Nuku’alofa, Tonga - Parliaments throughout the Pacific including Australia and New Zealand with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have rallied behind the Tonga Legislative Assembly to ensure that the March sitting for Parliament goes ahead as planned.
The 100-year old Tonga Legislative Assembly chamber was destroyed when Tropical Cyclone Gita, struck Tonga in February. With the destruction of the building, conferencing facilities and other technical equipment that would facilitate debate amongst the Honourable Members were also destroyed.
The support provided ensures that the next Parliament sitting which begins on Monday 5 March will go ahead as planned and will be held at the Tonga National Cultural Centre.
The Speaker for the Tonga Legislative Assembly, the Hon. Lord Fatafehi Fakafanua, was relieved and thankful for the overwhelming support from his regional counterparts which has reinforced Pacific comradery.
“At this difficult time, our country’s leaders need to meet and discuss the way forward for our country,” said Hon. Lord Fakafanua.
“It is crucially important the Legislative Assembly continues to function and play its central role in being the national forum for discussion, debate, accountability and oversight.”
“The timely and targeted assistance provided by our fellow parliaments and UNDP throughout the region has been fantastic” and he added, “because of their support, we will have the necessary equipment in place to ensure that the Parliament sitting can be recorded and official transcripts kept.”
He added, “I am honoured and overwhelmed at the same time with the responses that we have received to date from parliaments in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and UNDP for their swift and kind assistance in our time of need.”
According to the Tonga Met Office, TC Gita brought winds of more than 200km/h and was the strongest storm to hit the island Kingdom in 60 years.
The UNDP draws on strong experience and expertise in working closely with governments across the region to respond effectively to varied disasters in the region such as the TC Pam in Vanuatu, the April 2016 floods in Solomon Islands, TC Ian in Tonga in Jan 2014 and TC Winston in Feb 2016.
The Country Director, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji and Head of Pacific Regional Programme and Policy, Bakhodir Burkhanov, highlighted how UNDP has mobilized its existing projects to assist in the recovery process.
“UNDP has a number of existing programmes implemented in partnership with both the Government and Parliament of Tonga.”
“Through the New Zealand Government funded, Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) project, UNDP put out a call for assistance and offers poured in from Parliaments throughout the Pacific, the New Zealand House of Representatives, the Parliaments of Queensland and Western Australia.”
“Since then, UNDP has facilitated the delivery to Tonga of essential ICT equipment from the Parliaments of New Zealand, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria,” said Burkhanov.
“Through UNDP support, two technicians from the Fiji Parliament will be in Tonga to provide assistance in operating the conferencing system loaned by the Fiji Parliament to Tonga for the March Parliament sitting.
“This was a regional and south-south cooperation in its truest form, and I would like to sincerely thank our partners in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji for their support.”
He added, “through the project, among other planned activities, we look forward to supporting your office in organizing a youth parliament later this year to challenge negative stereotypes and to break down barriers to political participation of women and young people.”
“Incidentally, today is the International Women’s Day and we all can do more to promote women in elected office and in senior executive positions,” said Burkhanov.
The UNDP’s support to the Tonga Legislative Assembly has been coordinated through the PPEI project and this support contributes to the wider UN Pacific Response to TC Gita through the Pacific Humanitarian Team.
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