Tongan Government Finalizes $188.1 Million Budget For 2012-1013

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3 ministers tend resignations after supporting new legislation

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, July 8, 2012) – The Tonga government's 2012-2013 budget was finally released by the Ministry of Finance on July 5, five days after the beginning of the new financial year on July 1.

There has been no official explanation for the delay, but there have been a number of conflicting issues, relating to this year's $332.2 million pa'anga [US$188.1 million] budget that government has had to deal with since the parliamentary opened on June 7.

The most controversial issue, and one that has a penetrating impact on the Tongan economy, was the Motion for a Vote of No Confidence that a group of 10 elected members of parliament filed with the Speaker of the Tongan Legislative Assembly on June 18, the same day that the House formally started debating the 2012-13 budget.

The sequence of events that followed may have contributed to the delay in the release of the national budget because of apparent contradictions.

Firstly, parliament passed the budget, the appropriation bill and a bill for the renaming of the line ministries, with no objections.

But after passing the budget, and the accompanying bills which provided the allocations for restructured and reshuffled government ministries, the group of 10 members immediately called for debate on their Motion for a Vote of No Confidence that suggests that they were objecting to the reshuffling of government.

On that day, Monday, June 25, parliament passed the 2012-13 National Budget in a record time after only one week of a formal debate on the budget. Some ministerial votes, such as those for the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Fire Services, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education were passed without even one question being asked.

On the same day, the House also passed a couple of important legislations to direct the implementation of the budget. The first was a Bill to amend the name of Government Ministries to be in line with the latest cabinet reshuffle that the Prime Minister had introduced and new line ministries that Cabinet had approved, with their budget allocations set out in the 2012-13 budget. The bill was passed on its third reading with a vote of 26-0.

The final bill that the House had to pass to get the government budget for the new financial year implemented by July 1 was the Bill for the Appropriation Act 2012. On its third reading it was carried 25-0.

Then following the 2012-13 budget debate in the afternoon, three Cabinet Ministers, the Minister of Health, 'Uliti Uata; the Minister of Police, Sunia Fili and the Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industries, 'Isileli Pulu resigned. It later became evident that they had resigned to support the motion for the Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister.

This raises the important question of why did they vote in favor of the budget, the Appropriation Bill and the bill to amend the names of government ministries when they were, on the other hand, supporting a Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet?

The apparent contradictions create political uncertainties and make it even harder to create the confidence in Tonga's government that is essential for the country's economic recovery.

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