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Tonga seeks to strengthen community's role in public funds management


Stakeholders met in Tonga to review the country's Constituency Development Fund during a forum coordinated by the UN Development Programme Vaka Pasifika Project from Aug. 22 to 29. Photo courtesy of UNDP

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


Nuku’alofa, Tonga - Key stakeholders in Tonga recently concluded a weeklong meeting that tackled the challenges and opportunities to enhance a mechanism in which civic groups are involved in managing public funds earmarked for community development.


“Enhancing prudent management of public funds by involving community groups alongside government agencies is crucial for making sure that funds are used wisely for the real needs of our communities. This helps drive fair progress," said Tiofilusi Tiueti, finance minister.


"By combining information from local and regional studies and including everyone interested, both from community groups and the government, we aim for a better way of handling money. This way, we can improve how funds are managed, reduce duplicating efforts, and help communities grow more sustainably," Tiueti added.


Parliamentarians, the minister of finance and Tonga’s auditor general engaged in a series of discussions coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme Vaka Pasifika project, funded by the European Union in partnership with the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, or PIANGO, and the Civil Society Forum of Tonga from Aug. 22 to 29.


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The multi-stakeholder event was aimed at fostering collaborative discussions, sharing insights, and developing innovative strategies to strengthen the effectiveness of CDFs that equitably benefit local communities.


Participants engaged in an exchange of views, looking into challenges, opportunities, and recommendations for enhancing CDF transparency and effectiveness in the Tongan context.


The insights and recommendations from a comprehensive and comparative regional research study on CDFs in Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea were shared with participants, contributing to the enhancement of a broader understanding of CDF dynamics and challenges across the Pacific.


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In Tonga, despite constituency funds having existed in some form for over two decades, specific guidelines about their implementation and delivery were not drafted and passed until 2016.


The legislation saw the management of the system transferred to the Parliament of Tonga. This policy has been revised several times since and now covers grant funding agreements, with the terms and conditions for disbursement, use, and reporting.


Most recently, a grant funding agreement was put in place to create stronger checks and balances, and a more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework.


According to UN Office on Drugs and Crime's November 2022 report,

Tonga has 17 constituency MPs and nine nobles who make up the membership of the Parliament.


Each constituency MP receives TOP 400,000 ($167,000) per year for their constituency, of which TOP 100,000 is dedicated to community policing.


"There is no legislation that defines the parameters of the CDF system in Tonga. There is a set of guidelines that are applied by the Parliament in the management of CDFs and for which MPs are held accountable.45 The Auditor-General in Tonga audits all CDF funds each fiscal year," according to the report.


CDFs bridge the gap between central government revenue and local needs, addressing development challenges and empowering communities. However, issues surrounding transparency, accountability and equitable distribution have often been raised.


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Sefita Tangi, Tonga's auditor general, said the audit of the CDFs for the 17 constituencies has been completed.


"The CDFs’ audit reports provide vital insights that will not only guide us in further enhancing the effectiveness of CDFs but also reinforce the paramount importance of robust oversight and accountability mechanisms within the utilization of CDFs," Tangi said.


During the discussions, potential pilot initiatives were identified that could test innovative approaches to addressing key challenges and gaps in CDF implementation.


These pilot projects were carefully crafted based on stakeholder insights and research findings to provide practical, actionable solutions that can be applied on the ground.


Civil society in Tonga has been playing a vital role in ensuring the effective management of CDFs.


"Civil society is a driving force in advocating for community needs," said Tita Kara from CSFT. "This workshop empowered civil society organizations to actively contribute to molding CDFs that truly address grassroots concerns, thereby empowering communities and fostering equitable development.


“This event serves as a platform for diverse stakeholders to contribute their insights and collectively shape the future of CDFs in Tonga. We are excited about the potential positive impact this initiative can bring to our communities," Kara added.


Rustam Pulatov, team leader for Inclusive Governance and Effective Growth, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, assured that the Vaka Pasifika project's commitment to the strengthening of CDFs in the Tongan context remains steadfast.


“Through enhanced collaboration with members of parliament, the government, Supreme Audit Institutions, civil society organizations, media, and all relevant stakeholders, these joint efforts are dedicated to propelling the progress of public finance management in Tonga,” Pulatov said. (UNDP)



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