Tonga - Parliamentary Clerks from three Pacific Island nations gathered recently to discuss experiences and share lessons learned from working in the Legislative Assemblies of Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.
The three Clerks, Viniana Namosimalua, Clerk of the Fiji Parliament, Gloria Pole’o, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, and Taeasi Sanga former Clerk of the National Parliament of the Solomon Islands, met for two days from 14 to 15 April, 2015 in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. The forum was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“This was an inspiring opportunity for female Parliamentary Clerks to explore how we can best address our challenges as advisors on constitutional, procedural, and privilege issues,” said Ms Sanga, who facilitated the discussion. “It’s certainly a format we should repeat again.”
The discussion included reflections on the role of the Parliamentary Clerk in the context of Pacific cultures, developing staffing structures to effectively serve Parliament, building an effective secretariat in a political arena, the importance of Parliamentary outreach, and assisting Members of Parliament (MPs).
Ms Namosimalua said the discussion was an ideal format for exchanging experiences and developing a shared understanding of the challenges of being a female Legislative Clerk in a traditionally male-dominated environment.
“I found that we were able to more quickly develop a personal and professional rapport with each other that made it much easier to share lessons learned and build our capacities.”
The Legislative Clerk of Tonga also found that the discussion format allowed them to explore personal and professional growth in a frank and open manner.
“Coming together among ourselves was a refreshingly different approach to workshops I’ve attended in the past,” said Ms Pole’o.
“Often what happens in professional meetings is that there is a very strong reliance on process and formalities. And while that approach is definitely useful, we found that by using an open dialogue approach we were more easily able to explore issues of specific relevance to us as female Clerks,” she added.
UNDP’s Parliamentary Specialist, Dyfan Jones said the forum was also an opportunity to discuss the power dynamics within a male dominated legislature and how traditional power structures need to be taken into consideration.
“It’s important for Parliamentarians to participate in activities that strengthen their capacity to undertake parliamentary duties effectively. Networking activities, such as this South-South Clerks meeting, are an effective means for helping parliamentarians better understand and address the challenges they face,” Mr Jones said. “We look forward to exploring similar activities for parliamentarians in the region.”
Coordinator of UNDP's Tonga Governance Strengthening Programme, Douglas Armour also stressed the intrinsic value of South-South dialogues. “This is an approach that really ensures beneficiaries are enabled to examine and develop their own responses to the challenges and opportunities governance poses. The success of this meeting reinforces our intention to hold future activities.”
The meeting came at an opportune time, given that the Parliaments of Tonga and Fiji recently completed elections that saw many new Members of Parliament enter into legislative affairs for the first time. The influx of new members breathes new life into the governance institution, but it also means a greater pressure on Secretariat resources.
“Even though we are quite comfortable with our roles as Parliamentary Clerks, with new MPs and new Speakers and new committee members, comes new relationships and new demands on our skills and resources,” said Ms Namosimalua.
“This discussion confirmed many of the approaches we are now using in our positions as Clerks, but also gave us insights to new ways of ensuring that we continue to keep in mind the priorities and goals of Parliament,” she added.