The Speaker of Parliament Lord Fakafanua told the gathering that the theme of the debate is related to two major challenges facing Tonga highlighted in the King’s message during the opening of Parliament for both Members of Parliament and Government to address.

In delivering the welcoming remarks, Chief Clerk of Parliament Gloria Pole’o said the Speaker’s Debate is a platform provided to seek the voices of the people and to generate public discussion and for people to voice their opinions on the issue.

Experts were invited to participate in the Speaker’s debate including the Deputy Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea, the Prison Chaplain of Hu’atolitoli Correctional Facility Rev. Semisi Kava, Mele Prescott from the Salvation Army Drug Addiction Program and Dr. Mapa Puloka the Head of the Psychiatric Ward of Vaiola Hospital. Two MPs including Hon. Mateni Tapueluelu (Tongatapu 4 MP) who debated against the topic while Vava’u 14 new MP Hon. Dr. Mo’ale ‘Otunuku provided information in supporting of the debate topic.

The four experts spoke for five minutes on the topic from each of their area of experts while the two Member of Parliament debated on the topic. Hon. Mateni Tapueluelu argued against the topic and Hon. Dr. Mo’ale ‘Otunuku supported the idea.

The Deputy Police Commissioner stressed that the Ministry of Police can support both initiatives whether it is life imprisonment and death penalty. However, it reassured its commitment to continue its nationwide effort to eliminate the widespread use of illicit drugs.

Parliament in 2021 amended the Drugs Act and fines are now up to TOP$1 million and life imprisonment for convicted drugs offenders found guilty in possession of more than 5-kilogram class A illicit substance which includes cocaine and methamphetamine. Hence, he informed the listeners and the invited guests that police authorities understands that Court’s ruling on drug offences is for deterrence purposes.

Mele Prescott the officer in charge of the Drug Addiction program of the Salvation proposes for a rehabilitation centre that is much needed in Tonga to accommodate the need to rehabilitate addicted drug users. Prescott shared that with a rehabilitation centre in place, it would be an ideal solution to help bring positive change in a patient’s life.

Prescott also pointed out that death penalty is not the best solution to deal with the drugs problem. However, she maintained that there is lack of better treatment option available to help heal patients. Part of the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Program is taking addicted users to the bush so they learn how to grow ahi, watermelon, and other plants to show them drugs is not their only means of providing for themselves, but they can do farming, fishing, and other jobs for a living,”

Psychiatrist expert and Officer in charge of Psychiatric Ward Dr. Mapa Puloka said in 1990 the monthly admission was due to consumption of Jimson weed and mushroom, sniffing of inhalants such as glue, benzene, kerosene, and Morten. He said the monthly admission now is 40 percent now due to the consumption of methamphetamine.

Dr. Mapa also recommended that capital punishment can be incorporated into the existing law as a deterrent factor because it is too costly (300 percent) to provide care and medical treatment for the admission patients.

Reverend Semisi Kava maintained while he shared the same belief with the Church Leaders’ Desk that bible does not condones the death penalty, he as a Prison Chaplain of Hu’atolitoli Correctional Facility believed the fight against drugs can be eliminated should there is full commitment from relevant government agencies in the criminal justice system which involves police, prosecutor, Customs, and the Judiciary. He said honesty is the best policy which can help in the fight against the increasing challenges in related to illicit drugs crimes.

Invited guests which included officials from the Tonga National University, University of the South Pacific, Tupou Tertiary Institute, district and town officers, media, women’s group, business community and representatives from the civil society were given the opportunity to voice their opinion on the debated topic and a chance to ask questions to the debaters.

More than 20 guests shared their views against the debated topic simply because murder is not permitted in the bible. Some advocated that this is a modern era, and it is a barbaric thing to engage in a situation of an “eye for an eye” or “tooth for a tooth.” There was also a call for the Tongan authorities to engage more loving in their hearts in their decision making. A proposition was also made for a wider national consultation with relevant key stakeholders as counter measures to drugs crimes and problems.

When it was put to a vote, 38 guests voted that capital punishment is not the best solution in the fight against drugs in Tonga. Eight guests voted in favour of the debated theme “CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AS DETERRENT FOR ILLICIT DRUGS OFFENSES?”

The next Speaker’s Debate will be held in August but on the socio-economic challenges of regional labour scheme in Australia and New Zealand.

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