THE Legislative Assembly in collaboration with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) is hosting a three-day post-election seminar which gets underway in Nuku’alofa bringing legislators from the Parliaments of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tuvalu and Tonga for capacity building, institutional strengthening and professional development.
This is the first in person Post Election Seminar provided by the CPA headquarters in the Pacific region for almost five years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The event is a result of a productive discussion between the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Lord Fakafanua with the CPA Secretariat, when he attended the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August last year.
In his keynote address to officially open the three-day event at Tanoa Hotel, the Lord Speaker highlighted that “this seminar is valuable and opportune as there is never an expiration date on the importance of capacity building, institutional strengthen and professional development for both new and veteran MPs.”
He said first it provides the ideal platform upon which we, as Pacific Parliamentarians including Tongan MPs learn and prepare ourselves on parliamentary business. “No doubt, we all come from a diversity background and have experiences from all walks of life. However, being a parliamentarian is a profession is one, no matter how much we know or how long we have served as returning MPs. We have constitutional mandates, roles, duties, and responsibilities. that Parliament has its own set of rules, procedures, practices and conventions that we must adhere to,” stressed the Lord Speaker.
He said the MPs work is governed by the rule of law, good governance, ethics and democratic ideals like transparency and accountability. There is a high standard of etiquette, traditions and dignity attached to this esteemed institution current and inevitably a high level of expectation from our people, who have entrusted us to become their leaders and their representative.
Therefore, it is not surprising, that for new MPs, seminars like this can feel like a crash course in parliamentary business. However, the Lord Speaker reassured the participants that such training are of great value, because without seminar like this, MPs can find themselves learning on the job, whilst under the public eye through broadcasts and social media.
The Speaker also mentioned that our Pacific Parliaments including Tonga Parliament have enjoyed strong and truly beneficial relations with the CPA and we hold the CPA in the highest regard for its wealth in institutional knowledge.
He also highly commend the CPA for its longstanding support and guidance for parliaments through these post-election seminars and through its different networks including the CPA Small Branches network.
Lord Fakafanua also acknowledges the presence of the CPA Secretary General, Stephen Twigg which significantly raises the profile of this seminar and most significantly is the reaffirmation of the CPA’s firm commitment to strengthening relations, promoting good governance and furthering cooperation between the CPA and Pacific Parliaments including Tonga.
The Lord Speaker also added that such seminars like this helps different Parliaments including the Legislative Assembly to adapt to unprecedented events and uncertainties that we face as parliaments, by allowing us to share and discuss our common challenges and best practices.
He also spoke of Tonga’s experience, following the whirlwind of consecutive unprecedented events likes the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption on 15 January 2022, the tsunami straight after and the COVID-19 and cyclones. On top of that, there were 2 MPs that passed away, 3 unseated MPs and 5 byelections. Another MP passed away at the weekend.
A moment of silence was observed in respect of the fallen comrades and also for the passing of former Prime Minister, late Hon. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa who passed away in the United States at the weekend.
The Lord Speaker said during these unprecedented times, our people look to us, their leaders, for guidance. “It is through seminars like these that we can share best practices, revisit and re-examine the responsiveness of our parliamentary frameworks so that we remain relevant.”
Lord Fakafanua also anticipated that at the end of the seminar, MPs will not only impart their knowledge on parliamentary processes and procedures but they will enhanced their skills to legislate, scrutinize and represent our communities.
“There will be a better understanding of our roles. There will be better traditions to adhere to our Rules of Procedure and Standing Orders, so that MPs continuously uphold the integrity and honour of the august institution,” said Lord Fakafanua.
The Lord Speaker concluded by strongly emphasize that as Legislature is the representative body of the people, MPs must always be prepared to put our best efforts forward ALWAYS for our people that we serve. It is critical that we parliamentarians remain guided by that basic tenet in everything that we do.
The Speaker also conveyed Tonga Parliament’s most sincere appreciation to the CPA for organizing and coordinating the event and commend its secretariat for their tireless effort behind the scenes to bring the CPA directly to Tonga. He also thanked his colleagues from the parliaments of Fiji, Tuvalu, Australia, and New Zealand for their attendance.
Meanwhile CPA Secretary General Stephen Twigg, also extended on behalf of CPA’s condolences for the passing of the former Prime Minister and also the MPs who have lost their lives. He said this seminar is crucial and long standing as it brought new and experienced parliamentarians and confident it is a great opportunity for the MPs to learn from each other in the next three days.
Clerk of Tonga Parliament Gloria Pole’o who delivered the welcoming remarks said the post-election seminar like this are imperative and highly encouraged for new and returning MPs. She adds the Legislative Assembly’s Office endeavours to ensure that the outcomes of the seminar and realized by MPs for enhanced knowledge and skills to undertake parliamentary duties and to ensure that the Secretariat can adequately support Members in their crucial roles.
Today’s session includes discussions on opportunities and challenges for new and returning MPs. Tongatapu 2 constituency MP, Dr. ‘Uhila mo e Langi Fasi shared his experience after one year of serving as an MP in November last year. He said recognition is one of the opportunities of becoming a politician.
“I was a nobody and now I am somebody. I am now a public figure…Lots of opportunities. I have the opportunity to talk with the government, high people as well as donor partners and diplomatic corps and trusted people…And had the opportunity to access large amount of constituency …and the opportunity to be accountable and transparent,” said the former secondary teacher.
Another new MP for 'Eua, Dr. Taniela Fusimālohi who had served for almost 25 years in the public service also spoke of the challenges of becoming an MP. He shared that he had ran for election three times before he was successfully elected to Parliament in 2021. Dr. Fusimalohi said that extreme events like the catastrophic event last year had delayed the capacity building and MPs professional development.
“No formal training was provided, and we have to ask seasoned MPs and follow their guidance and leadership… for MPs to be effectively, they have to play multiple roles because of the different needs and expectation from the people,” said the former MIA CEO.