MPs Debate Precedence Of Tongan, English Constitutions

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Halapua recommends amending English version to match Tongan

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 1, 2013) – Tonga's parliament could not decide which version of the Tongan Constitution has precedence - the Tongan version or the English version.

After much debate yesterday, July 31, a Bill to amend Clause 8 of the Tongan version of the Tongan Constitution to match the English version was referred back to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Legislation.

The bill was one of the six bills that were presented to the House last year for public consultation during the Christmas break, November 2012 to January 2013.

The problem the House is trying to resolve is with the English version of Clause 8, which allows the people to petition the King or the Legislative Assembly only "to pass or repeal enactments."

By comparison, the less restrictive Tongan version of Clause 8 allows all people to petition the King or the Legislative Assembly on "any issues of their concern."

The move by the government late last year to amend the Tongan version of Clause 8 has raised some interesting points of contention in the House, such as:

A view strongly emphasized by both the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards, and the Minister for Internal Affairs, Lord Vaea, was that the Tongan Constitution has its roots in the Westminster Parliamentary system, and therefore the Tongan version was a translation of the English version.

However, Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, who said he had done extensive research on the Tongan system of government leading up to the political reform that was introduced at the end of 2010, told the House that he was privileged to be shown by the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV a copy of the original hand-written version of the Tonga Constitution, which he said was later translated into English. He believed that instead of amending the Tongan version to match the English version, it should be the other way around.

The other factors were that England does not have a written constitution, and that Tonga in 1875 was the only nation in the South Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia, to have a written constitution.

Other points that were thrown into the debate were that by amending the Tongan version to be the same as the English version would deprive Tongans of their rights to petition the King and the parliament.

However, the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Samiu Vaipulu said there was nothing to stop the people from petitioning the King and the Tongan parliament. He pointed out that the Clerk of the House, and the Speaker make the final decision on the petitions to be presented to the House.

He proposed for the Bill to be deferred back to the Standing Committee on Legislation for further amendment and deliberation, taking into consideration some of the views that had been raised, and the directions from the Rules of Procedure of the Tongan Parliament and Erskine May's authority on Westminster parliamentary practices.

The Minister of Education, Dr. 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki submitted that there was no need to amend the Tongan version of Clause 8, though according to the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards it was far too broad and it should be narrowed down to only "pass or repeal enactments".

The Minister of Police Hon. Sifa Tu'utafaiva proposed for the Bill to be deferred back to the House's Standing Committee on Legislation for further amendment, taking into consideration some of the concerns that were raised during the debate in committee.

The People's Representatives, Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, Sione Taione, 'Akilisi Pohiva and 'Aisake Eke, were concerned about how the bill infringed the right of the people to appeal to the King and the Parliament.

The Chairman of the Whole House Committee, Hon. Sunia Fili called for a vote on the Minister of Police's motion before midday yesterday, 31 July and it was carried unanimously with votes of 20-0.

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