Knut Ostby: Address at the Signing Ceremony of the Tonga Governance Programme

Apr 22, 2013

Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu
Honourable Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu’iha’ateiho
Honourable Minister for Finance and National Planning,  Lisiate ‘Aloveita ‘Akolo
His Excellency,  The Australian High Commissioner, Mr. Brett Aldam
Representatives of Non-Government Organization and Private sector,
Chief Executives, Clerk for the Parliament of Tonga, Commissioner for Tonga Electoral Commission, representatives of Civil society forum of Tonga.  
Senior Government Officials, Media agencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be here as we mark the beginning of a new partnership to support democratic governance in the Kingdom of Tonga. It is also an honour for me to be sharing this platform with the Government of Tonga, who are strongly committed to democratic reform, and with AusAID, who is a strong and consistent supporter of the deepening of democracy in the Pacific.  

Governance in the Pacific & Tonga:

Governance in the Pacific is in constant development. For example, in 2011 national elections were held in Tuvalu and Kiribati. Last year national elections were held in PNG, Vanuatu and Palau.  It is a sign of deepening democracy in the region that regular and credible elections are taking place.

UNDP’s has been engaged with parliaments, electoral commissions and civil society in other parts of the Pacific including Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. This programme will benefit from these lessons, and also from experiences in other parts of the world.

On the 25th November 2010 the Kingdom of Tonga held truly historic elections - elections that deepened democracy in the Kingdom. The political reform agenda was proclaimed by His Majesty the late George Tupou V. For the first time in Tongan history, the majority of the Legislative Assembly was elected directly by the people.

However, whilst this historic achievement is rightly celebrated, this does not mean that the democratic process stops here.  For the Legislative Assembly, it is now that the hard work is starting.  The Tonga Legislative Assembly carries with it the strong democratic expectations of voters. It must be a body that not only passes laws, but a legislature that provides effective oversight, and a legislature that properly scrutinises the expenditure of public funds.  The Legislative Assembly is therefore a key player in driving forward sustainable human development in Tonga.

UNDP and Tonga partnership in governance:

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) values very highly the partnership that it has had for a number of with the Government of Tonga and with the Parliament on governance as well as in other areas of work. The programme we are signing today builds on a number of initiatives that have been undertaken over recent years. This includes, for example, advocacy work on the UN Convention Against Corruption, on Freedom of Information and on Peace & Development.

Specifically with the Legislative Assembly, UNDP commissioned a Legislative Needs Assessment that was validated and approved by the Parliament in 2009. This has provided the baseline for the activities that will be implemented under the Parliament support component of the programme we signed today. In addition UNDP:

  • Supported Induction Seminars for MPs in both 2008 and in 2011;
  • Supported a short-term parliamentary advisor in 2011 and is currently funding a Committee Clerk position; and  
  • Undertook outreach work with Parliament in 2012 (civic education in outer islands and in schools).

UNDP & the MDGS:

In addition to our governance work, UNDP and other UN organizations are also supporting Tonga’s effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs. We are confident that the ongoing work on the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) will help focus the work on the most important areas. Last year, as part of efforts towards MDG acceleration, Tonga declared a renewed commitment against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). This is also a key priority area of the UN, and under the leadership of WHO, UNDP as well as other UN organizations are keen to continue to support prevention of NCDs.

Another key area of our work is the environment. As many of you are aware, UNDP is now working together with FAO to assist the Government in preparation of a full size programme ($1.9m) under the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This programme is part of the “Ridge-to-Reef” initiative where a range of environmental activities are integrated in one national programme. In this case we expect to cover areas such as forests, farming, community adaptation to climate change, and water and waste management.

One Governance Programme:

One of the keys to ensuring MDG acceleration is effective and stable governance that leads to sustainable growth and development.  The Programme we are signing today is an integrated programme that brings together three key components – strengthening Parliament, strengthening the Electoral Commission and increasing the capacity of civil society.  

These components should be seen as part of a whole.  In order to deepen democracy there must be a Parliament that is elected through free, fair and credible elections. These elections are run by the Electoral Commission.  In order for Parliament to work transparently and effectively, it must be able to work closely with civil society. It needs to ensure that the views of the people and the views of Civil Society Organizations are taken into consideration when laws are discussed. Civil society should provide civic education to the people so that they fully understand the role of Government, the role of Parliament and the way elections work. Through this, people will know how to exercise their right to influence how the country is governed.

Through an integrated approach, this programme builds synergies amongst the three components of the programme, and also respects the natural linkages and synergies that exist between the three institutions.

Expected Programme Results:   

  • The focus of the programme of support is twofold:
  • First, to strengthen governance institutions in Tonga, and
  • second to increase people’s understanding of their roles and the important role of civil society.
  • Some of the results we expect from the programme include:
  • Strengthened capacity of parliamentarians and parliament staff that will lead to improved law making, representation of the people, and oversight;
  • A strengthened Tonga Electoral Commission in order to manage and oversee transparent, free and fair national and local elections;
  • And finally, Civil Society Organisations that are strengthened so that they can be deliver civic education and advocacy on issues of good governance and human rights.

UNDP believes that these key outcomes will further deepen democracy, and governance as a whole will improve.

In closing, I would like to commend the Government of Tonga for its ongoing commitment to strengthen democratic governance institutions and deepen democracy in the country.

I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to AusAID for financing this programme we are signing today to the tune of $3.2m over the next four years. This adds to a fruitful partnership between AusAID and UNDP for many years across the Pacific, and we look forward to seeing it through with a successful end result four years from now.

In addition, I would also like to thank a number of other organisations who have helped ensure that the idea of a broader and integrated programme of support has now become a reality. These include the Parliament Secretariat, the Elections Office, the Civil Society Forum of Tonga and the Ministry of Education who are committed to implement the programme over the next four years.

I am delighted to have signed this programme today on behalf of UNDP.  I look very much forward to the implementation of this programme over the next four years, together with our partners.

Malo aupito

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