Workshop on Briefings for Members of Parliament on Tonga's 2021-22 Budget

May 5, 2021

Lord Fakafanua, Honourable Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Tonga,

Honourable Members of the Legislative Assembly,

Ms Gloria Pole'o, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga,

Her Excellency Ms Tiffany Babington, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga

Colleagues of the Parliament Secretariat

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mālō e lelei, Good afternoon

It is my honour and privilege to address you at the occasion of this budget briefing on Tonga's 2021 - 22 Budget.

As most of you would know, the budget briefing is taking place as part of UNDP's flagship initiative, the 'Pacific Floating Budget Office'. The floating budget office is a unique and innovative initiative that meets a very crucial budget support role. In most advanced parliaments, an independent budget office equipped with researchers, economists and budget analysts provides parliamentarians with succinct budget analysis that contributes to the quality of budget scrutiny in committees and houses.

However, in the Pacific, Parliaments are unable to have such facility because of their size and lack of financial resources. To bridge this gap, UNDP and Pacific Parliament started the 'Floating Budget Office'. Under the Floating budget office, at the request of a national parliament and under the leadership of the national parliament staff, researchers from across the Pacific Parliaments come together to assist the national Parliament produce quality and independent budget analysis.

Before the pandemic, the activity would involve travel to the requesting countries. However, after the pandemic inflicted travel restrictions last year, the budget office showed further innovation by going virtual. The Tonga Legislative Assembly was the first to undertake that virtual mission.

I am delighted to see that the Tonga Assembly is continuing on this virtual mission to provide this essential support to its MPs, and it has organised yet another virtual mission. It's also encouraging to see that the researchers of the Tonga Legislative Assembly are progressively doing more analysis on their own, which speaks for the initiative's success in bolstering the national capacities.

I am also thrilled to learn that Tonga has demonstrated more innovation by undertaking budget analysis for climate finance, gender equality and Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. The SDGs based analysis is the first of its kind in the Pacific. I congratulate the Lord Speaker, Clerk and the Secretariat staff for undertaking this innovation.

Honourable Members,

As you know the budget approval is one of the most critical functions of any parliament. But it is also one which happens fast whereby members have to ensure the quality of the analysis and discussions while also ensuring that the budget reflects the issues that concern citizens. In this regard, I wish to draw your attention to three areas from the budget briefings that you may want to further explore in the committees or plenary.

Firstly, the briefing on Sustainable Development Goals indicates encouraging development that a budget of TOP$ 618.4 million has been allocated for SDGs, noting an increase of around TOP$ 19.1 million. However, the funding for SDG 16 has been reduced by TOP$ 52 million within the allocated budget (from 239 million in 2019-20 to 187 million in the current budget). SDG 16 targets improvements in public institutions and is considered a key enabler for achieving all the SDGs. Therefore, you may wish to look into bolstering the budget for SDG 16.

Relatedly, comprehensive SDG budgeting requires some further work. First, it will be good to conduct a development finance assessment and develop an integrated national financing framework. Then it will be helpful to do costing for implementing all SDGs. Such an approach will be beneficial in holistically assessing SDG costing in yearly budgets. So, you may wish to take further discussion on these areas with your government.

Secondly, climate finance analysis suggests an allocation of TOP$ 77.55 million for climate-related actions. However, it is a conservative estimate because the climate-related budgeting is dispersed across ministries, hence it is difficult to track properly. This is another area, where I would suggest looking into mainstreaming climate finance across all ministries and policies and developing a climate budget. This is suggested because developing a comprehensive climate budget requires adaptation and mitigation investment and preparatory and mainstreamed investments to be identifiable and collated together. A useful way to do that is to tag climate change-related projects to the budget codes related to their climate change response. The tagging will allow for tracking, which in turn will create ease in national planning and budgeting processes.

Finally, gender-related budgeting is reflected in law, justice, health, education and other sectors. But some areas require your further attention. For example, under the Ministry of Health, community health services and nursing services have registered a substantive decrease. Tongan government has committed to producing gender-responsive budgeting as captured in the National Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Tonga (NWEGET) policy and its Strategic Plan of Action 2019-2025. This will be a worthwhile exercise as in many areas, such as education, the current budget does not provide a way for determining the budget allocated for gender equality initiatives.

Background of our Support

UNDP has provided support to your Parliament for several years through different programmes, most recently through the New Zealand Government funded Pacific Parliamentary Effectiveness Initiative (PPEI) Project.

Our support is focused on key areas such as MPs and staff professional development, the improvement of Committees' legislative and oversight work, and support to parliamentary outreach and citizen engagement roles. Budget analysis through Floating Budget Office is also supported through this project. We have also supported the youth parliament initiative.

Under this project, we have supported the Tonga Legislative assembly in upgrading its ICT infrastructure both following the Cyclone Gita that damaged Parliament's building and most recently after the COVID-19.

All of this support is made possible thanks to New Zealand's generous support, including organising today's workshop. We stand ready to provide further support. So, please do reach out to UNDP's parliament team through your Secretariat.

I would also like to thank UNDP's two other projects and their donors: the Public Finance Management Projects funded by the European Union and Governance For Resilience, funded by the governments of Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and South Korea. They provided additional support to the Floating budget office in producing climate finance and SDGs based analysis.

I am also grateful to the researchers from the Parliaments of Fiji and Australia who joined the Tonga Legislative Assembly virtually to produce the budget analysis.

Finally, I want to express our sincere gratitude to the Tonga Legislative Assembly's leadership, Lord Speaker, Clerk and Secretariat staff for the great initiative and for producing some quality analysis of the budget.

Honourable Members, I wish you well in your interactions on the budget in the coming days, and I look forward to our upcoming collaboration.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Malo.