The Legislative Assembly comprises 17 peoples’ representatives elected by the people and 9 nobles’ representatives elected by the nobles. Its main responsibilities are to make laws (including the annual budget laws) and nominating the Prime Minister from among its members after a general election to head the Executive.
The Prime Minister is responsible for ensuring that the laws passed by the Legislative Assembly are executed effectively and for setting policies that are beneficial to the country and its people.
Given the enormity of the task, the Prime Minister in accordance with the Constitution is authorized to appoint up to 12 Ministers (the majority of which must be elected members of the Legislative Assembly) to form the Executive Government. . The Prime Minister and all the Ministers are referred to collectively as Cabinet. Under the Constitution, the executive authority of the Kingdom is vested in the Cabinet.
Each individual Minister is usually given a specific number of Ministries to oversee and is required to submit an annual report to the Legislative Assembly. This allows the Legislative Assembly to scrutinize and determine whether the Executive is effectively carrying out its duties.
While the Legislative Assembly and the Executive have two distinct and separate functions, their duties overlap since the majority of elected members of Parliament also make up the Cabinet.
This means that a member of Parliament can both be an elected representative and a Minister. In this respect, a Member of Parliament will have a dual role – that being, as a representative of his or her constituency, and a representative of the Executive. Members of Parliament not appointed as Ministers in practice form an informal opposition party (Tonga does not have a political party system) who are tasked with the oversight of the Executive. Oversight in this sense does not necessarily mean that they will oppose the Executive, rather they will participate in many parliamentary processes that are designed to hold the Executive to account.
By contrast, the non-elected members of Parliament that are appointed by the Prime Minister to ministerial posts(as is his right under the Constitution to elect up to 4 such non-elected Ministers), , are not representatives of any constituency.. However their Ministerial appointment, immediately entitle them to Parliament membership. . Although they are directly responsible to the Prime Minister, they are accountable to the Legislative Assembly in the same way that elected representatives are.
Following a general election, the members elected to the Legislative Assembly will nominate one of their elected members to be appointed by the King as Prime Minister.
Once the Prime Minister is appointed, he or she will form the Cabinet by appointing Ministers in accordance with the Constitution to head specific government ministries. Under the Constitution, the executive authority of the Kingdom is vested in the Cabinet.
Because Cabinet members are elected members of Parliament (except the non-elected Ministers), the scope of the executive authority is defined by its obligation to account to Parliament. In this respect, Cabinet is collectively responsible to Parliament. .Consequently, the authorities and responsibilities of the Executive and the Legislative Assembly are complementary.
The new political system emphasizes different ways by which the Legislative Assembly can hold both the Executive and its members to account. The most important mechanisms are the vote of no confidence and impeachment.
The vote of no confidence focuses on holding the Executive as a collective body to account and emphasizes the need for the Cabinet to carry out its responsibilities effectively and efficiently. By contrast, impeachment focuses on holding individual members and Ministers to account for contempt or wrongdoing
Other mechanisms designed to hold the Executive into account include the Legislative Assembly’s committee system (in particular the Public Accounts Committee and Privileges Committee which are respectively tasked with the scrutiny of Government expenses and protecting Parliament privileges from infringement), the mandatory tabling of ministerial annual reports to the Legislative Assembly and ministerial question time.
If the Prime Minister loses the vote of no confidence, Cabinet will automatically be dissolved. Ministers who are elected representatives will lose their ministerial portfolios but remain in the Legislative Assembly as elected representatives. The Constitution provides a specific mechanism by which a new Prime Minister must be elected by the Legislative Assembly within 48 hours of the dissolution of Cabinet as a result of a vote of no confidence. In the event a new Prime Minister is not be elected within 48 hours, the King will dissolve the Legislative Assembly, and a general election must be held within 90 days. The Vote of No Confidence is perhaps the ultimate mechanism of holding the Executive to account to Parliament.
By contrast impeachment is a mechanism designed to address individual wrongdoing or maladministration. As such, the consequences are more severe, in that a member or Minister will lose their position as a member of parliament if the impeachment charges are upheld by the Legislative Assembly. It will not instigate a change of government unless it was the Prime Minister.
In this way, individual Ministers could lose their seats if convicted for wrongdoing in relation to any professional misconduct in relation to the conduct of their duties as Ministers. Ultimately impeachment is one effective mechanism to hold Cabinet Ministers accountable to Parliament.