A Talanoa session on the Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) got underway for Members of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga this afternoon following the cancellation of the tsunami warning for Tonga.

Jean-RaphaelGiuliani of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) led the Talanoa session aimed at exploring a set of questions on CDFs to feed into a general reflection on how to strengthen the Constituency Development Fund system in the Kingdom.

The discussion today looks at how efficient are the monitoring and reporting systems currently in place, both within the MPs’ offices and within the Office of the Legislative Assembly. It also explores how CDF could benefit from synergies with central government policies, and through which coordination mechanisms.

The discussion was also an opportunity to identify what support or framework can be provided to MPs and their office to ensure strengthened efficiency of the CDFs and better transparency and accountability of their management.

The Speaker of Parliament Lord Fakafanua, MPs as well as the Office of the Clerk and the Auditor General’s Office attended the two- and half-hour meeting where they look at the Assembly’s current internal policies on MP’s Constituency Funds.

They also exchanged information on how effective these internal policies of the Assembly’s in guiding the use of Constituency Development Funds.

MPs also shared their experience on how significant the CDF’s in allowing the grassroots to accessing funds not readily available directly from government. They also shared their perspective on difficulties in identifying projects which are small community projects that would benefit the whole community.

The Constituency Fund was proposed in 2002 and in recent years a budget allocation from Parliament was approved with the intention to fund small money sustainable developments socially, economically as well as infrastructure in each constituency.

It was initiated in 2016 with the intention not for personal use by any person in the village, such as making contributions to their Nobles, or any other similar activities. But there are exceptions in the policy for the purpose of needs in times of emergencies such as fire, cyclone, earthquake and tsunami or local pandemic.

Kelepi Makakaufaki, the Deputy Auditor General of Tonga also presented on the main findings and recommendations from the Auditor General reports on MPs Constituency Funds 2021-23. In this session, participants were considering “How efficient are the monitoring and reporting systems currently in place, both within the MPs’ offices and within the Office of the Legislative Assembly and how can they be improved?

Makakaufaki outlines six key findings as follows:

  • Accounting and record keeping & supporting documents not filed.
  • Difficulties in deciding whether expenses qualify as small sustainable community projects.
  • Assets not accounted for.
  • Handing over between old council and new committee not being conducted properly.
  • Progress report and financial report not prepared and submitted to the Parliament’s Office through their MPs.
  • Spending exceeded the budget in some constituency offices.

The Deputy Auditor General also provides four key recommendations for the MPs to take into consideration.

  • Village councils ensure proper handover of bank accounts, minutes, and documents to the new committee or to the Constituency Office.
  • Office assistance to ensure all supporting documents are properly filed and kept in the constituency office.
  • MPs and constituency officers work together to ensure acquittal and progress reports are prepared and reviewed for all CF received from the Ministry of Finance and filed for future reference and audit purposes, AND
  • Record such as asset register to be maintained in constituency office and update for all its assets purchased from CDF.

Meanwhile, Vava’u 14 MP, Dr. Mo’ale ‘Otunuku finds the talanoa session fruitful and constructive as he learnt a lot from the exchanges of information given that he is a new MP who was recently elected to Parliament.

Dr. ‘Uhilamoelangi Fasi of Tongatapu 2 constituency also found the program beneficial as he is always keen to learn more and willing to make room for improvement.

Up to TOP$350,000.00 are budget allocation for Constituency Development Fund from Parliament for the MPs and Nobles.

The one day talanoa session was co funded by the Legislative Assembly and UNDP and a final session will be conducted on Friday.

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