THE Whole House Committee has voted in favour to pass the Foreign Investment Bill 2018.
12 MPs voted in support of the Bill and nine opposed it.
This is despite calls from the Tonga Chamber of Commerce Industry (TCCI) for a committee to review the businesses to be reserved and restricted for Tongans only (reserve & restricted list). And also for that Committee including a Government representative and a member from the private sector (TCCI) to finalise the issuance of the business certificate to foreign investors.
In the proposed amendment to Clause 19(1), "an application for the issue of a certificate or for the transfer of a certificate may appeal to the Minister against a determination of the Registrar refusing the application."
TSSI pointed out, with a Committee in place, this would curb favouritism in the process. In the Foreign Investment Bill, the existing appeal process is determined by the Minister and not the Registrar.
The Commerce and Trade Minister welcomed the suggestion from TCCI, however, he said TCCI does not represent the interests of all businesses.
The Minister of Police Hon. Mateni Tapueluelu was against such recommendation. He emphasised that discretion should be left with the Minister.
Both the Hon. Minister of Commerce Dr Tu'i Uata and the MEIDECC Minister Hon. Poasi Tei argued this can be all done in the Regulation.
Last week both 'Eua and Tongatapu 3 People Representatives - Tevita Lavemaau & Siaosi Sovaleni moved the same motion. They argued this would help to curb corruption. While at the same time protect the Government from exposure to corruption. Vava'u 15 MP Samiu Vaipulu also took the floor and supported the initiative.
According to Vaipulu, in the 2006 Regulation, the appealing process involved an arbitrator in place to finalise decisions before a business license certificate is issued. He also asked Parliament to replace Clause 19 in the Bill by Clause 14 in the existing legislation. This is so the Minister automatically appoints an arbitrator to determine the appeal against refusal of the application process.
He also posed a question to the House, "what harm caused if someone from the private sector is involved in the screening process."
"Having a committee will act as a check and balance mechanism to fight against corruption. This will help to reduce corruption for the good of the country," said Vaipulu.
The Opposition argued the proposed amendments to the Bill should take into account the recommendations from TCCI. Lord Fusitu'a and Lord Nuku pointed out these can be accommodated only in the Principal Act, not the Regulation