Tonga Parliament Struggles With Vote Of No-Confidence Procedure

Appointment of Anti-Corruption Commissioner also on agenda

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 1, 2016) – Tonga's Parliament struggled to make decisions on two important issues before its 2016 session closed on Thursday, 27 October.

The House was trying to establish new procedures for a parliamentary Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, and that inevitably led to some lively debate, particularly over the future role of the Speaker in the vote.

The other difficult issue was highlighted in debate over who will hold the ultimate power to appoint an Anti-corruption Commissioner for Tonga.

It appeared that there remained some reluctance from the Monarch to hand over that responsibility to the politicians.

Vote of No Confidence procedure

The House Standing Committee on Privileges was tasked with writing an amendment for the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, on how to process a Vote of No Confidence, as it set out in the Constitution.

The Standing Committee amendment will speed up the process of a Vote of No Confidence.

When the report of the Standing Committee was presented to the House debate became very lively and the Cabinet and their supporters did not hold back any punches.

The Prime Minister, Hon. 'Akilisi Pohiva, led the charge by questioning the composition of the Standing Committee which had prepared the report.

The committee members that had been elected by the House included two Lords (Lord Fusitu’a and Lord Tu'iha'angana), two Cabinet Ministers (Hon. Vuna Fa'otusia, Hon. 'Aisake Eke) and two People’s Representatives (Samiu Vaipulu and Mateni Tapueluelu); along with the Speaker Lord Tu'ivakano and Deputy Speaker Lord Tu'i'afitu who thought they were supposed to be members of all Standing Committees.

However, during the process of the debate it was discovered that the Speaker and the Deputy were actually supposed to be members of all Select Committees and not the Standing Committees.

A Standing Committee is a permanent committee of the House - there are a few, including the Law Committee and the Privileges Committee.

A Select Committee is a temporary committee that the House selects for a specific task from time to time.

The Deputy Chairman, Lord Tu'i'afitu, raised a point that without their regular attendance at meetings, the committee would not have had a quorum and would not have been able to meet.

In addition to the hiccup with the members of the Standing Committee, Mateni Tapueluelu, a son-in-law of the Prime Minister, had refused to attend any of the meetings of the committee.

The Speaker told the House that Mateni have said rude things about the committee.

The House rejected some controversial amendments to the procedure. They rejected a push for a Secret Ballot; and rejected a proposal for the Speaker to step down so that he could cast a vote instead of just a casting vote.

At the end, the Vote of No Confidence procedures report was passed 17-0 on October 27

For the report were: Māteni Tapueluelu, Veivosa Light of Life Taka, Sāmiu Kuita Vaipulu, Sosefo Fe’ao Vakatā, Minister for Internal Affairs, Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Trade, Minister of Health, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Revenue Collection, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Justice, Minister for Public Enterprises, Lord Tu’iha’ateiho, Lord Tu'I'āfitu and Lord Vaea.

Appointment of Anti-corruption Commissioner

The next big issue was the appointment of an Anti-corruption Commissioner.

Tonga 's Anti-corruption Commissioner Act was enacted in 2007, but a commissioner has never been appointed.

On October 24 a Bill to amend the Public Relations Act 2001 was introduced by the Minister of Justice, Hon. Vuna Fa'otusia.

The amendment is simply a change in the title of the Act to become the “Ombudsman Act 2016”.

The tricky part to the amendment was the Tonganising of the word “Ombudsman”. The first attempt by the House in 2014 was ” ‘Omipusimeni”, but it did not catch on. This time around it is ” ‘Omiputimeni”, though the translation that appealed to most members was Lord Tu'i'lakepa’s “Oh! Man”.

The amendment was carried 20-0.

The next move to appoint an Anti-corruption Commissioner was the introduction of a Bill to amend the Anti-corruption Commissioner Act 2007 itself, in order to shift the selection and the appointment of an Anti-corruption Commissioner from His Majesty in Privy Council to the Legislative Assembly and the Speaker of the House.

The amendment proposed: “A Commissioner shall be recruited by the Speaker with the consent of the Legislative Assembly.”

The Minister of Justice, Hon. Vuna Fa'otusia told the House that the transition of the authority to appoint an Anti-corruption Commissioner was part of the process of transferring the Executive Power from the King in Privy Council to Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly.

The Bills will become laws with the consent of His Majesty in Privy Council.

Hon. Fa’otusia explained that once these bills were enacted an Ombudsman could also become the Anti-corruption Commissioner until a Commissioner is appointed. Because according to Clause 14 of the Anti-corruption Commissioner Act, “the Ombudsman shall be deemed to have been appointed as the Commissioner until a substantive Commissioner has been appointed under the Act.”

The credibility of such a move was questioned, because the prime role of the Ombudsman is to investigate wrong doing within government. If he was also the Anti-corruption Commissioner, it would mean that he could not be investigated for any wrong doing.

Lord Fusitu’a queried the independence of an Anti-corruption Commissioner appointed by the Legislative Assembly, in comparison to existing practice of being appointed by the King

Lord Fusitu'a’s argument was that HM in Privy Council is the most neutral, “the King cannot be charged for any crime.”

Lord Nuku also expressed his concern over the possible misuse by the Prime Minister of his power by authorizing the investigation of a certain person or an organisation.

The Speaker called for the third reading of the Anti-corruption Commissioner Bill 2016.                           

The House passed the Bill in its third reading with votes of 18-0.

Members who voted for the Bill were: Veivosa Light of Life Taka, Māteni Tapueluelu, Sāmiu Kuita. Vaipulu, 'Akosita Havili Lavulavu, Sōsefo Fe'aomoeata Vakatā, Minister for Internal Affairs, Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Labour, Commerce and Trade, Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism, Minister of Health, Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Revenue Collection, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, Minister for Public Enterprises, Lord Tu'iha'ateiho, Lord Tu'iha'ateiho, Lord Tu'iha'angana and Lord Tu'i'āfitu.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
Copyright © 2016 Matangi Tonga. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Add new comment