By Pesi Fonua
FOLLOWING the posting of my Editorial, Fresh new parliament needs fresh new members on February 23, there has been some aggressive flak from a People's Representative and reactions from political observers that attempt to distract from the points that were made.
The editorial reminded readers that 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. It also put a spotlight on the integrity of the House and this upset one member.
We should remember that before the House closed its 2008 session our quest for political reform and a new system of government was described by the chairman of the Parliamentary Tripartite Committee as another "Tower of Babel" - meaning that the House had found itself in a state of confusion over the political reform issue.
So when the House closed in early November 2008 they were in the thick of uncertainties and the only thing that was clear was that they did not have a clear vision of the system of government they wanted to introduce in 2010. Admist their uncertainties, they decided to leave it all for the new commission to look at, to draw up legislation and make recommendations to come back to the House for approval.
But then in the final days of the session it became clear that there had been a serious problem of parliamentary procedure in the handling of the legislation for the forming of the commission. A Minister noticed that someone had changed the wording of the bill after it had been approved by the House.
What happened was that in order to form the commission the House had to pass a Bill for An Act to Amend the Constitutional and Electoral Commission Act 2008 (No. 17 of 2008), and then it went for the Princess Regent's consent before it was gazetted. But after it was gazetted, the chairman of the Law Committee, Hon. Siaosi 'Aho noticed that the wording of the Amended Act was different from that of the Bill that the House passed.
The House agreed that there was a problem and therefore the Act had to be returned to the House to be amended again and the wording was put back to its correct version before they closed.
We reported the fact that there was no parliamentary investigation into who cheated. Tampering with the wording of a bill after it has been passed is viewed as a very serious offence in any parliament in the world - except, apparently, Tonga's.
The integrity of the House has been tarnished with this kind of behaviour and it forces us to question the wisdom of giving the current members of the parliament the final say on the report and recommendations of the Constitutional and Electoral Commission for a new system of government.
The editorial pointed out that this momentous decision should be first taken to the people of Tonga in a referendum giving them the right to choose what they think is good for them before the legal technicians get to work.
The editorial also insisted that freshness is necessary part of reform. "Fresh new members under a fresh new political system" suggested that the current members of the House should not be allowed to stand for re-election for the new parliament under the new political system, and that new members should not serve longer than three terms.
But this upset one People's Representative.
On March 4 the Deputy Clerk of the House forwarded a written response from 'Akilisi Pohiva who stated that he was in Fiji, (even though he was actually here in Tonga at the time). Apparently, 'Akilisi considered my editorial to be so important that he had copied his response to the Speaker of the House, all Cabinet members and all the foreign diplomatic missions in Nuku'alofa.
Unfortunately, in his response he did not comment on the Tower of Babel situation that the House has found itself in, and he did not enlighten us on how it came about that someone who had access to the bills in the House cheated by inserting a new sub-clause after it had been passed.
Instead, he focused on promoting himself as the champion of democracy and human rights during the past 20 years, completely overlooking the fact that the democratisation process started 134 years ago with the proclamation of the Tongan Constitution in 1875.
Then on March 6 'Akilisi told Radio New Zealand International that parliament had already settled some of the key aspects of reform, and he was recorded saying, "for example, the number of People's Representatives to be increased from nine to seventeen, and the Representatives of the Nobles will continue to remain at nine. This issue has been settled last year. So there are only a few issues left to be looked into and I think the Commission will focus on these remaining issues."
But this is simply a fallacy he is telling to the foreign press, who know no better.
We challenge 'Akilisi to provide proof that the House has voted and agreed on a reform model for a House with 17 People's Representatives and nine Noble's Representatives (the 26).
He also accuses anyone who criticises him of being "against democracy" or an "enemy of reform".
But this is a tired argument that "if you are not with us you are against us," and it is simply not relevant to journalism whose obligation is to inform the public - however difficult that may be. And particularly in this case, where we showed there are some serious problems that our politicians would rather hide and not talk about.
We need democracy
Journalists need democracy in order to function freely and to do their jobs, because under other systems, such as dictatorships, we will obviously live in fear of criticizing powerful politicians.
In my editorials I have consistently pointed out that if Tonga sets up a new parliament with such a composition of 26 members, it means that under the current ministerial structure there will be 15 Cabinet Ministers, two governors, one Speaker of the House. So we will have 18 Cabinet Ministers, leaving us with only eight members. These remaining eight members might as well go home because the Cabinet will rule without any credible opposition. And then with the same Cabinet Ministers, becoming members of the Privy Council, the Prime Minister will rule Supreme.
If we will embrace this composition of parliament it is clear to see we will put a dictator in power, and then it will be a battle to get him and his cronies out of office - elections are sweet for incumbents who have had enjoyed years of handouts of taxpayers money to buy votes on their national tours.
The great challenge before Tonga now is to put a democratic government into place as soon as possible and to avoid allowing vested interests to create a dictatorship.
To do this we need a fresh new parliament, with fresh new members demonstrating fresh new integrity.
See related articles:
Fresh new parliament needs fresh new members 23 Feb 2009.