No Budget Highlights Problems With Tonga Boundaries Commission

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With election later this year, constituencies likely to remain unchanged

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 25, 2014) – The House has never approved an Annual Report of the Royal Constituency Boundaries Commission since Tonga’s more-democratically-elected-Parliament (MDEP) was sworn-in three years ago.

Clearly, a majority of the incumbent members of parliament do not want the Commission to make changes to the boundaries that define the constituencies that elected the MDEP into office.

The House has been rejecting all of the Annual Reports of the Commission because MPs considered the reports to be incomplete because there were "no financial reports".

But it was pointed out that, in fact, the Commission did not need to have a financial report of its own, because it was financed under the Treasury.

The Minister of Finance, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke told the House that while he was a People’s Representative, he discovered that the reason why the Commission did not incorporate a financial report in their Annual Report was because, "they did not have any money or a bank book," and their operation was financed by the Treasury.

The Auditor General also reported that the Boundaries Commission did not have an account to be audited.

Surprised

The discovery of how this independent Royal Constituency Boundaries Commission was operating without its own bank account was a big surprise to some members.

Dr Sitiveni Halapua, PR for Constituency No. 3, expressed his dismay over the fact that a Commission that was perceived to be independent so that it could operate without any interference from politicians and bureaucrats, relied on the Treasury to finance their operation.

"Now I know why their annual report was incomplete: no budget," he said.

Six months deadline

The combined 2010-2014 Annual Report that came before the House in March, appeared to be a desperate attempt by the Commission to have an annual report passed before the November election. By law the Commission has to confirm all constituency boundaries six months before a General Election.

Attempted adjustments

The report also included an adjustment to the boundaries of Constituencies No. 15 and 16, moving the village of ‘Utui from Constituency No. 15 to Constituency No. 16.

But ‘Utui doesn’t want to be moved.

Accompanying the Annual Report was a Petition from the people of ‘Utui, against the decision to move their village from Constituency 15 to 16.

The issue of readjusting boundaries, in order to stabilize the number of voters per constituency sparked off some lively discussions, and propositions by members to increase the number of constituencies, particularly in Tongatapu and Vava’u, where there is noticeably an increase in population.

There was a proposition to increase the number of constituencies from 10 to 11 in Tongatapu, and in Vava’u from three to four.

With regards to the Petition, the Screening Committee of the House recommended for the petition to be passed on to Cabinet for their deliberation.

The Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards objected, saying that the House was infringing on the independence of the Commission by telling the Commission what to do. He said that the House could take note of what the Commission stated in its report but they could not tell the Commission what to do.

Tonga Constitution

Lord Nuku believed that realigning constituency boundaries was more complicated because they would have to amend the Constitution.

The Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano suggested that they should just leave the boundaries as they were. He reminded the House that the political reform that has been introduced was the first after about 130 years, and it had been in place for nearly four years.

He said that even though there appeared to be a marked increase in population in some constituencies, but registered voters, however, remained at around 3000 per constituency.

Sione Taione, who presented the petition from the people of ‘Utui, supported the Prime Minister.

The Chairman of the Whole House Committee, Sunia Fili called for votes of the three issues that the committee had been discussing, the 2010-2014 Annual Report of the Royal Constituency Boundaries Commission, the decision of the Screening Committee on the petition by the people of ‘Utui village, and the boundaries of the 17 constituencies to remain unchanged.

It was carried 9-6. (In fact it was actually 8-6 but, unfortunately, the clerk counted the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards twice).

In Legislature, there was no call for voting on what had been passed by the Whole House Committee, and so the decision of the committee was final.

Since the House rejected the Annual Report of the Commission and also rejected the new boundary that it had set for Constituencies 15 and 16, the question now remains: what is the Commission going to do?

Six months deadline

Rosamond Bing, the secretary for the Royal Constituency Boundaries Commission said they would submit a report in mid-May. She said that by law they have to confirm all constituency boundaries six months before a General Election.

Tonga is supposed to have its election in November, though no date has been officially announced.

The other twist in this whole issue is that Cabinet will not be able to present the Commission’s mid-May report to parliament until June when parliament opens for its 2014-15 session, so there will be no contribution from the MDEP to the final decision of the Commission, unless the Commission and Cabinet change the election from November to a later date.

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