DUAL REFORM EFFORT CONFUSES TONGANS

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 31) – Tongans are confused by the two committees that are looking at political reform, according to a report by Prince Tu’ipelehake who has completed clarification meetings with Tongans overseas.

The prince, who returned to Tonga from the U.S. last week, said in a press conference in Nuku’alofa on January 30, that during the seven clarification meetings, which he held in five American cities, the one particular issue that Tongans wanted to know was, "What is the difference between the two committees?".

Prince Tu'ipelehake chairs the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform, which people are confusing with another committee called the National Committee for Political Reform that is chaired by People’s Representative 'Akilisi Pohiva, who, along with People’s Representative Clive Edwards, is a member of both committees.

Prince Tu’ipelehake said that the difference is that the other committee goes out and promotes a model of government for the people to accept, "but we (National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform) are going out to collect the aspirations of the people."

He said that under their current working schedule they were expected to submit a report of their findings to parliament by May.

He said that clarification meetings in Tonga would start at Lapaha on Thursday, February 2; they would then continue and hold clarification meetings throughout Tonga, to clarify the objectives and the work that the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform is doing.

Following these clarification meetings they will go out and hold the "Talanoa-Talanga" with the people, when they will take note of the wishes of the people. A report of the wishes and aspirations of the people is scheduled to be presented first to the king, then to parliament in May.

The only female member of the committee, Dr. 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, made a point during the press conference that the reform program they are working on was not just political reform, but it also included social and economic reforms.

The scope of the work of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform is vast and they anticipate constraints in time and money, but the chairman was optimistic that the task would be completed. Prince Tu'ipelehake said that any extension of the duration of their work could only be authorized by Parliament, and any extension from May will not be beyond August 2.

The financing of the work of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform received a big boost on Australia Day, January 26, when the Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, Mr. Colin Hill announced that Australia and New Zealand were willing to make a substantial contribution to finance the operation of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform.

Prince Tu'ipelehake said that each country was contributing NZ$250,000 [US$170,500], and even though the salaries of members would be 30 percent less than that of a Tongan member of parliament "but there will be a shortage of funds." He said that under their current financial position they would concentrate their work on Tonga only. To carry out talanoa-talanga with Tongans overseas they would need another quarter of million New Zealand dollars.

With regards to what appears to be a conflict of interest with two members of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform, 'Akilisi Pohiva, the chairman of the other National Committee, and Clive Edwards - who is a member and the engineer of the working program of the committee - both the chairman and his Deputy, Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, did not think there was a conflict of interest despite the fact that 'Akilisi and Clive's committee had already got a model of government that they want in place, and they have already drafted bills to amend the Constitution and other acts.

Sitiveni did not think there was going to be any problems with 'Akilisi and Clive being members, so long as they don't suddenly during a meeting pull out from their pockets their models of government for the committee to consider.

Prince Tu'ipelehake said that he wrote to 'Akilisi last year for him to clarify his position as a member of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform because of a report in one of the local papers that he did not have confidence in the work of the National Committee, and that he was thinking of resigning. He said that as the chairman of the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform, he had to protect the interest of the committee and so he wrote and asked 'Akilisi to clarify himself. 'Akilisi did not reply until Saturday, January 28, and the matter had not been discussed by the committee. With regards to Clive Edwards, he said that he was a member even though in the original document he received from parliament on the formation of the committee, the word ‘temporary’ was bracketed next to Clive's name.

Prince Tu'ipelehake also said that the five members of the committee were elected as representatives of the three tables in the Tongan Parliament, one from the Cabinet, two from the Noble’s Representatives and two from the People's Representatives. He said that the House also elected alternative members in case a member was sick or not being able to attend meetings. For a member to be dismissed from the committee would be a matter for parliament to decide.

Fineasi Funaki, the No. 1 Ha'apai People’s Representative in parliament - who was attending National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform meeting as an alternative member for 'Akillisi Pohiva - accepted the notion that there may be a conflict of interest with the two People's Representatives in the National Committee of the Kingdom of Tonga for Political Reform but he pointed out that the committee had no power to do anything about them. He believed that it would be a matter of individual members deciding if there was a conflict of interest.

February 1, 2006

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/

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