LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF TONGA
MEETINGS OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
The following clarification is provided for the information of the public due to inquries received by the Office of the Legislative Assembly as to why the Legislative Assembly is not meeting.
At the completion of the Legislative Assembly’s last meeting on 13 January 2022, the House was adjourned until further notice. This means that the Assembly can be called to meet if the need arises.
A written request to the Lord Acting Speaker of the Legislative Assembly was received from four non-Cabinet Members of Parliament on 8 February 2022. They requested that a meeting of the Assembly be called in order to provide them with an opportunity to question the government on two issues they were gravely concerned with, namely the COVID19 pandemic, as well as the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption and tsunami.
The request was not granted, and the Members were advised that in light of national restrictions, it would be most reasonable instead to initiate the discussion at committee-stage, with the Standing Committee for Social Services, and for the Prime Minister and relevant Government Ministers to join the committee’s meeting. The Members were advised by letter on 8 February 2022, and the Standing Committee meeting was held on 10 February 2022. This Standing Committee’s terms of reference encompasses all issues relating to the well-being and livelihood of the people.
The request by the four non-Cabinet Members of Parliament to convene a meeting of the House was not granted due to the following reasons:
1. It is crucial for the Legislative Assembly, being the legislature and the second arm of government, to recognise and abide by the Rule of Law. Clause 51(1) of the Constitution clearly provides that the executive authority of the government is vested in the Cabinet of the day. Cabinet is in turn accountable to Parliament. There is an appropriate time for, and form of, holding the Government to account, as is provided in the law, as well as in procedures of the Assembly.
2. The two issues of concern had always been at the forefront of the Assembly’s priorities, and the House had performed its core constitutional role of enacting laws, in preparation for disaster management, including response to natural disasters and pandemics. Laws were passed as recent as last year to facilitate the vaccination campaign, capacity building of the Ministry of Health, as well as the Appropriation Act that was passed in June 2021, which provided for COVID19 and disaster management. There is also an Emergency Management Act, which outlines how the government and non-government stakeholders shall manage a natural disaster or pandemic. This is part of how Parliament performs its main functions by ensuring that the nation is well prepared prior to the occurrence of a disaster. The same Act provides that Minister responsible for emergencies, shall report to Parliament. This is how a Minister (Executive Government) is accountable to the Legislative Assembly, and that report would be the basis for Parliament to scrutinize and carry out its oversight function of the executive.
3. During the current nationwide lockdown, it is only appropriate for the Legislative Assembly to concentrate on its main Constitutional function, which is to enact laws. A meeting of the Legislature will be convened if there are any bills that requires a sitting of Parliament, or if there are actual items on the agenda to be tabled in Parliament. A meeting of the Legislative Assembly shall not be convened with the intention of mere debating without any specific agenda tabled in accordance with Parliamentary procedures (such as a bill) so that a certain result is achieved through a resolution of the Legislative Assembly, in accordance with that agenda.
4. There are Parliamentary procedures that a Member of the Legislative Assembly may use, and such procedures may be best utilized during the adjournment of the Legislative Assembly. It includes sending the executive notice of questions in a question paper regarding the performance of their duties or any issues relating to the public. There are also Parliamentary Standing Committees. These proper procedures to best ensure the monitoring and gathering of reliable and complete information which can form the basis for an item to be tabled in Parliament, such as a Parliamentary Motion or a report by a Parliamentary Committee, or to question the executive during the discussion of the next Appropriation Bill
5. The House not being convened at present, should not be interpreted to mean that the Legislative Assembly do not consider these two issues as critical. But during these difficult times it is vital to perform duties in accordance with the law and rules enacted for such times as these. This includes Members of Parliament working closely with their constituencies, which they are currently doing through their constituency offices.
Issued by the Chief Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga
24 March 2022
Office of the Legislative Assembly, Nuku’alofa, Tonga
Tonga National Center Phone: (676) 27912
Nuku’alofa, TONGA www.parliament.gov.to