Tongan Constituency Office Staff Visit Their New Zealand Counterparts
Next week 6 Tongan parliamentary staff, working in constituency offices in Tonga, will visit New Zealand to spend time with their Kiwi counterparts learning about how our constituency offices work to support MPs and the local community.
The concept of having a dedicated constituency office and staff working in each electorate was introduced to the Tongan Legislative Assembly last year and the purpose of this visit is to help ensure that the staff working in the newly established offices are well equipped to support their member of Parliament and the community they represent. Later in the year, New Zealand parliamentary staff will visit Tonga for further knowledge sharing and relationship building.
The idea for the exchange arose during the New Zealand Parliament’s Speaker-led delegation to Tonga and Fiji in 2019. Speaker of the House, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard says, “I’m delighted to see this concept come to fruition as it’s an exciting opportunity for staff from both Parliaments to learn from each other and share ideas about how they can best support the work of MPs in their community. Those working in offices across the country play an incredibly important role in helping MPs fulfil their duties to their constituency and in ensuring everyone has access to their elected representatives.
It’s wonderful to be able to share our knowledge and experience of the constituency office model with our Tongan neighbours, and I look forward to seeing how they develop and adapt the model to meet their own requirements back home in Tonga.”
The staff will spend two days in Auckland, experiencing life in the electorate offices of:
• Denise Lee MP, member for Maungakiekie
• Hon Jenny Salesa, member for Manakau East
• Hon Carmel Sepuloni, member for Kelston
• Hon Aupito William Sio, member for Māngere
They will then travel to Wellington to visit Parliament to undertake workshops and training alongside new Parliamentary Service member support staff.
The exchange is part of a broader four year programme between MFAT and the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives called Tai a Kiwa: Stronger Pacific Parliaments. The goal of this programme is to help governance in the Pacific to become more effective, accountable and inclusive. This exchange, and others like it, are an example of Parliaments working in partnership with one another, to strengthen democratic institutions and values across the region.
There are currently 17 constituencies in Tonga, ten on the island of Tongatapu and seven in the outer islands. In 2019 the Legislative Assembly of Tonga approved for members of Parliament to set up their own constituency offices in their electorates with staff to support them. Previously, one secretary was responsible for supporting all 17 members of Parliament.
The establishment of constituency offices has proven popular with the people of Tonga, particularly those in the outer islands who do not readily have access to their MP while the House is in session.
A further six employees from the Legislative Assembly of Tonga will also be undertaking an exchange with constituency offices in Australia.