Matangi Tonga

NUKU´ALOFA, Tonga (June 3, 2008) - On opening Tonga’s Legislative Assembly last week, the Princess Regent, Her Royal Highness Princess Pilolevu, noted the historical significance of the 2008 to 2010 parliamentary session.

The Princess asserted that it would be the last three-year term of parliament under the current Constitution, which has been standing for the past 133 years.

In June, this month, the House is expected to pass Bills for the establishment of a Commission whose task will be to recommend Amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act in preparation for the introduction of a new political reform for Tonga in 2010.

But while the seriousness of the reform mission is being underlined by our leaders, a more immediate concern has not been addressed - and that is the fact that the integrity of the current Tongan Parliament itself remains questionable.

We should not ignore the fact that the several of the representatives who were re-elected into the House this year are those who are alleged to have committed serious crimes. And while the Attorney General appears to be not too sure about what she is doing, the integrity of the Tongan Parliament remains open to question.

Five of the nine People’s Representatives are charged with sedition relating to their alleged involvement in the multi-million destruction of over 100 businesses in the Nuku’alofa Central Business District on November 16, 2006. There have been delays in the hearing of these cases because of the fact that the accused are members of parliament.

Also consider that last year seven of the nine People’s Representatives were charged with Contempt of Parliamentary Proceedings by the Attorney General, and those charges are still standing, awaiting the hearing in court of the sedition charges.

Two of the PRs accused of contempt, lost their seats in the April General Election, so does this mean they have got off the Contempt of Parliamentary Proceedings charges scot-free? We are not talking here about just ordinary Tongan citizens; we are talking about our law makers.

The proposed composition of a new Tongan parliament that was passed by the House last year, undoubtedly, is undemocratic. A democratic system of parliament should have a viable opposition, but the proposed composition of the new parliament is definitely the first step toward dictatorship, because the minority members of parliament, who will not become Cabinet Ministers, will be a minority and powerless.

It is ironic that one of the explanations put forward for the 16/11 riots by some People’s Representatives on that day were that they are a minority in the Parliament and that they could not win approval for their proposal in the parliament.

While the new parliament they are pushing for may sweep popularly-elected people into a new Cabinet, under a new electoral system; the fact remains that such a new government will rule supreme, enjoying an even weaker opposition than the one that we have now.

So despite the urgency and the commitment by the House and government for some sort of political reform to be in place by 2010, and the announcement that this is the last parliament under the current constitution - we still don’t know what we are going to have!

The argument on whether we should have political reform this year or 2010 as promised by some PRs is still very much in the air, and the legality of how the House voted for the proposed reform before the session closed last year is still hanging over the House like a dark cloud.

The current 2008 to 2010 sessions will be historical if the House will pass the legislation for the establishment of a Commission, to be independent of parliament.

The decisions of the Commission should then be presented to the public for a Referendum, so the public can decide "Yes" or "No" to a clearly presented proposed Amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

For some PRs to suggest that the result of the recent election should be taken as a referendum and that a majority of the population are in favor of a proposed political reform that the Temos have been promoting, is absurd.

The Tongan parliament lacks integrity. The allegation that some of the PRs were supportive of the forced 60, 70 and 80 percent salary rise of the Civil Servants in the last session and then following that giving themselves a 60 percent salary rise for a four-hours a day, three working days a week; topping it off by giving themselves a lump sum salary payment in advance before they have even worked for it; and then doing very little, other than campaigning for the next election; leaves one wondering what kind of parliament is this?

Unfortunately, we have to quote him, but Adolf Hitler was right when he said that "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think."

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