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PRs lost the plot



Am I alone in thinking that some of the People's Representatives in Parliament have lost the plot altogether. There they were last week with the most important issue of the day, the Budget for 2007/2008, an opportunity for members of Parliament to analyse and scrutinise the figures, particularly the Income Tax Reform on behalf of the people who voted them in. What did they do - well, nothing in particular. Oh - they approved the first reading, the second and the third all in one go! Some members meandered from one subject to another like lost souls cocooned in their own self-importance but completely unaware how confused they look to the rest of the world.

Take 'Akilisi Pohiva for example: as soon as he had the opportunity, he flirted with the Government, like an unsolicited six foot tall call girl strutting down on her five inch high heels along the dust road winking and blowing kisses at the PM - 'lets forgive and forget' she mouthed 'lets pretend that the burning of Nuku'alofa never happened' wink, wink, scratch my back and I'll scratch yours type of attitude. The PM was having none of it. 'Jesus is the only one with more tolerance' he muttered. What! Come on, stop wallowing in self pity. Can we get back to the budget, anyone interested? No, not the budget - there was a 'meeting in Auckland which was about the "Pathway for the future" Akilisi announced. Sorry, whose future are we talking about here? And the 'PM must satisfy the Tongans in New Zealand' he demanded - doing what? No wonder the PM was huffing and puffing like an overheated locomotive that is about to burst.

But what about the budget, surely by now Pohiva showed some interest in the matter. Well, no, not quite, the poor bloke sleep-walked from one subject to another: from the introduction of a Land Tax to Tonga Broadcasting problem and then to the Loan from China. I would have thought that the budget was enough for the House to concentrate on for here is a subject most relevant to everyday lives in Tonga. Consider the fact that in 2005, the Civil Servants went on strike, needless to say about their pay, and in 2006, Nuku'alofa went up in smoke. Both incidents were publicly supported by the PRs with dire consequences. Trouble is, politicians are hanging in Parliament like flying foxes, completely blind to the hidden link between the Civil Servants' pay and their Income Tax, let alone what anyone else earns and what the Revenue collects. Last week, politicians were in the right place and this was the right time for them to make their voices heard, yet with the exception of 'Isi Pulu and 'Uliti Uata, not a peep from anyone else. What a let down for the poor people of Tonga.

For example, although I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance and his Department for putting together the much needed Income Tax Bill, I have to say that the Finance Department still have scope to improve what is on offer.

Summary of the Budget: Tax free up to T$7,400 then 10% tax up to $30,000 and 20% tax on anything above that. This must be some kind of a joke surely. Oh, in addition, there is a 1% levied on something . . . not quite sure on what. What a shame, a missed opportunity for the Government to bridge the gap between the rich and the rest of society by using the same PAYE method but with a fairer distribution of the tax burden.

Suggestion: drop out thousands of low paid workers from the Tax System altogether by raising the threshold to T$10,000 then 10% tax up to $30,000, 20% up to T$50,000 and 35% or 40% tax above that. For someone earning $30,000 paying the same level of tax as a CEO for example earning $100,000 does not look right, does it. Governments of wealthy countries would not dare introduce such taxation - rulers would not live it down. All in all, this is a budget for the rich and can only lead to a volatile and susceptible economy.

The irony of it all is this - it appears that nothing has been learnt from the mistakes of the past. Fair distribution of wealth across the population is not only the key to economic growth but also generates a feel good factor in society. Taxation is the best way to achieve that. Just think of the accolade from the cheering crowd - bravo to the PM, bravo to the Government and Parliament. Instead, there is an uncomfortable silence and the whole tax reform proves to be a damp squib. But then again, members of Parliament are among the highest earners in the country. They have done very well for themselves. What about the voters? Do they count for anything?

'What about it?', I hear them say.

How very sad.

As for the gagging of the TBC, it does not do the Government, the Governors or the people any favours whatsoever. We are back to 'who the hell do you think you are' mentality again. But for what it's worth, gagging any medium is a direct action against freedom of speech. If this happened elsewhere, I could see headlines in the tabloids 'There they go again, slipping on their own banana skin' or how about 'Monkeys could have done a better job' or 'What have they got to hide' etc. So the humble advice is this - lift the ban and calm down, perhaps it is time to wean yourselves off from 'who the hell do you think you are' mentality. It does not look good to the outside world.

'Ofa atu

senolita_swan_3 [at] msn [dot] com