Monday, June 8, 2009

Tongans worry about land, administration more than politics, says CEC

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Centre

Tonga’s Constitutional and Electoral Commission (CEC) has released its first progress report to the public since being set up in January.

In its June 5 report, CEC chose not make any recommendations until it has received more proposals from the public specifically addressing governance structures.

This includes the roles of the executive and legislature branches, as well as the electorate.

The deadline for submissions has now been extended until July 6.

The CEC had conducted a series of public forums on Tonga’s main island districts (Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai, ‘Eua, and the Niuas later this month), to gather public opinion and feedback about the political reforms planned for 2010.

Twenty-seven written submissions, each supported by at least 200 members of the community, were also received by the CEC.

Land key concern
“It was apparent that many ordinary Tongans have little interest in politics or the structure of the government,” said the report, released both in English and Tongan.

“This may arise partly from a lack of ability to affect change over many generations.”

On the other hand, the report affirmed that land was a central issue of concern in every district forum, especially the fear of alienation as a consequence of reform.

“In many cases it appeared to be a matter of more significance and concern than electoral and representational change or other changes to the Constitution,” read the report.

Another common complaint was that “electors in the outer districts are ignored by their representatives once the election is over”.

The outer districts were more likely to be unhappy about lack of effective government and administration.

According to the CEC, many members from these communities felt that government, “however formed” would “simply continue to neglect their interests and devote most of its time, energy and resources to the central districts".

These concerns needed to be taken into account for reform to have any practical significance for the general population.

Public awareness
The report called for an extensive public awareness programme that will continue after the CEC’s final report and recommendations, due on November 5.

This is to educate the general public on the implications of political change, which may possibly herald drastic changes such as the election of the prime minister by the House (rather than appointment by the King), the dissolution of the King’s Privy Council, and a single “transferrable” vote system.

“The change from a paternalistic system of appointed ministers under a benevolent monarch to an elected government answerable to the people who elected them is profound,” said the report.

Although they admitted the 10-month time frame given to gather public input, make recommendations and draft legislation was “surprisingly short”, the CEC said it would do its utmost to fulfil public expectations that reforms will happen in the coming year.

However, recommendations “will and must be made in a Tongan context”, the report said.

The final CEC report will then be submitted to Parliament for debate.

The CEC membership: Justice Gordon Ward (chair), Tu’ivanuavou Vaea, Dr Sitiveni Halapua, Dr ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, Sione Fonua and Hon. ‘Eseta Fusitu’a, with alternate members: Hon. Tu’i’afitu, Masao Paasi, and ‘Aisea Taumoepeau.

Josephine Latu is contributing editor of the PMC's Pacific Media Watch. Pictured: King George Tupou V opening Parliament.

CEC information


Anonymous said...

This story hopefully will shed some light to overseas media and some local media as well who often report that political reform is the most important thing that converns people in Tonga. Hopefully the critics among the Tongan community in New Zealand will realise that economic, social and political reform will have to go together and not just political reform.

Anonymous said...

We will never do anything to boost Tonga’s economy unless people have their political right and opportunity to take part in the decision making body - legislative powers. The commission report brings to light the fact that the representative sample picked for their interviews and survey were taken from wrong destination and location. A formal meeting intentionally arranged to interview Tongans at villages regarding what they think of Tonga’s Political change will not exactly reveal the fact about the people’s political will. There is social stigma attached whenever one is known of his belief regarding Tonga’s political situation. And I am telling you that people would be reluctant to join such a formal meeting as were arranged by this commission. The commission should have gone out and entered the faikava (kava party), church activities, tou ngaue (men working in the plantations) and tou lalanga (women getting together to do their weaving) and try to listen to what these people are uncontrollably chatting about. I am telling you that politics would be top in their agenda. Ask why are they always vote RP Akilis Pohiva to be people’s number one to Parliament with his policy of people’s right to participate in political decision making body despite obstruction and persecution government committed to crack him down in every successive general election since 1987? Couldn’t that be a sign for us to see that these well educated Tongans and Christians needs political refor first and foremost?