Tonga's constitution and the changing state
|Collections||ANU Pacific Institute|
|Title:||Tonga's constitution and the changing state|
|Author(s):||Hills, Rodney C|
|Publisher:||Canberra, ACT : Dept. of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.|
|Series/Report no.:||Regime Change and Maintenance in Asia and the Pacific. Discussion paper series: No. 04|
Tonga is the only South Pacific nation to have remained independent and stable since the mid- l 9th century, but signs of change are emerging. Criticism of government began after reform of the taxation system in 1986, when probing questions were asked about the way in which parliamentarians had paid themselves exorbitant overtime allowances. A leader of the active group of critics, 'Akilisi Pohiva, was elected to parliament in the 1987 general election and subsequently won damages from the government for wrongful atbitrary dismissal from his public service position. A further consequence was that in 1988, amid a public debate about national financial management, he presented the king with a petition requesting impeachment of the minister for Finance. Neither the king nor the government took any further action on the matter. In 1989 there was a walkout of people's representatives from the Legislative Assembly (the parliament). The local press reported that the walkout was widely supported by the people at large. A general election in 1990 demonstrated strong popular support for a small group of reformers who wished to see both a more responsive and accountable government (Hills 1991). To add to the government's difficulties, the Tongan High Court has before it a case, brought by Pohiva, concerning the constitutionality of actions taken by the minister for Police over the sale of Tongan passports to foreigners. The matter had been raised in parliament but questioners could not obtain satisfactory answers from ministers. These incidents received cover both in the regional press and internationally. One result was unfounded rumour of a possible coup in early 1990 and, as the passport issue took new turns, there were street demonstrations in Nuku'alofa in March 1991. As a result of these events, Tonga's government has been subject to increasing public pressure to demonstrate that ministers are accountable to parliament and that elected representatives can play a role in policy development. There is growing concern that the present system of government, dating from the 1875 constitution, cannot cope with the pace of social and political change.
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