12 June, 2012. The Prime Minister of Tonga, Lord Tu'ivakanō's Opening Remarks at the Regional Consultation on Governance and Development in Commonwealth Small Island States
Your Royal Highness, Princess Mele Siu'ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu Fotofili,
The Hon. Kausea Natano, Deputy Prime Minister of Tuvalu,
Rev. Dr Siotame Havea, Principle of the Sia'atoutai Theological College,
The former President of Kiribati - Hon. Ieremia Tabai,
Secretaries to Cabinet, Public Service Commissions and senior public servants from fellow Pacific Small Island States,
Members of the diplomatic core,
Senior officials from the Commonwealth Secretariat and Secretariat for the Pacific Community,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga to host the Commonwealth Small Island States Governance and Development Meeting, and a privilege for me to deliver the opening remarks.
I am pleased that the meeting is held here during the second year since Tonga's historic political reform which ushered in our first democratic government. The reforms were led by His Late Majesty King George Tupou V, whom we continue to mourn.
Those who were last here in 2010 will note that people's representatives in the Legislative Assembly now outnumber noble's representatives by 17 to 9 and theoretically can form government to run this country.
The Legislative Assembly now elects the Prime Minister and Speaker of the House instead of the monarch. Ministers are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister and serve for term of 4 years.
The Judiciary has been bolstered by a Lord Chancellor to oversee it and the importance of the Rule of Law reiterated by an independent Attorney General.
I shall not labour you with the finer details of our political reform aimed at better governance but suffice to say, it is a ‘work in progress'. There are issues we were prepared for and some we were not. In some instances we find ourselves in unchartered waters - all of which makes it very exciting times.
In the last year and a half this government has pursued several initiatives. The foremost has been trying to get the economy back on track under the Tonga Strategic Development Framework. To achieve this we have undertaken the structural reform of government ministries. By 1 of July 2012 we will have 14 ministries to compliment the 12 ministers. Several governments have tried and failed to reform government ministries and I am very confident we will succeed.
Structural reform of government is an ongoing process that takes time. The real challenge is simply not changing the number of ministries, for that would be pouring old wine into new bottles, but the change in mindset by public servants to truly serve the public, to be more responsive and efficient in the way it does business.
This government is fully committed to this process and I am pleased that this meeting contributes to it. A professional, independent and a political public service is fundamental to the development of any country. Elected governments may come and go but it is the public service that remains constant, guided by the laws and policies passed by politicians and formulated and implemented by governments respectively.
The reality in Pacific small island states is that the public service is the largest employer. To balance this, this government has made a conscious effort, indeed reflected in this year's budget to promote the private sector not only in the traditional primary and tourism sectors but by looking for new opportunities in energy, communications and infrastructure.
In 2008 the Commonwealth Secretariat assisted us in developing a National ICT Policy and Strategic Plan. A direct result of this is the submarine fibre optic cable that we will have access to this time next year. Apart from the technical and commercial advantages it will further facilitate the flow and exchange of information.
Another important outcome is the Freedom of Information Policy that will be implemented shortly. This will contribute to this government's efforts to be as transparent and accountable as possible.
The Tonga Strategic Development Framework is our 4 year strategic plan. One of the 8 outcome objectives is our desire to have better governance by adopting the principles of good governance, accountability, transparency, anti-corruption and the Rule of Law.
There are also other governance issues that this government has implemented thus far, such as a Cabinet Manual that to guide the work of Cabinet, and freely available to the public, the release of Cabinet Decisions policy, the approval that an Anti-Corruption Commissioner be appointed and only last week, Cabinet approved a Legal Aid Bill.
I am pleased that traditional governance has taken a central place in this week's programme. I am delighted that HRH Princess Mele Siu'ilikutapu gracefully accepted to speak on this subject from a Tongan traditional governance perspective. I am also pleased to see that the resource team and presenters are all very eminent and experienced regional persons. Development partners need to utilize our regional experts where previously, outsiders have failed to make a sustainable difference.
I am aware that the Commonwealth brought together Secretaries to Cabinet and Public Service CEOs in 2009 and again in 2011. I acknowledge the Commonwealth Secretariat for starting dialogues on this broad issue of Good Governance in the region including the commitment to provide support through the Governance Facility based in Honiara, a welcome CEO induction programme for Tonga on Good Governance and Effective public service management in 2009, and a series of strategic consultations at Cabinet Secretary and CEO level over the last 5 years.
The outcome of these meetings clearly identified the need to strengthen the interface between elected Ministers and Chief Executive Officers and their roles in the whole of government machinery.
Mindful of these meetings it is now time to see real concrete outcomes and I hope that this conference will guide the Commonwealth strategy and help to clearly articulate appropriate and practical programmes of assistance for the region in this critical area of development in our region.
In Small Islands States, our only asset and sustainable resource is our people. Governments invest in the people and capacity building remains key and fundamental to small island states development. Political and public sector governance frameworks will continue to evolve and mature over time and we need to empower people and leaders to deliver political stability, economic growth and development for our island governments and region.
Although your stay with us is short I hope you have a chance to sample a little of what our island Kingdom has to offer. And when you return I wish you safe travels.
It is my pleasure and honour to declare the Regional Preparatory Consultation on Governance and Development in Commonwealth Small Island States of the Pacific, open.
Thank you very much.
Issued by the: Ministry of Information and Communications, Nuku'alofa, 2012.
Address: MIC, 1st Floor, O.G. Sanft Building, Taufa'ahau Road, P.O. Box 1380, Nuku'alofa, KINGDOM OF TONGA.