Today, on behalf of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, I am honored to warmly welcome you all, particularly our friends from the United Nations and GOPAC. (Global Organization of Parliamentarian against Corruption)
I believe this subject briefing and workshop was also held for members of Parliament in the other Pacific Nations. The notion here is to create a common understanding of anti-corruption and the economic, social and political impacts, not only for other Pacific Parliamentarians but for Tonga’s own parliamentarians to be conscious in preventing corruption.
I also understand that from the outcome of this workshop we Parliamentarians must maintain the sustainability in anti-corruption efforts, thus advocating for Tonga to join other Pacific Parliaments in signing on to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and also establish a GOPAC Tonga Chapter.
This subject briefing to Members of our Parliament could not have come at a more ideal time. As you may be aware, our most recent General Elections were held in November, 2014. The end result was that the composition of the Legislative Assembly is now made of mostly new Members. A new Government was also appointed. As Speaker of Parliament, I am very pleased to work with this Legislative Assembly for the duration of this parliamentary term.
Whilst most of the MPs are newly elected representatives, corruption is not entirely a new concept. Since the beginning of time, corruption has been there. It exists in every country- to varying degrees but it is fundamentally, the same evil. Corruption diverts public funds that would otherwise have been used for public services such as education and the building of hospitals. It undermines the rule of law. It encourages serious organized crimes such as drug trafficking and money laundering. At the end of the day, it weakens and erodes our people’s trust in leaders of the country.
In 2011, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranked Tonga 95th out of 182 countries in the world on the corruption scale. We had a score of 3.1 on a scale of 10. In the Asia Pacific Region, Tonga ranked 17th out of 35. I hope that by the end of this two-day briefing, parliamentarians will appreciate the need to move Tonga up the scale.
As lawmakers, we must recognize the importance of combatting corruption. Our support towards the enactment of good governance legislation aimed at fighting corruption is a priority as such would be instrumental in stamping out corrupt practices and upholding the rule of law that should underpin our democratic society.
Parliaments have mostly been known to combat corruption through 3 methods. Firstly, they are empowered to make laws that ensure accountability, transparency and good governance. Secondly, they play an oversight role especially through the establishment of Parliamentary Committees that scrutinize use of public funds and performance of public roles. Lastly, Parliamentarians engage with their electorates to create awareness of corruption and to promote civic education- where they are also encouraged by the people to abide by high standards of morality and to hold their offices with integrity.
It is also notable to say that the Office of the Auditor General over the past few years has been reporting to Parliament directly, instead of to the prime minister. This ensures that this office is accountable to the People and their functions are carried out. This allows for Parliament to make sure that public fund and public policies are used and carried out effectively and wisely.
However, like most small Parliaments in developing countries, we often lack the capacity to perform these roles efficiently. This is why we require and always appreciate the assistance of the international community and our donor partners.
Good Governance is an important platform that we as leaders of this country stand on and I hope that Parliament will continue to work tirelessly in cooperation with the other branches of government, governance strengthening institutions and donor partners to ensure that the fight against corruption remains a priority.
Today I warmly welcome our friends from the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime and our colleagues from the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. They are here to help create awareness amongst us of our roles in the fight against corruption.
We look forward to listening to your thoughts and experiences on mechanisms that you have created to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability in government. I am sure that those who are not in Government will learn from this briefing and would help them to play an effective role in bringing Government to account by promoting integrity, transparency and good governance. I know too that those Members in Parliament will take all the information from this briefing to help them as they steer the country forward in the next four years.
I think that the most popular perception of corruption is the use of public office for personal gain. Sadly, those of us in positions of power and influence are THE most vulnerable to corruption. Therefore, this briefing should EQUIP us. It should make us more AWARE. It should make us more RESILIENT. It should definitely make us more READY to challenge and combat corruption whenever and wherever it occurs in Tonga.
We are grateful for the assistance of the United Nations and GOPAC as well as all our donor partners. On behalf of the Legislative Assembly, I thank you for your willingness to share your expertise and knowledge on this subject. We hope that this is the start of a long and fruitful working relationship and friendship between the Parliament of Tonga and your Organizations.
I wish you all a very successful two days.
Speaker, Legislative Assembly of Tonga