Despite demands from some Democrats, a raft of new bills has been tabled in Parliament without any public scrutiny.
The bills cover a range of topics from traditional Tongan methods of adoption and kava drinking during election campaigns to proposals to allow judges to control lower courts.
Some Democrat legislators expressed deep concern about a number of the new laws and said they should have been put to the public for feedback
Cabinet has approved a controversial Bill submitted by the King’s Privy Council to change the Constitution of Tonga.
According to the Hansard, the Attorney General submitted a proposal to Cabinet for approval and then tabled a bill in Parliament “to ensure the traditions and laws regarding the traditions of Tonga are not neglected but they are used as what other Pacific countries are currently doing.”
The Bill would not affect the current laws, but could be applied when considering punishment in court, reducing a sentence, guardianship, nobility titles and drinking kava in areas when elections are being held, it said.
Hansard said it was important to note that a Bill would also be submitted to amend the Election Act to exempt having a “light supper” from electoral expenses. The Parliament Standing Law Committee reported to Parliament yesterday that the Bill was reasonable (“uhinga malie.”) and moved for the House to approve it.
The Democrat MP for Ha’apai 12, Mo’ale Finau, who was a member of the Standing Law Committee said he was concerned when he learnt the Bill came from the Privy Council. He said the committee was concerned about whether the Bill would affect other laws and the nation as a whole. Hon. Finau said the Attorney General had denied this would happen.
Hon. Finau told the House the Bill was created to make sure the Courts became fully aware of the kingdom’s traditions and applied them.
Finau said one of the Committee’s concerns was the fact that some could use the law to escape convictions because of any link between the case brought against them with traditions. He said he was satisfied when the Attorney General said this could not happen.
He also expressed concern about the technicality of the Bill and the information used to support it.
He said any attempt to use tradition as a way to argue for lesser penalties would be a long process because every aspect would have to be considered carefully.
Hon. Finau asked the Speaker to approve tabling the Bills in the House without asking for feedback from the public.
Acting Minister of Law Samiu Vaipulu said the technicality Hon. Finau was referring to included traditional adoption methods, which do not need papers or a legal process. Hon. Vaipulu said the Bill would allow the traditional way of adoption, which could be used in court.
Hon. Vaipulu said the purpose of the Bill in relation to the Election Acts was to exempt things like kava. Kava was part of the traditions and it was an integral part of the Tongan way for people to take kava with them when they visited somewhere such as a constituency during an election.
Democrat Member for Tongatapu 9 Penisimani Fifita said he wanted to ask the public for feedback on the Bill.
Hon. Fifita said a foreign expert spoke about corruption at a meeting chaired by former Speaker Lord Tu’ivakanō. Following discussion of Tongan culture there was discussion about limiting the amount being spent by a candidate. The legal limit for expenditure is TP$20,000.
MP Siaosi Pōhiva said culture was alive and changed from time to time and he was concern about how culture would be linked to the Bill. He wanted to hear public for their feedback on the Bills.
The proposed Bill to amend Clause 89 of the Tongan Constitution, with an additional Clause 89A, sparked off some heated debates in Parliament yesterday.
The wording of the proposed amendment has not been released and the proposed change was not made available to the media.
Clause 89 gives judges the power to direct the form of indictments, to control the procedure of the lower courts and to determine the rules of procedure.
Democrat MP for Ha’apai Veivosa Taka did not ask for public feedback.