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Dunne on select committee Tongan report

Friday, 3 February 2006

Dunne on select committee Tongan report

United Future leader and former chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee Peter Dunne has welcomed the New Zealand Government's response to the committee's inquiry into the New Zealand-Tonga relationship, but is concerned that the Tongan Government and monarchy will not pay enough attention to that response.

"This response supports my belief that there are significant issues of concern for Tonga and it shows that the New Zealand Government is willing to provide assistance and support.

"It is crucial, however, that Tonga, and particularly the Tongan Government and monarchy, pay attention to this report and the Government's response, " he said.

"Tonga has had a long-standing relationship with New Zealand through the Tongan community here as well as diplomatic and economic ties. It is important that we foster this relationship and provide whatever assistance we can."

The Government has agreed with nine of the seventeen recommendations of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (FADAT) Select Committee's inquiry held last year, and supports further trade capacity development as well as greater public participation in Tonga's governance.

The inquiry was initiated because of concerns on issues such as democratic reform raised by members of the Tongan and New Zealand communities

The political and economic rule of Tonga by a small elite group coupled with growing unease about the use of overseas aid and the removal of press freedoms were the most frequent concerns raised in the 80 submissions received by the Committee.

The final report of the Committee was released during the recent strikes by the public servants in Tonga. Subsequently there have been aviation problems within Tonga and on January 25 2006, the Tongan Speaker of the House of Parliament was found guilty of bribery of customs officers.

The Government response welcomes the establishment of both a Parliamentary Friendship group between the two nations and a Tongan High Commission.

Interaction between senior officials from the two countries has diminished and only seven Tongan Ministers made official visits to New Zealand between 2000 and 2004.

The Response notes that the Tongan judiciary is the sector where there has been the strongest contact with the New Zealand counterparts.

Tonga's lack of capacity for trade was noted in the report from the inquiry. In the response, the Government supports development of trade capacity, particularly for fresh produce.

A High Temperature Forced Air Facility was set up in the late 1990s to treat export produce against fruitfly. The Committee noted that this facility had been out of operation for two years and recommended that the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry should work with their Tongan counterpart to ensure that the facility could be used in the future.

NZAID, New Zealand's International Aid and Development Agency, and its policies are the focus of six recommendations.

NZAID is already providing support for an Australia-New Zealand joint Customs assistance project for Tonga and through this Tongan customs procedures will be strengthened in order to eliminate corruption.

The New Zealand Government has offered to support gradual change towards a representative democracy for the Kingdom. The final response to the Committee report now lies with Tonga.


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