TONGA LAWMAKERS SLOW TO ACT ON ELECTORAL COMMISSION

Editorial

Matangi Tonga

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Sept. 4, 2008) - Since parliament passed the Bill for the Constitutional and Electoral Commission Act on July 22 neither the Cabinet, the Nobles’ Representatives nor the People’s Representatives have nominated their representatives for the Commission.

The Chief Secretary and the Secretary to Cabinet, Mrs. ‘Eseta Fusitu’a said today, September 4 that the only nominations they had received were the two candidates recommended by the Judicial Services Commission about a month ago.

Six weeks ago the House was talking about the urgency of forming the Commission and, of course, that meant our parliamentarians had to work overtime to pass the Bill before the House closed for the coronation celebrations and before members went on their annual national tour.

There was also a much-publicized celebration by supporters of some of the PRs [People’s Representatives] who have been charged with sedition, welcoming the passing of the Bill for the formation of the commission.

But they haven’t put their money where their mouths are, and since then the actual formation of the Commission has remained a ‘pie in the sky’.

The main functions of the Commission as outlined in the Act will be to enquire and then report to the Privy Council and the Parliament on a new political system for Tonga. Precisely:

The composition and method of selection of members of the Legislative Assembly.

The roles of the King, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, including accountability measures.

The electoral system

The working timetable of the commission has also been set out in the Act.

Within 10 days of appointment, the Commission is to have its first meeting, and a Director is to start full-time work at the secretariat.

Within five months of appointment, the Commission should produce a report and interim recommendations under section 4 (2) (f) to be delivered to the Privy Council and the Parliament.

Within seven months of appointment. If the Commission decides to convene a Constitutional Convention, such convention is to be held.

Within 10 months of appointment. The Commission is to present a report and its final recommendations under section 4 (2) (g) to be delivered to Privy Council and the Parliament.

The task that will be undertaken by the Commission is enormous, because literally they will have to come up with a new political system for Tonga. Their timetable is tight and the parameters that they have to work under are strict. Consider, for instance, sub-clause 2 of Clause 5 - "The Commission is an independent body and is obliged to consider but not agree with or act upon any recommendations, opinions or advice that it receives."

The commission cannot be formed until the three parts of the Tongan parliament decide on the names of their nominees, which then have to be approved by the Privy Council. Tonga’s political reform process now awaits the nominations.

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