WELLINGTON, New Zealand (RNZI, Dec. 8) - The deputy chaiman of the New Zealand parliamentary committee reviewing relations with Tonga is urging Tongans in this country to make their views known.

The committee decided to carry out the review after the Tongan parliament in October approved amendments to the country’s constitution affecting free speech. Those amendments were recently signed into law.

The Tongan government, a constitutional monarchy, took the action in the face of the country’s largest public demonstration against plans to restrict free speech.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee released its terms of reference last week and chairman Luamanuvao Winnie Laban says she would like to hear the views of the Tongan community, which she says is 40,000 strong.

The inquiry, which will accept submissions until March 28, will be broad and cover trade, defense and parliamentary relations as well as aid.

New Zealand currently provides about US$3.6 million in annual aid to Tonga.

Luamanuvao says she is aware that some people may be reluctant to put their views across because they are unfamiliar with the submission process.

"So we are trying to look at ways that we can access input from anyone to enable, especially the Tongan people to participate in this process. We're keen to listen and hear what they have to say."

Tongan officials have responded hotly to the committee’s planned review, saying it constitutes interference with Tongan national policy.

December 8, 2003

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