Friday 1 September 2023

Lord Fakafanua

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga

I wish to acknowledge the Presence of God in our midst, Your Majesties King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau’u
Your Royal Highness Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala and Crown Princess Sinaitakala
Prime Minister, Hon Hu’akavameiliku & Ministers of Cabinet
Nobles of the Realm and Members of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the Clergy
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Your Majesties, as we break ground today, we do so with immense gratitude for your great leadership, inspiration, and unwavering dedication to our island nation. We pray that the project developments built on this royal estate will stand as a tribute to your reign. As such, The Legislative Assembly is indeed very grateful to be part of the Lakalakaimonu development marked this morning by the groundbreaking ceremony we just completed.

Your Majesties, our history of legislation and parliament started in the 1800s. If you allow me, I will walk through the brief history of legislation in Tonga. As you are aware, the first law of Tonga was the ‘Vava’u Code’, promulgated by your great, great, great, great, great grandfather King George Tupou I at Pouono on 20 November 1839. Particularly noteworthy, the law only applied to Vava’u and Ha’apai. It may also please Your Majesty, that this fact conclusively proves that Vava’u and Ha’apai has always been the source of our modern civilization. The rest of Tonga succumbs to Ha’apai’s civilization when it is unified under King George Tupou I’s rule in 1845. In this period there was no parliament nor legislative assembly. There was only an advisory body called “Fakataha” or Consultative Council in the 1850s composed of chiefs and His Majesty King Tupou I. In 1862 the Emancipation edict abolishes slavery and commoner obligations to the chiefs and feudalism are no more.

The creation of our parliamentary entity in 1875 with the establishment of the constitution, bore 20 nobles, 20 peoples representatives, a Speaker and Ministers appointed by the King. Located in the seat of power of the Kingdom in Nuku’alofa, the simple, single room, wooden house that hosted the first parliament alternated use with the courts. Today, the Legislative Assembly has evolved through various changes culminating in 2010 with the largest political and structural reforms; re-shaping our composition into what it is today.

In truth the Legislative Assembly had already outgrown the old Fale Alea and it is very befitting that our new shell matches our democratic ambitions 148 years later. Parliament today is a far cry from its humble beginnings in 1875. E-parliament systems now streamline our work and ensures greater efficiency in the administration of parliament, hansard is processed and efficiently published online for free, members have access to wifi, the public have access to the official parliamentary website, social media and live broadcasting connects us with the population, constituency funds and offices support voters in 26 districts, we now have a legal division capable of drafting legislation and vetting government bills, 10 standing committees that review executive functions, statutory bodies like the Ombudsman and Auditor General hold the executive accountable, and report to parliament, our procedures, conventions and speakers precedents are maturing and this is only a small sample of the new functions that now make up our Fale Alea.

Your Majesties, may I mark the significant milestones that have influenced everything leading up to this momentous day. Whilst plans were made almost immediately to rebuild on Vuna Road in 2018, the government of the day abruptly changed in 2019 upon the untimely passing of Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva. A new government lead by Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa took over, whose government was still committed to the rebuilding of parliament. However, we were still far from breaking ground because Tonga locked down its borders in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Then in November 2021 another government lead by Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku took over after general elections and was still committed to rebuilding parliament. Unfortunately, soon after on 15 January 2022 the Hunga-Tonga Hunga- Ha’apai volcanic eruption and tsunami devastated parts of Tongatapu, Eua and Ha’apai. Although the volcano’s effects in Tonga are still felt today and we are still recovering from the unprecedented natural disaster, by implication rebuilding parliament in the red zone on Vuna road was strongly reconsidered. Afterall, the Legislative Assembly of Tonga must lead by example in ensuring our public institutions and buildings are both resilient and safe in the face of ever growing, more frequent and stronger external shocks. Meanwhile COVID-19 finally arrives in February 2022 and borders soon open on 1 August 2022 but tragically for parliament, this time last year we still didn’t know where we will rebuild. However, may it please Your Majesty, 3 successive governments later, 3 natural disasters later and 5 ½ years after T.C. Gita, we mark today with Your Majesty’s grace, the beginning of the end for our parliament’s homelessness. And although it'll be another few years before we finally move into our new home of Parliament for the next 80 to 100 years. For that, we are truly grateful to Your Majesty for permitting us to build on your Royal Estate.

We are privileged to stand upon this kelekele ‘Eiki. We are reminded of the wisdom of Tupou I in uniting the people and again today we are united on your royal estate. I deeply acknowledge and most sincerely thank the governments of the people of New Zealand and Australia for their most generous assistance to rebuild the Legislative Assembly of Tonga here.

The decision to build upon this elevated ground which is more protected from the threats of tsunamis, storm surges and rising sea levels, is a manifestation of our determination to serve, protect and preserve this institution. As Parliamentarians, we envision that this new Parliamentary complex will be a sanctuary for good governance and parliamentary democracy, a testament to our resilience, and a symbol of our unyielding connection to the land and loyalty to the crown. Although our political system is far from perfect building here brings us closer to that unachievable target. This pledge is reflected in the oath we take as representatives of the people and the nobles.

Thank you, Your Majesties, for the 6 acres to rebuild Fale Alea. May the foundational principles of representation, good governance, inclusiveness, resilience, parliamentary democracy, and accountability, prosper for many generations to come in our beloved Kingdom of Tonga.


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