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Minister Vaea’s introduction to Tonga Guide to Local Government

Lord VaeaMalo e lelei

The Government of Tonga appreciates support for our plans to achieve the long term outcome of more effective participation by Tongan citizens in local governance. Participation involves improving the understanding by citizens of the role that local government does and could play in improving economic development and strengthening community resilience. Local government faces more challenges by the need to rebuild Ha’apai following Cyclone Ian.

Senior officials responsible for local government in the Tongan Ministry for Internal Affairs (MIA) have been working with colleagues and supporters on my proposal for a Tonga Guide to Local Government (TGLG) to advance good governance in local government. The medium term outcome we have been pursuing since the 29 July 2013 steering meeting at Fale Alea, Tonga’s Parliament, chaired by the Speaker, is that Tongan citizens have increased access to information on local government. This citizenship education is as part of a broader program of improved access to information on Parliament and government as a whole. I have told the Director of the Pacific Islands Citizenship Education Capacity Building Programme (PICE), who has been assisting us – with the support of the Commonwealth Foundation – that we would welcome a Tongan local government guide along the lines of that published by him for New Zealand.

Our Minister of Education spoke at our Citizenship Education steering meeting in favour of Tongan values to underpin local citizenship education, as reflected in the class 1-8 syllabus for Tongan culture and society. The Minister of Education’s approach is being developed in the TGLG proposal. It should be followed up by distribution to teachers and students as well as Parliamentarians, officials across the whole of government and other key domestic and foreign audiences. A prime audience is town and district officers to help them deliver services and build community resilience. The MIA’s divisions – Women’s Affairs, Culture and Youth, Employment, Sports, Governors’ Office and District/Town Officers –will be amongst important users of this Guide.

Our proposed three year corporate plan provides initially for web, and then for leaflet, brochure and more comprehensive publication, with the length to be determined depending on availability of funds. Sufficient Tongans access the web through homes, phones and other channels to justify us doing more with e-government to deliver our services.

The financial support we would need for a 10,000 copy x 132 pp composite print edition, would be around $NZ 200,000. Our design team is exploring smaller editions at lower cost, such as one or more 16 pager colour coded editions. We also seek support for project management, editing, research, writing, coordinating, training, quality control, web making, page making, translating, printing, distribution and allied implementation costs.

Our development goals also include possible changes in local government functions and funding. The impact of Cyclone Ian on the island of Ha’apai in January 2014 – with the need to reconstruct some 1000 houses and community facilities – illustrates the need for strong local government to maximise community resilience, as well as planning and coordination with central government agencies.

By helping improve governance at the local level the TGLG would increase the capacity of local government to

–          promote commercial activities and to attract external finance, either public or private. Developing commercial opportunities in tourism and agriculture will be to the particular advantage of women and children, and to reducing the attractions of outwards migration.

–          attract external financial assistance

–          strengthen community resilience through targeted and inclusive community-based disaster risk management

–          develop better housing and community services.

Our draft table of contents includes briefings on how local government works, and how Parliament and central government work together locally.

The needs created by Cyclone Ian show that our cooperation with development partners should include redevelopment and the integration of risk management into local governance. Our corporate, web and print publishing plan also provides for the TGLG to work across government, e.g. with MAFFF, Land ministry, tourism, other specialist and central agencies, and ngos, e.g. media, villages and churches in improving local governance.

We complement the UNDP Tonga Governance Strengthening Project with its April 2014 women’s practice Parliament, the Pacific Risk Resilience Programme and agreements between the Government of Tonga and its development partners.

We also want MPs, officials and interested citizens to work with the media to increase civic participation. During the plan for the TGLG we wish to work with other champions who want to build on foundations for short, medium and long term citizenship education.


Lord Vaea
Minister of Internal Affairs
Government of Tonga

Updated 16 April, 2014

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