TONGAN PRIME MINISTER: ‘TALANOA’ STILL ON TRACK

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, January 26) – Tonga’s political reform program is still where parliamentarians left it in parliament on November 14, 2006, according to the Prime Minister Hon. Dr Feleti Sevele.

The Prime Minister, answering questions in a Press Conference he called on January 25 to update the media said that the government's proposal for the "talanoa to continue" was still with parliament.

He said that the government's proposal for a tripartite committee with the process of talanoa (talks) was also still standing. He said that there was a slight difference over the number of Cabinet Ministers to be elected by the people, which was 17 proposed by the Tu'ipelehake Committee, and the 14 that was proposed by government.

Of these cabinet ministers it government also proposed that four would be appointed by the king, "Two are the Governors (of Ha'apai and Vava'u), and according to many people we spoke to in Vava'u, they don't want the governor to be elected, but to be appointed by the king as his representative. So two of those four are the governors."

The Prime Minister said that Tonga's Political Reform Program was a continuation of a reform that was initiated by the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in 2004 when they began appointing of Cabinet Ministers from elected members of parliament.

"We are committed to this Reform Program, but at the end it has to be finalised by parliament, and not under a Kasia tree somewhere," said the Prime Minister.

Fate of petition

But when asked what happened to the petition presented by some People's Representatives and their Pangi Si'I rsupporters in a rally that sparked the riots of November 16, the Prime Minister refused to comment on its fate.

"This is sensitive, because it is part of the investigation that is currently being carried out, and the court cases that will eventually take place," he said.

Unemployment

On other problematic issues such as growing unemployment, the Prime Minister commented that, "the real solution to our unemployment problem is to train our children with some technical skills. There is a need for those skills here, and even more so in New Zealand and Australia."

But a short-term solution, he said, was the New Zealand Work Scheme, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industries, "are working to determine the needs of New Zealand employers". He was certain that the scheme would be in operation by April. The allocation from New Zealand was 5,000 workers from five Pacific Island countries, excepting Fiji.

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