Back in 2012 members of the Tongan Government, public service, civil society and media came together in Nuku’alofa today to discuss the Government’s proposal for a national Freedom of Information (FOI) policy. The policy is a key step in the Government’s push towards greater accountability as part of its ongoing democratic reform process.
Back then Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Samiu K Vaipulu, addressed the members at the opening of the National Consultation on Tonga’s FOI policy. He said, “Today, Tonga moves towards enhancing its commitment to participatory democracy. Over the next few days, we expect you to review Tonga’s proposed policy on freedom of information, disseminate it, discuss it in your communities and provide relevant feedback to our Cabinet Steering committee, so that it can be finalized and implemented. The Government is strongly committed to more open government.”
Work on the new FOI began in late 2011. In November 2011, when launching the new Radio Mast for the Tonga Broadcasting Commission, Lord Prime Minister Tu’ivakano highlighted that a Freedom of Information policy would be an important framework in the ongoing development of the information infrastructure of Tonga.
The development of the FOI Policy has been guided by a national Steering Committee, managed by the Ministry of Information and Communication. The Steering Committee has been supported by the Commonwealth Pacific Governance Facility and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
However, five years later it seems as if Tonga is still in the process to make even greater strides in the call for a freedom of information legislation to be put in place and bring greater transparency to government. In fact, Tevita Motulalo, a local journalist, believes that currently information is scarce or come via leaks and rumors.
Motulalo says, if a legislation will be put in place, it will solve this problem. He believes that people who are the tax payers have the right to know what’s happening in government and such a legislation would help bring good governance into Tongan politics, which he says is currently divisive in nature.
And for journalists Motulalo says that freedom of the press gives them the right to report on what’s happening instead of Leaders giving the red light – because that will give corruption a chance to thrive.
Lady ‘Eseta Fusitu’a the Former Minister of Information supported the idea and said that’s why thousands of Pa’anga were spent on establishing the Ministry of Information to coordinate and manage the flow of accurate information to serve public’s interests. Lady Fusitu’a understands from the recent various national dialogues that there are certain measures that impacts the release of information from Government to the public.