PARLIAMENT through legislation, oversight function and Members of Parliament’s (MPs) close engagement with its electorates have been known as three methods to combat corruption.
MPs are empowered to make laws that ensure accountability, transparency and good governance. Parliamentarians also play an oversight role through the establishment of Parliamentary Committees that scrutinize the use of public funds and performance of public roles.
Lastly, Parliamentarians engagements with their electorates to create awareness of corruption and to promote civic education also encouraged them by the people to abide by high standards of morality and to hold their offices with integrity.
The Speaker of the Parliament, Lord Tu’ivakano made these comments when he officially opened a two day workshop on Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) for the Tongan Members of Parliament (MPs) at Loumaile Lodge this morning.
Speaking to participants, he stated whilst most of the MPs are newly elected representatives following last November election, corruption is not entirely a new concept, adding that the most popular perception of the issue is the use of public office for personal gain.
The Lord Speaker defined corruption as diverting public funds that would otherwise have been used for public services such as education and the building of hospitals.
“It undermines the rule of law. It encourages serious organized crimes such as drug trafficking and money laundering. At the end of the day, it weakens and erodes our people’s trust in leaders of the country,” Lord Speaker explained.
For this reason, Lord Tu’ivakano stated that as lawmakers, MPs must recognize the importance of combating corruption.
“Our support towards the enactment of good governance legislation aimed at fighting corruption is a priority as such would be instrumental in stamping out corrupt practices and upholding the rule of law that should underpin our democratic society,” maintained the Lord Speaker.
The Speaker of Parliament also urged Parliamentarians that they must maintain the sustainability in anti-corruption efforts, thus advocating for Tonga to join other Pacific Parliaments in ratifying the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and also establish a Global Organization of Parliamentarians against Corruption (GOPAC) Tonga Chapter.
The purpose of the two day briefing is to advance and build Tongan parliamentarians’ capacity to foster good governance and strengthen anti-corruption efforts.
Building on the on-going dialogue with the Government and the increased awareness within Tonga of UNCAC, the workshop intends to allow Tonga to explore accession to UNCAC.
It is basically to inform MPs on the requirements and good practices of anti-corruption implementation stimulating further consideration of anti-corruption reform in Tonga to be consistent with UNCAC.
The briefing also explored opportunities for the establishment of a GOPAC Chapter in the Kingdom, as well as discussing its constitutional arrangements and for the MPs to adopt a plan of action. It is also to continue to transfer knowledge on parliamentary oversight and introduce international anti-corruption best practises.
The Speaker of Parliament also mentioned that in the past years, the Office of the Auditor General has been reporting directly to Parliament, instead of the Prime Minister. Thus, this ensures that this office is accountable to the people and their functions are carried out. This allows for Parliament to make sure that public funds and public policies are used and carried out effectively and wisely.
He also noted that like most small Parliaments in developing countries, we often lack the capacity to perform these roles efficiently.
For this reason, Lord Tu’ivakano pointed out that good governance is an important platform that, as leaders of Tonga, there is hope that Parliament will continue to work tirelessly in cooperation with other branches of government, governance strengthening institutions and donor partners to ensure that the fight against corruption remains a priority.
“This is why we require and always appreciate the assistance of the international community and our donor partners,” said the Hon. Speaker.
In concluding his opening speech, Lord Tu’ivakano is hopeful that participants will learn from the workshop to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability in government.
“I am sure that those who are not in Government will learn from this briefing and would help them to play an effective role in bringing the Government to account by promoting integrity, transparency and good governance. I know too, that those Members of Parliament will take all the information from this briefing to help them as they steer the country forward in the next four years,” according to the Hon. Speaker.
The parliamentary oversight workshop is conducted by resource personnel from UNODC and UNDP, Ms Annika Wythes and UNODC’s Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor – Mr. Isikeli Valemei, who led today’s discussion. As a peer-learning Parliamentarian organisation, John Hyde, Chair of GOPAC Oceania and GOPAC International Board Member, will coordinate tomorrow’s training in partnership with the Cook Islands and Kiribati Anti-Corruption champions and the Secretariat.
Tonga has yet to sign onto the UNCAC, and the two day deliberation under the UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (UN-PRAC) project is working with Tongan parliamentarians to strengthen their understanding of UNCAC and parliamentary oversight role.
The UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Project is a four year joint initiative of UNDP and UNODC, with funding from the Australian Government.