The global economic downturn continues to depress our economy, primarily through falling remittances leading to reduced income and growth. Although the International Monetary Fund is forecasting that the economy will return to growth in the coming fiscal year, despite the depressed state of some of the larger world economies, Government’s overriding priority is to ensure that the projected recovery is actually realized, through maintaining low inflation and sound public finances, and providing incentives through the tax system.
Government will continue to reform the tax system to make it fairer and simpler, to encourage savings and investment, to reward hard work, and to ensure compliance.
The strength of the financial sector is vital to the future vibrancy of the economy. The considerable increase in non-performing loans over the recent past and the resultant rises in interest rates and difficulties of accessing credit have had negative impacts on the economy. Therefore, legislation will continue to be taken forward to ensure fairer and more secure protection for bank depositors and borrowers, to improve prudential oversight and the resilience of the financial sector, and to improve and expand the insurance sector.
The high cost of imported fuels for transport and electricity generation remains a fundamental obstacle to improving standards of living and business profitability. The Government and its development partners through the Tonga Energy Road Map are addressing this problem by increasing energy efficiency, minimizing the costs of imported fuels, and investing in renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind.
Whilst these activities are being implemented, and should help our economy, nature is dictating that we must look to nuclear energy. Government is following the ongoing development work in the United States on nuclear plants of 30-megawatts, capable of producing electricity at a fraction of that generated from imported fuels. Should this development prove successful, it would be of enormous value in protecting our environment in reducing our use of diesel fuel.
Our main water source is underground which unfortunately has been polluted in recent years, with the increased use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides to boost our agricultural production. Government maintains that nuclear power is our best hope of resolving our water problem as we can produce abundant supplies through desalination very cheaply. The quicker we move in this direction the better.
We are fortunate with the peaceful progress of the political reforms as Parliament have agreed to retain our existing Constitution, with amendments, rather than formulating a new one. This reaffirms the inherent strength and balance of the founding principles upon which our Forefathers had framed the Constitution.
To maintain this balance, the number of Cabinet members will be restricted in such a manner that the Government should never be in a position to outvote, on their own, the Nobles’ and the People’s Representatives combined, but that the latter could outvote the Government. This is the way of ensuring that the Government has to work harder at finding a via media among the opinions of both sides of the House.
Government shall introduce a system of national Identity Cards for everyone 14 years of age and over living in the Kingdom. This will assist in bringing together into one registry, safely stored and maintained, all the personal details which are currently being collected by various government departments.
We wish to further entrench the protection of the Judiciary from Government, Parliament and all political threats through legal safeguards to ensure their independence and their unwavering and impartial commitment to upholding the rule of law. To this end, Government will introduce legislation to repeal the current provisions which grant Parliament the power to impeach Judges. In its place, Government will introduce constitutional provisions to establish the office of the Lord Chancellor, who will head and protect the judiciary.
The integrity and independence of the Judiciary is our treasured gift to our people. It is neither a privilege nor an award for the Judges because of their position, but rather an essential safeguard of individual liberty and for the impartial resolution of disputes, particularly those between the citizen and the Government or other institutions of the State.