Combatting corruption remains the Legislative Assembly of Tonga’s priority.

The Acting Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu’ilakepa made the remarks while opening an Anti-Corruption Refresher Workshop for Tonga Parliamentarians which began yesterday in Nuku’alofa.

He said the corruption is our common enemy, in a different kind of warfare that threatens our peaceful societies, our economy, our communities and our livelihood.  

It robs us of public funds that could have been used for hospitals and schools.  Corruption breeds organized crime.  Corruption can tear away the integrity of the very institutions that are mandated to protect and to serve our people.  

According to Lord Tu’ilakepa corruption can erode the bridge of trust that our people have in us, as their representatives.    

Therefore it is Legislative Assembly’s mission calls for a resilient parliament that works together with our people in building a better quality of life for all.

In achieving this mission, Lord Tu’ilakepa said we aspire to be a parliament that is resilient against corruption.  Parliament must take ownership of this key priority area, by living their lives through integrity and by example.

The Acting Speaker firmly believed legislators must build their institutions, firmly established upon the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability.  By doing so, he is optimistic this will be a blessing to respective families and their children, so they can lead prosperous lives and free from the perils of corruption.

Corruption is a global issue which impacts the delivery of services and undermines good governance and the rule of law. It also challenges development and economic growth, sustains poverty, drives political instability and enables the unsustainable use of natural resources.

These are reasons for the two day Anti-corruption refresher workshop for Tonga parliamentarians a joint United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (UN-PRAC) Project that gets underway in Nuku’alofa.

The training is intended to enable legislators to refresh their knowledge of anti-corruption, good practices and examine next steps in anti-corruption implementation, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 16 and potential adoption of UN Convention AC.

It is also stimulate further consideration of anti-corruption reform in Tonga to be consistent with aims of SDG 16 and UNCAC.

This is part of a UN -PRAC) project aims to help Pacific Island countries Tonga included to eliminate corruption by supporting the ratification of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2003.

Its objective is also to implement UNCAC through strengthening of its anti-corruption policies, laws, measures and institutional frameworks and to enhance regional active participation in the UNCAC processes. This includes the UNCAC Review Mechanism.

In 2012 the UNODC and the UNDP initiated a four year initiative in the region called the UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (UNPRAC).  It was concluded in 2016.

The Australian Government lends its support for a further extension of the programme in 2016 until 2020. Australia has supported this work since 2012, and is currently funding the UN-PRAC Project Phase II.

In his address during the opening ceremony yesterday Australia High Commissioner to Tonga, His Excellency Andrew Ford said Australia through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is also delighted to support the workshop for Tonga parliamentarians through ongoing commitment to the United Nations Pacific Regional Anti- Corruption (UNPRAC) Project.

He said the joint UNDP, UNODC and UN-PRAC) Project aims to support Pacific Island countries (PICs) Tonga included to strengthen their national integrity systems. This is in order to promote ‘clean’ governments and to create an enabling environment for trade, business, investment and sustainable development.

In turn, this will enhance the delivery of equitable and high quality services to all Pacific Islanders including Tonga.

His Excellency Ford said the Australian Government has supported this work since 2012, and is currently supporting the UN-PRAC Project Phase II.

UN-PRAC conducted an introductory workshop on UNCAC for the Legislative Assembly, which led to the establishment of a Tongan Chapter of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians against Corruption (GOPAC) and a Standing Committee on Anti-Corruption.

The Australian High Commissioner to Tonga also noted that Members of that Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Fusitu’a, along with other parliamentarians have taken opportunities to work with UN-PRAC and strengthen their capacity to oversight anti-corruption in the Kingdom.

“We have also witnessed collaboration between this Committee and civil society, which is a great example of collaboration, and I am told is quite unique for the region,” said his Excellency.

UN-PRAC Phase II priority concern is to assist Niue, Samoa and Tonga to ratify UNCAC and support Pacific States parties to actively participate in the UNCAC review process. . He said in the past six months Niue and Samoa along with government, civil society, media, youth and the private sector, has seen Niue and Samoa become signatories to UNCAC.

The diplomat was also hopeful to see Tonga join them soon.

Meanwhile the Hon. Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva also reaffirmed his government’s commitment to eliminate all forms of corruption.

“For my government, combating corruption is at the very top of its agenda. And I am happy to say my government has been given twice the political mandate from the voters to address corruption as a national priority,” said Mr. Pohiva.

He said his government alone cannot act alone in the fight against corruption, but they are fully committed to eliminate all forms of corruption, eliminate poverty, facilitate economic growth and maintain political stability.

Utilise sustainability the limited natural resources we have, deliver efficient and effective services, practice good governance and comply with the rule of law.

The anti-corruption global platform is also included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16). The Governance SDG has several targets focusing on corruption and the UN Member States including Tonga will need to act in this regard.

As of today, 184 countries including the European Union and 13 Pacific Islands have ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Tonga is yet to ratify it.
UN-PRAC Consultant John Hyde, Samoa Assistant Minister and GOPAC Chair, Hon. Taefu Lemi and UN-PRAC Regional Anti-Corruption Specialist Mihaela Stojkoska are facilitating the anti-corruption workshop.

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