GOVERNMENT’S ROADMAP FOR POLITICAL REFORM

News Release

Tonga Prime Minister Feleti V. Sevele Nukualofa, Tonga 19 0ctober 2006

GOVERNMENT’S ROADMAP FOR POLITICAL REFORM

Introduction

Over the past few weeks, the Legislative Assembly has been discussing the Report of the NCPR on the views of people about the political reform that Tonga might follow.

His Majesty’s Government has also been considering, over a period of time, the various options possible to move the political reform process forward in a positive way.

One possible way which Cabinet has suggested is for the House not to take a vote on the Report, as that would be counter-productive at this stage, but to establish a Parliamentary Tri-partite Committee to consider the various possible routes, strive for consensus as much as possible, and then report back to the House next year.

The following proposal is the gist of what His Majesty’s Cabinet is recommending as the roadmap for political reform which the Prime Minister proposed to the Assembly on Thursday 19 October 2006, taking into consideration some of those proposed by the Report of the NCPR.

On his very first trip to Ha’apai after his accession to the Throne, His Majesty King George V told his people there, in His Public Address on the evening of the 8th October 2006, that important changes were to take place in the interest of all of Tonga. Before outlining what Government considers are the milestones that underpin the political roadmap that it believes Parliament and Tonga should follow, it is imperative that our minds are cast back to the beginning stages of the Political Reforms which His Late Majesty started back in 2004.

The Recent Political Reforms

On the 10th of November 2004, the then Hon Prime Minister, Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, announced that His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had accepted the beginning of changes to the political system of the Kingdom as follows:

(i) His Majesty has agreed to a recommendation from the Prime Minister for the appointment of four (4) additional Ministers from the elected members of the Legislative Assembly;

(ii) The new Ministers will be ‘Grace and Favour’ appointments, with tenure of office depending on their retention of their mandate from their respective electorate;

(iii) Two (2) of the new Ministers will be selected from the nine (9) elected noble members and two (2) from the nine (9) elected representatives of the People;

(iv) The four (4) new Ministers will increase the size of Cabinet to 16 and His Majesty the King has agreed to make the appointments after the election in Feburary (March) 2005;

(v) His Majesty the King shall graciously accept the Prime Minister’s advice on the appointments.

This public announcement was applauded by the whole of Tonga. It was in part the recognition by His Majesty of the need for political and economic reform and a response by His Majesty and His Majesty’s Government to the call from the People’s Representatives and certain sections of the public for a more democratic form of government.

After the elections in March, the Hon Prime Minister moved to implement what His Majesty had voluntarily agreed to. On the 21 March 2005, the Prime Minister made his recommendations, and His Majesty made the appointments as Ministers of:

(i) Hon Tu’ivakano and Hon Nuku from the Nobles’ Elected Representatives; and

(ii) Dr Feleti V Sevle and Peau Haukinima from the People’s Elected Representatives.

Then in early 2006 His Majesty made a historical decision and appointed Dr Feleti V. Sevele as the next Prime Minister of the Kingdom on the 30th March 2006. This was a momentous decision in the history of the Kingdom, the first time ever that a Tongan commoner was appointed to the position of Prime Minister.

In addition to the historical appointment of the first commoner to the position of Prime Ministership, His Majesty gave the Prime Minister the privilege to nominate his own Cabinet.

This subsequently led the nomination by the Prime Minister and the appointments by His Majesty of three new Ministers in May 2006

(i) Mrs Alisi Taumoepeau (from the Civil Service)

(ii) Mr Fineasi Funaki (from the People’s Representative)

(iii) Mr Paul Karalus (from the Private Sector).

Again, exercising His Royal Prerogative on the advice of His Prime Minister, His Majesty made two further Ministerial appointments on 1st September 2006:

(i) Afu’alo Matoto

(ii) Lisiate ‘Akolo

They were His Late Majesty’s last appointments to Cabinet.

In short, His Late Majesty initiated political reforms which He recognized as being necessary for the future progress, prosperity and stability of His Kingdom.

But most significantly, as His Funeral Biography states (p.33): "This led Him to set a precedent, momentous in Tonga, of appointments to Cabinet based on the recommendations of a Prime Minister elected by the people. At that moment, the Sovereign voluntarily became bound by a new precedent whereby He shall in future act upon the advice of the Prime Minister."

His Majesty, King George Tupou V fully supports these political reforms and wishes to see them continuing.

But in moving forward with these political reforms, we Tongans need a clear vision of the sort of society we want and the values we treasure and wish to pass on to all future generations.

‘It is also imperative that the three pillars of our society – the Monarchy, the Nobility and the People – as the Report repeatedly stresses must all play an integral part in the political reform processes.

Government’s Proposed Roadmap

It is His Majesty’s Cabinet’s wish that these proposals be added to those which the recommended Parliamentary Tri-partite Committee will base their ‘talatalanoa’.

There is a considerable amount of "mechanics and details" that ought to be sorted out in order to produce a consistent, logical and solid political mode that will withstand the test of time, just as our Existing Model, brilliantly and robustly founded by King George Tupou I on our Society’s Three Pillars, has stood the test of time over the past 131 years.

Here then are the major blocks of the roadmap for political reform that His Majesty’s Cabinet proposes:

Legislative Assembly

(i) That the size of the Assembly be no less then 23 and no more than 28.

(ii) That there be 9 Noble’s Representatives and 14 Peoples Representatives

(iii) That the 9 Nobles Representatives be elected by the Nobles in specified areal constituencies with the current district/island allocation being maintained.

(iv) There shall be 14 People’s Representatives elected by the people representing specific, clearly demarcated constituencies. These will be allocated as follows:

v Tongatapu: 7 (as per existing 7 districts): Vahe Kolofo’ou, Kolomotu’a, Hihifo, Nukunuku, Vaini, Tatakamotonga, and Lapaha

v Vava’u: 3 ( 1 additional - demarcation to be decided )

v Ha’apai: 2 ( demarcation to be decided )

v Niuas: 1

v ‘Eua: 1

In addition, there shall be residential qualification for both, the candidates and the electors, say a minimum of two/three years’ residence in the area where they live and vote.

Cabinet

(i) That Cabinet should consist of 12 to 14 Members, inclusive of the 2 Governors.

(ii) That at least two-thirds (2/3) of Cabinet shall be from the Elected Members of the LA

(iii) That that 2/3 of the members of Cabinet be appointed by His Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister.

(iv) That no by-elections to replace those elected members of the Assembly who are appointed Ministers are held.

(v) That His Majesty retains the right to independently appoint 1/3 of the Cabinet (inclusive of the 2 Governors) either from within the Assembly or outside of it.

Prime Minister

(i) That the PM shall be an elected member of the Legislative Assembly.

(ii) The PM should be appointed by His Majesty on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly.

(iii) That the Prime Minister shall by convention have the sole discretion to allocate portfolios.

His Majesty The King

(i) That His Majesty should retain the Prerogative to independently appoint 1/3 of the members of the Cabinet inclusive of the 2 Governors and be at liberty to appoint them from within the Assembly or outside of it.

(ii) That should His Majesty appoint the 1/3 of the members of Cabinet from within the Assembly then the size of the Assembly will be remain at 23. Should His Majesty appoint them from outside of the Assembly then the size of the Assembly will be around 28.

Conclusion

This roadmap provides for a fine balance between the three pillars of Tongan society – His Majesty the King, the Nobles and the People - which the NCPR Report repeatedly cautions should not be discarded.

It also caters for the section of the public that advocates the complete overhaul of our political structure on the one hand, and those that advocate the retention of the same structures that have provided for peace and stability for 131 years, on the other.

The proposal essentially gives the elected members of the Legislative Assembly the authority to appoint the Prime Minister and the majority of the members of Cabinet. At the same time it still provides an opportunity for the Monarch to continue to have a meaningful role in the governance of the country.

In totality it reflects the Monarch’s voluntary willingness to share his constitutional mandate to govern with the elected representatives of the Legislative Assembly.

Every patriotic Tongan should be proud and grateful for this magnanimous yet momentous decision – one that in reality maintains intact in a peaceful, stable, and truly-Tongan manner, the three pillars of our society, and ensures Tonga’s continuing stability and well-being.

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