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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Commentary

Parliamentary ‘Games’ Distract From Tonga’s Economic Woes

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 1, 2012) – Tonga's democratic adventure during the past two years has been full of intrigues, revelations and challenges.

The highlight of the political reform, which was supposed to usher in a more democratic system of government, was the surrendering by the Monarchy of its executive power to a majority-elected Cabinet and Parliament.

With new political power resting in the hands of our lawmakers, there was a presumption that our elected members of parliament might find ways to raise the standards of living for the 100,000 people in this beautiful little country.

But, unfortunately, since the introduction of Tonga's new political system two years ago, instead of leading us out of poverty and economic depression, our parliamentarians have preoccupied themselves by playing a "power game", and trying to secure that they have a majority of friends in the House.

At the same time the economy has continued to decline, and instead of Tonga being a country of doers, it has become a country of beggars.

Decision making

From the very beginning of the reform the ultimate aim was to transfer the executive power from the Monarchy to the people, simply because it would make the system more democratic. By getting the people involved in the decision making process, the theory was that development would be more relevant and effective.

The first step was to increase the number of People's Representatives from nine to 17, while the Nobles' Representatives remained at nine.

With such a majority, why did Tonga not have a People's Representative as a Prime Minister?

The simple answer to that was because the People's Representatives (PRs) engaged in their "power game" had split the votes with the outcome that they continued to be a minority in the House.

The highlight of the 2010 parliamentary election, was that 12 of the 17 People's Representatives seats were won by members who had expressed an affiliation to a political party, this was in spite of the fact that Tonga's new political system is not a multi-party system like Australia's and New Zealand's systems.

But the outcome of the election isolated five PRs, (the three from Vava'u, Samiu Vaipulu, Lisiate 'Akolo and Dr. Viliami Latu; the Niuafo'ou and Niuatoputapu PR, Fe'ao Vakata, and the 'Eua PR Sunia Fili) who were not affliated to the party, and so they affiliated themselves instead with the nine Nobles' Representatives. When it came to electing a Prime Minister, Sunia nominated Lord Tu'ivakano, who was seconded by Lisiate 'Akolo, and with the combined votes of the five PRs and the nine Nobles' Representatives Lord Tu'ivakano became the new Prime Minister, while the leader of the party affliliates, 'Akilisi Pohiva, came second.

All the PRs who voted for Lord Tu'ivakano were made Cabinet Ministers by the Prime Minister.

Among them were Sunia Fili, who at the time became the Minister of Finance; Fe'ao Vakata Minister for Training, Youth and Sports; Samiu Vaipulu, Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister of Justice; Lisiate 'Akolo the Minister of Police and Dr. Viliami Latu became the Minister of Tourism.

The Prime Minister also nominated 'Akilisi Pohiva to be the Minister of Health, but 'Akilisi resigned before he was officially appointed, and so 'Uliti Uata was appointed as the Minister of Health, and at the same time 'Isileli Pulu was also made the Minister of Labour Commerce and Industry.

After that, the power game continued to entrench the ranks of the People's Representatives, and 18 months later, ten PR's, 'Akilisi Pohiva, Semisi Sika, Dr Sitiveni Halapua, 'Aisake Eke, Siosifa Tu'utafaiva, Sione Taione, Filisi Tupou, Semisi Tapueluelu, Mo'ale Finau and Sangster Saulala in the House tabled a motion for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

On June 25 Sunia Fili, together with 'Isileli Pulu and 'Uliti Uata resigned from Cabinet on June 25 to support the motion for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Crossing the floor

Unfortunately, crossing the floor has become a bad habit of the party affiliates so that by the time the House finally got around to voting on the motion for the vote of no confidence in the PM on October 8, Sangster Saulala has become a Cabinet Minister and 'Uliti Uata had a mild stroke and had to be rushed overseas for medical treatment leaving the party affiliates two votes down, and again they were defeated 13-11.

The engagement of PRs in the power game appeared to be the only strategy, and since the motion for a vote of no confidence failed, they are talking about impeachment cases that might follow.

Unfortunately, these goings on have distracted the attention of the Cabinet and the Parliament from the pressing issue of the day, which is to get the Tongan economy back on its feet, or we will become heavily relying on others for our livelihoods.

The challenge for the electorate now is to find some clear heads and fresh candidates who will run for the next election in 2014.

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/
Copyright 2012 Matangi Tonga. All Rights Reserved


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