FROM OUR ARCHIVES, 9 November 2006
Tension is mounting in the Tongan Parliament this week over the direction of the Political Reform that has been set in motion since the end of 2004. The drama is also a decoy by the politicians to distract public attention from the massive salary increase - backdated for two years - the Members have just taken for themselves.
With regards to the Reform, from the onset, despite the fact that the National Committee for Political Reform was a creation of the Legislative Assembly with the intention for a national consultation to find out the wishes of the people, — the Cabinet and some People's Representatives have pressed their own reform agendas.
Government pre-empted the movement for political reform and announced at the end of 2004 that at the parliamentary elections of 2005 the king would appoint four Cabinet Ministers from the elected members of parliament, two Noble's Representatives and two People's Representatives, and it would continue with the practice until all the Cabinet Ministers were elected by the people.
About the same time, six People's Representatives, with the exception of the two Vava'u People's Representatives, formed their own group for political reform and went out and campaigned for public support for a model of government, which was based on a compilation of three different models drafted by Lopeti Senituli, Clive Edwards and Laki Niu.
Following last month's presentation by Dr Sitiveni Halapua to parliament of the findings of the NCPR and their Road Map for political reform in Tonga, the government presented its own road map for reform on October 19.
Government and the PRs' Committee for Political Reform had a confrontation in the House on Monday, with the PRs demanding that the House to continue the debate on the NCPR report and vote on a definite way forward. Meanwhile, government has taken control of the direction of the reform by promoting its own road map.
The confrontation in the House, whether by design or by default, has completely overshadowed the main issue in the House this year, which is that government has serious budgetary shortfalls after giving civil servants huge pay increases last year.
To add more colour to the drama, the PRs and their supporters re-presented a petition to the House today, demanding that their model for reform, which is for all members of parliament to be elected by the people, should be accepted by the House. These supporters said that they will hold daily rallies at Pangai Si'i outside Parliament trying to force the House to incorporate their model into the reform debate. This appears to be an unrealistic and an ill-timed demand but it definitely has achieved the objective of distracting public attention from the real issue - the money.
Displaying an apparent immunity to the financial crisis, the House has reduced their working days from four to three, and this year they have had more days on recess than at work, and to top it off on October 16 they have given themselves a 60% salary rise, and oh yes, back-dated the increase for two sessions to July 2005.