On 6 October, the Tonga Legislative Assembly – in partnership with the UNDP Tonga Governance Strengthening Programme (TGSP) launched the Parliament Week under the motto of “Our Parliament”. The week-long event will see this key governance institution literally opening its doors to students and the general public to explain what it is, what it does and how it functions, in a push for greater transparency and accountability to the citizens of Tonga.
The Opening Ceremony saw keynote speeches by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Lord Fakafanua, the Australian High Commissioner, HE Mr Brett Aldam and by UNDP’s TGSP Coordinator, Richard Cox. It was followed by a tour by the invited guests to all four ‘visiting stations’ which have been specifically set up for the week and that explain different aspects of the work of Parliament. Members of Parliament themselves have been brought in to help explain to visitors what their role is as well as to take part in some question and answer sessions.
In his opening address, Lord Fakafanua said, “With Tonga being a democratic Government, we decided it was important for an outreach programme to be put in place in order to educate students and the public on the responsibilities of Parliament and its work policies…under the TGSP’s education and outreach efforts we are reaching out to more schools and communities than ever before.”
The week will see students from several schools being brought in for the morning sessions to the Parliament’s visiting stations and the Parliament Main Hall, while other citizens will have access in the afternoon sessions. There will also be specific activities of an artistic nature taking place in parallel for young voters, aiming to garner interest from the younger members of society on the Parliament and the associated elections and give this demographic group the chance to express itself on what Parliament means for them. Prizes from private sponsors are foreseen for the best contributions. Finally, there will also be radio and television shows that will be broadcast nationally with invited panellists, discussing and debating different aspects of the Parliament’s work.
It is expected that this “Our Parliament” week will significantly raise the profile of the Parliament’s work, sensitise people on the role it has in the governance of the country and stimulate enthusiasm for getting voters to participate in the November 2014 general elections.
Viable democracy and open society depend on effective law-making, oversight and representation — the three chief functions of any parliament. UNDP provides technical assistance to more than 65 parliaments around the world in their efforts to build the capacity of legislators and technical staff; strengthen parliaments’ relationships with the executive and judiciary branches of government; and, enhance the effectiveness of women members of parliament and improve their ability to network and learn from one another.
Since 2013, UNDP has been partnering with the Tonga Parliament (or Legislative Assembly) through the Tonga Governance Strengthening Programme, with funding from the Government of Australia, through its Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Programme, which will continue until the end of 2016, has three main objectives: to support the strengthening of the Legislative Assembly so that it may effectively carry out its oversight, representative and legislative functions; to ensure the greater capacity of civil society organizations, education providers and communities so that they may participate more effectively in law making, policy and oversight processes; to provide support to the Tonga Electoral Commission to ensure the effective conduct of free and fair national and local elections.