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Parliament passed $618.4m National Budget

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

From the House by Pesi Fonua

Tonga’s National Budget for 2021-2022, of $618.4m was passed by the Tongan Parliament yesterday 10 June with a vote of 19-1. The biggest allocations go to Education and Health.

It is a deficit budget by $38.1m, comparing with our current deficit budget of $59.6m.

However, the Minister of Finance, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau told the House that the Budget will be financed with $369.4 or 60% by the Government, and $249m or 40% by Tonga’s foreign development partners.

Overall, 80% or $492.5m is in cash, and 20% or $125.9m will be in the form of products, contributed by Tonga's foreign development partners.

Hon. Lavemaau outlined the government’s plan to balance its budget by seeking financial assistance from Tonga’s development partners.

On top of the list is $7m from the Australia Government. There is also a plan to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under Tonga's similar interest free term loan of $30m to finance the current National Budget, and the remaining $1.1m will be financed from the Government’s National Reserve.

Tonga’s 2021-2022 National Budget which will be implemented on the 1 July 2021 will be allocated to various government entities:

  1. Palace Office - $3,678,100
  2. Legislative Assembly-$13,141,500
  3. Tonga Office of the Auditor General - $1,967,700
  4. Office of the Ombudsman – $2,246,500
  5. Anti-Corruption Commission - $509,300
  6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs - $14,311,800
  7. His Majesty’s Armed Forces – $11,218,300
  8. Prime Minister’s Office - $11,114,000
  9. Ministry of Finance - $142,349,000
  10. Ministry of Revenue and Customs - $10,646,700
  11. Ministry of Public Enterprises - $1,590,900
  12. Public Service Commission - $2,085,300
  13. Statistics Department – $4,850,700
  14. Ministry of Justice and Prison - $13,000,400
  15. Attorney General’s Office - $3,599,800
  16. Ministry of Police and Fire Services - $15,274,600
  17. Ministry of Health - $52,946,400
  18. Ministry of Education and Training - $61,173,600
  19. Ministry of Internal Affairs - $13,868,600
  20. Ministry of Trade and Economic Development - $7,048,800
  21. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests - $10,846,300
  22. Ministry of Fisheries - $6,907,700
  23. Ministry of Tourism – $7,595,500
  24. Ministry of Infrastructure - $32,836,700
  25. Ministry of Land and Natural Resources - $6,701,000
  26. Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Communications and Climate Change - $80,990,100.

The debate by the members of parliament over the 26 Votes within six days from 2 June to 10 June sparked a few controversial exchanges among members.

Convicted Minister no longer honourable

Lord Tu’iha’angana expressed his concern that it would be damaging for the status of the House to allow the Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism, (‘Akosita Lavulavu) to table her budget allocations into the House.

He was referring to her conviction last week in the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court on charges of criminal fraud.

His concern sparked a vociferous debate from some members of the House.

Lord Tu’iha’angana proposed for the Minister of Finance, Hon. Tevita Levemaau to table the Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism’s budget to the House.

However, the Prime Minister Hon. Dr Rev Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa reacted to the proposition, and pointed out that under the Tongan Constitution, ‘Akosita who was in the House at the time could still table her budget allocations.

However, when the House resume after a short break, and the Minister of Finance, tabled 'Akosita's reports  to the House.

House deferred for church conference

The other more controversial issue was that when the House was about to close for the week.

The Prime Minister pointed out that he and other government officials would leave for ‘Eua before the weekend for the opening of a new army base. A Fale Lalanga (Weaving House) will be launched on Saturday, and there will be Fasting on Sunday. The annual conference of the Wesleyan Church will start on Monday.

Dr Saia Piukala queried why the deference of the proceeding of the House because of the Church Conference. He suggested that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, who is the ‘Eua People’s Representative to parliament could attend the conference.

Tourism allocation

An allocation of $1.5m to a newly established Tourism Board became an issue when the House was debating over the Budget allocation of the Ministry of Tourism on Wednesday, 9 June.

The Tongatapu No. 2 People Representative, Semisi Sika, a former Minister of Tourism queried what this newly established Tourism Board is going to do with the $1.5m at this point of a Lock Down.

The Minister for Tourism, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau responded that New Zealand wanted a body to transfer the money to, and that is why the Tourism Board was established, and when the Tourism Board needed funds, he and the Minister of Tourism would decide what to do.

Semisi Sika thanked the Minister for the clarification.