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Fresh new parliament needs fresh new members

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Editor's Comment
by Pesi Fonua

As we are rushing to gather ideas to structure a new system of government, it is only wise for us to stop and have another critical look at what the Tongan parliament has forced on us to determine over a ridiculously short period of time. This is, of course, after Parliament has exhausted its own collective mental capacity to come up with something that is both democratic and economically feasible.

At the moment we are stuck with their model for 30 elected members in a parliament that will be dominated by executives. The notion for the people to elect all members of parliament is their war cry; but that is simply the very first step. How are they going to get it to work? Surely, the executive rule in such a parliament is a recipe for handing over political power to a dictator.

A notion that the current proponents of the 30-elected-model will become the new government with no credible opposition in future is, again, positioning to put a dictator in power.

Dare we change to this model within ten months and then call for an election?

There is obviously a lack of vision in this exercise. When Tupou I embarked on his reform in 19th century, his vision was that no Tongan would be destitute and every Tongan family would have a family asset, their land.

Dangerous deadline

Today the two most dangerous factors that have been forced on Tonga are the setting of a deadline for 2010 when we do not even know ten months out what kind of government we are going to have; and secondly to that, when we are allowing a parliament that it has shown itself since 2006 to lack integrity to tell us that this is the system of government we should have.

It lacks integrity because our parliament has turned a blind eye on members who were in contempt of parliamentary proceedings.

It lacks integrity because without a blink of the eye our members take an annual tour hand-out from the House so that they can spend tax-payers money on their personal campaigns for the next election.

It lacks integrity because the wording of bills can be changed after they have been passed by the House; and when this has happened no investigation was called for.

Chaos on a plate

It is obvious that we will not be able to structure a new system of government in 10 months to meet the deadline of 2010. So what will happen?

Fiji situation

We are in danger of falling into the same position that our neighbour Fiji is in right now. New Zealand and Australia are the main financiers of Tonga's Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission, and I am sure they will be pointing their fingers at the authority who will eventually have to admit that Tonga is not quite ready with its reform plan.

At that point, of course, anyone who would like to create chaos has his wishes handed to him on a plate.

Because we have a parliament where members have been patting each other's backs and turning a blind eye on what literally can be called corruption in the House, their eligibility to serve has come into question. Given that the contempt of parliamentary proceeding issue has been quietly swept under the mat; that we see vote buying with taxpayers money when members are on their annual national tour; and that someone is actually changing the wording of bills after they have been passed by the House; forces us to take a harder look at the 'Use-by' dates of our representation.

The current members of the parliament should not have the final say on the new system of government. This momentous decision should be first taken to the people in a referendum.

And it's worth considering further that Tonga's current entrenched members of parliament should be made ineligible to stand for election into our new parliament. If we really want to reform our parliamentary culture, then we need a fresh new system of government, with fresh new members of parliament and each serving a period of no longer than three terms - to be effective immediately.