailed from the island of Butaritari. He taught science at the government high school in Tarawa from 1995 to 2001. He further his studies at the USP in Fiji in 2002. He completed his studies in 2007 and graduated with the Bachelor of Engineering Technologies. In 2017 he wrote a thesis on as part of his masters' programme for Science in Engeneering at USP. His thesis was chosen as the best thesis by the university. He has taught as a science teacher and has worked for the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities from 2006 to 2014. He has worked as the Rewable Energy Planner from 2012 to 2014. Mr Aukitiono has been working as the Project Manager/Engineer for the Work Bank Solar PV grid Connected project since 2014. Other awards include Distinguished Service Award, which goes to John Kwong, a long serving Kiribati seaman, who continues to work today. He was born on 9 December 1939, and he has set a good example to the young generation with his work history, his discipline and commitments.
John Kwong worked on many vessels as an engineer from 1962 to 1977. He had worked in Vanuatu and Marshall Islands as an engineer. After that, he returned to Kiribati and worked for Kiribati shipping services from 2003, he retired in 2013. Mr Kwong is working as an engineer for one private shipping company in Kiribati. The Kiribati government praised Mr Kwong for his service to the shipping industry in Kiribati and the region.
Norma Timon Yeeting
Norma Timon Yeeting worked with the government for many years and her service was today recognized by the government. She attended the University of the South Pacific where she graduated with the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and Management. She worked as the Development Officer, from 1983 - 1992 with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Decentralization. From the years 1995 - 2009, she was appointed the Senior Economist in the Ministry of Environment and Social Development and later as the Planning Office for the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. She retired in 2009, but then she joined the KFHA or the Kiribati Family Health Association in 2010 as the Executive Director to the present.