By Pesi Fonua
In one of its first big decisions of 2006, Tonga's parliament has decided to work less for more pay.
The working days of the legislative assembly have been reduced from a four-days week to three-days week, starting on August 1. But there has been no move to reduce the parliamentarians' salaries to match the new hours.
The Chief Clerk of the House, Tevita 'Ova said that in the past parliament sat from Monday to Thursday, with Friday off for the weekly Privy Council meeting, but when Parliament reconvened on July 31 the Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele requested for the House not to be in session on Wednesdays, giving Cabinet more time for their weekly Cabinet meetings.
Tevita said that the Prime Minister's request was accepted and the Tongan parliament is now sitting on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30am to 4:30 pm with one and a half hour lunch break every day from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm. Under the House's new working timetable it was also agreed that parliament may reconvene on Friday, if there is an urgent need.
So far this year's session of parliament is probably the shortest ever. It has sat for about 12 days since parliament was opened on June 1 until it adjourned on June 30 for the King's 88th birthday on July 4. The House spent nine days rushing through this year's budget, and the other few days to draft a letter, replying to the Princess Regent's message from the throne at the opening of parliament, and to argue over whether the opening of parliament by the Princess Regent was legal.
In previous years parliament has opened in May and at least a month is spent on the budget debate.
The House was to resume following the King's birthday, but because of the recent Royal Funeral, the House was further adjourned until July 31.
Meanwhile, vital legislation and issues, remain to be debated and passed by the House. Full participation has been hampered by the fact that the House has not been able to meet, and secondly with the continued introduction of new members who will have to play catch-up with the proceedings of the House.
Meanwhile, no date has been set for the parliamentarian's annual tour of the country that was postponed from last month, because of the Royal Funeral of the late Prince Tu'ipelehake and late Princess Kaimana Tuku'aho.
Tevita said that the House was scheduled to set a new date for the national tour when it resumed its session on July 31 after the royal funeral but the issue had not been raised. The national tour was initially set for July 17-30.