May I formally acknowledge the presence of the Almighty in our midst.
To our distinguished guests who are here at this esteemed regional gathering
Our donor partners – the European Union, UNDP, Pacific Islands Association of Non- Governmental Organizations, Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions And to all our civil society organizations from around the region.
I bring you all warm greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga and it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the final day and closing event for this Regional Public Finance Management Dialogue.
Firstly, congratulations to you all on a successful 2-day dialogue which celebrated the success, lessons learnt and relationships which we have strengthened over the past 3 years on the Strengthening Public Finance Management Project. I understand these discussions have been very positive, vibrant and full of anticipation, setting the tone for the next phase of the project “Effective Oversight of Public Finance in the Pacific: Independence, Safeguards and Trust”.
I am very pleased to report that last week, Civil Society Forum of Tonga successfully hosted and convened Tongaʻs National Dialogue on the Public Finance Project where I was honoured to deliver the Opening Remarks for this crucial event. Over the past 3 years, through the phenomenal assistance and partnership with the UNDP and through the European Union, we have made significant progress. As Tonga has embarked on political and economic reforms since 2010, this project has been timely in guiding our journey on a strengthened path of good governance, transparency and accountability in the oversight of public funds.
My strongest observation and lessons learnt from our participation in this project has been the need to build and maintain strong partnerships and working relations with CSOs, Government, audit institutions and all stakeholders. Here, I reflected on this project as one with strong partnerships on which we encountered many firsts with our partners, thereby setting strong precedents and firm foundations for the future. I will mention a few:
All these firsts are historic achievements for Tonga and for parliament,and made possible through the support of the UNDP. It has not been the smoothest journey and admit that we have been met with some resistance. However, I can proudly say that this project has catalyzed and sealed a strong foundation and space for our partnerships, creating new norms for more effective oversight in the next upcoming project.
In moving forward, I highly encourage this forum to pursue these partnerships consistently, no matter how difficult they may be. I believe that in playing our oversight roles effectively, we will need to be brave enough to open ourselves to our weaknesses and vulnerabilities within our systems and our institutions. No doubt, this will spark public interest and media scrutiny – sometimes in our favour and more often, against. However, in the quest for good governance, transparency and accountability, this is inevitable. As Speaker of Tongaʻs parliament, I fully commit to these principles and to ensure that weak legislative financial scrutiny is avoided at all costs, with a political will to support it. By working together in our partnerships, we can deliver a public finance management system that is accountable to our people, transparent in its performance and inclusive in its decision making.
In conclusion, I hope that Tongaʻs lessons learnt and outcomes will encourage the continuation of our partnerships and activities. I also look forward to the continued support of our donors – it is YOUR support that will strengthen our partnerships. Having said that, I wish to acknowledge all the project’s donor partners and stakeholders - the European Union, PASAI, PIANGO and Tonga’s civil society organizations. I especially wish to highlight our appreciation of UNDP’s support which has been instrumental in Tonga and our parliament’s progress to date. I also wish to thank all our civil society organizations for your incredible work and achievements for our regional and local communities.
I wish you all fruitful and productive discussions.