Nuku’alofa, Tonga (29 May 2020) –In a historical move,- the Legislative Assembly of Tonga has for the first time organized a budget briefing for representatives of Tonga’s civil society organizations (CSO). The briefing was held in recognition of the CSOs’ role as key players within Tonga communities, and the importance of their involvement in the national budget process.
The 2020-2021 budget, which also includes the appropriation for the COVID-19 stimulus package, was tabled on Monday 11 May. Ahead of the budget address in the House, parliamentary staff from the Tonga Legislative Assembly’s research and committees units have been working to decipher budget documents and provide a quick analysis of the budget perspectives.
With assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), remote support was provided by the Parliaments of Fiji and New Zealand through the Pacific ‘Floating Budget Office’ to develop budget sector briefs outlining allocation trends and analysis. The briefs also informed members of parliament (MPs) before the debate and vote in the House. The Pacific Floating Budget Office brings researchers from across Pacific parliaments to assist the national parliament in undertaking independent budget analysis. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread and imposed travel restrictions, the researchers provided virtual support to the Tonga Assembly staff.
“The budget briefings are not just important to the members of parliament, as they also contain information that are useful for members of CSOs and citizens”, highlighted the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Lord Fakafanua.
“The budget is impacting the whole country, all sectors and institutions, and all communities across the country. The more information that is made available to citizens and CSOs to allow for their full participation in the process, the more open and transparent our governance systems become,” said Lord Fakafanua.
He added, “Today’s workshop is an opportunity to share with you as representatives of CSOs, the way in which the budget was debated in Parliament, and also information on the content of the budget itself.”
Lord Fakafanua also expressed his gratitude for the assistance of the pool of library and research staff from the Parliaments of Fiji and New Zealand, which were facilitated by partners from UNDP, the European Union (EU) and the Government of New Zealand.
The President of the Tonga CSO Forum, Drew Havea, was pleased with the briefing, and highlighted that the task now would be to transfer the knowledge to people in the communities and how they can be more involved.
“(I found it) very useful to see the process and the thinking behind the budget. The challenge is how to now make this easier for the people to understand and participate in the process,” said Havea.
He added, “(the Briefing was) awesome and very grateful for the opportunity to all come together as CSOs.”
The New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner to the Kingdom of Tonga, Peter Lund said, “New Zealand has supported the Floating Budget Office under the Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative since 2016, now in its second phase. The Floating Budget concept provides the invaluable opportunity for parliamentary staff and researchers from the region to contribute to an independent analysis of national budgets and allow our parliaments to engage and learn from each other. “
He added, “this is Pacific-wide cooperation at its best. This year’s budget comes at a challenging time and today’s briefing for civil society organisations is a welcome initiative.”
The UNDP Pacific Office Parliamentary Development Specialist, Mr Jean-Raphaël Giuliani, emphasised that the principle of transparency, which applies to budget processes, does not only require providing access to information, but also that this information is easily understandable.
“Today’s workshop for CSOs is in line with this adage and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talk about this very issue. SDG 16 makes explicit reference to the aim of making national institutions transparent and accountable.”
“This workshop is intended to provide information and analysis on the annual budget and its process, which will help to enable CSOs to actively participate in budget development,” said Giuliani.
He added, “The analysis in the briefs allows for an in-depth understanding of specific areas which can then inform CSOs’ engagement strategies with Parliament and Government.”
The one day workshop was held on Friday (29 March) at the Tanoa International Hotel and was attended by more than 35 participants from 18 CSOs which include Tupou Research Institute, Women and Children Crisis Centre Tonga, Tonga Public Service Association, Lavame'a Ta'e'iloa Disabled People Association Inc, Tonga National Youth Congress, Tonga Family Health Association, Fo'I Tuluta - Ha'atafu Community, Tonga Nurse Association, Naunau 'o e 'Alamaite Tonga Association Inc, Tonga Community Development Trust, Tonga National Centre for Women and Children, the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Ma'a Fafine mo e Fanau, Kolomotu'a Town Council, the Tonga Red Cross Society amongst others.
The CSO workshop was supported by the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji through the Strengthening Public Finance Management and Governance in the Pacific Project funded by the European Union (EU) and the Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative funded by the Government of New Zealand
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