RAISING awareness on the importance of getting the people’s voices heard as part of a vibrant and inclusive democracy is the purpose of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s (CPA) public outreach program to local schools.

This morning the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr Akbar Khan continues his CPA roadshow to Tonga High School and ‘Apifo’ou College after visiting St Andrew High School yesterday.

These secondary schools warmly welcomed the visitor by hosting special assemblies attending by both teachers and students.

Mr. Khan strongly believes there can be no democracy where the voices of our citizens are not heard.

During these school visits, he reinforced these ideas in efforts to bridging the gap between Parliament and the young people.

The CPA Secretary General spoke to students about the role of the Commonwealth an organisation known to make a difference and making life better for its 53 member countries including Tonga.

He explained to them that democracy is about choosing people to represent their will and best interest in Parliament. Mr. Khan added that democracy works best when the public choose the best to become their leaders and act on their behalf.

Mr. Khan said it is the Parliament’s role to ensure that the voter’s voices and interests are represented in Parliament.

In his speech during the opening ceremony of 2016 POCC conference, Mr. Khan believed engagement with our Commonwealth young people including Tongans underpins the heart of the theme for the 47th Presiding Officers’ and Clerks’ Conference “Navigating together the challenges for modern Parliaments.”

The Secretary General says there can be no democracy where the voices of our citizens are not heard or amplified through a strong and independent Parliament.

Commonwealth Parliaments are male dominated

Young people at ‘Apifo’ou College, Tonga High School and St Andrews were told that many Commonwealth countries including Tonga, parliament is a male dominated sphere. He asserted the young pupils that Parliament can no longer afford to be considered a ‘man’s world. Therefore having both male and female MPs is necessary for God created man equally.

He said one section of society cannot represent the multiple interests of a country in today’s globalised and modern world,” said the CPA Secretary General.

Mr. Khan also highlighted that women make up 50 percent of the world’s population yet continue to be grossly underrepresented in Parliament.

From the 53 member countries, only 12 Commonwealth’s nations have reached the Commonwealth Heads of Government goal of 30 percent representation of women in Parliament.
Therefore according to Mr. Khan, this is a challenge that is so crucial for development here in the Pacific, Tonga included and a challenge that we must face together, as a parliamentary community.

He said a modern parliament is one that addresses the concerns of all sectors of society – from women, to young people, to minorities and other interest groups. A modern Parliament must provide the space and opportunities for all people to participate meaningfully in its work.

CPA enhancing democratic governance

CPA for the past 105 years has been at the forefront in advancing parliamentary democracy across the Commonwealth by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance, and in turn building an informed parliamentary community that is able to deepen the Commonwealth’s commitment and further co-operation among Parliaments and legislatures.

Therefore Khan said that public outreach to build public’s confidence in Parliament is key. It is time for Parliament to open up and to be more transparent.

“As politicians and parliamentarians, you cannot afford to be remote, distanced from the everyday person, at ‘arms-length’. This is the perception that many people hold – that Parliament is not accessible to the people.

According to Mr. Khan, the use of public galleries in parliament, and the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings so the public can see parliament in action is an excellent way of making more legislature more accessible to people.

This is therefore enabling people to see that Members are passionately fighting their causes and debating issues relevant to its constituents – and importantly, that Parliament has nothing to hide.

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