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Pacific Parliaments Overcome Physical Barriers To Support Budget Analysis In Tonga

(Nuku’alofa, Tonga) 11 May 2020 – In preparation for the tabling of the 2020-2021 national budget, which will also include the appropriation for the COVID-19 stimulus package, the Legislative Assembly of Tonga is benefitting from the remote support of the “Pacific Floating Budget Office” initiative developed by the United Nations Development Programme.

The “Floating Budget Office” is a network of parliamentary researchers from different national parliaments in the Pacific and beyond, that at the request of Pacific parliaments, come together to conduct research and produce quick analysis of national spending trends and revenue before budgets are being debated and voted.

These analyses are produced for each sector/ministry and are made available to Members of Parliament with the aim of strengthening financial scrutiny, that ultimately, will improve the developmental and transformational impact of the budget on citizens.

Prior to COVID-19, researchers of the Floating Budget initiative would travel across the Pacific to provide face-to-face support to each of the parliaments. Under the current pandemic context, the team of researchers from the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji and New Zealand, will now, for the first time, offer support virtually, with support from UNDP.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Lord Fakafanua expressed his gratitude for the support provided by the Floating Budget Initiative team.

“Parliamentary scrutiny of public spending is a vital mechanism for holding governments and other providers of public services to account for the spending of taxpayers’ money,” said Lord Fakafanua.

“While the process of the budget debate itself is crucial, the preparation of the MPs in the lead up to the debates is just as important, which is where resources such as the budget sector briefs, produced by the floating budget office, will prove useful, so we are very grateful to the team of researchers.”

Lord Fakafanua added, “COVID-19 has brought unique challenges in the continuity of the Legislative Assembly but we are determined to ensure we provide as much or the same level of support and as best as we can to our Members.”

The researchers have been paired with local parliament researchers and assigned to different ministries to draft quick budget analysis snapshots and help with reviewing budget briefings to MPs.

The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Portfolio Lead - Parliamentary Development, Support to Women Political Participation and Political Specialist, stressed that while COVID-19 may have created unique challenges for the continuity of parliamentary functions, mitigating and adaptation measures can be applied to overcome barriers and ensure as much normality as possible in the work of parliaments.

“UNDP is working very closely with the Legislative Assembly of Tonga as well as other parliaments in the region to ensure that they continue their legislative, scrutiny and oversight functions through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT),” said Giuliani.

“Pacific parliaments recently came together and contributed to the creation of the Floating Budget Office, providing independent analyses on national budgets. The initiative has been acclaimed as an innovative approach responding to specific challenges that legislatures are facing in small islands States. The way Pacific parliaments are able to overcome the negative impact of COVID-19 through ICT solutions is yet another testimony of how resilient institutions in Pacific countries are”.

The activity is part of a programme of support by the Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative Phase 2 (PPEI-II) implemented by the UNDP Pacific Office with funding support from the Government of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

The United Nations in the Pacific continues to support countries to set up a multisectoral whole-of-society approach to face the challenges beyond the health sector, to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable populations and economies.

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