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Tongan deputy PM warns that $35m budget support withheld
10:10 pm GMT+12, 18/02/2019, Tonga

Budget support amounting to $35 million (US$16 million) input from aid donors will not be released to the Tongan Government if they do not amend the Foreign Investment Act before the end of February, Tonga's parliament was told today.
 
In a letter, Acting Prime Minister, the Deputy PM, Semisi Sika named the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the European Union and the Australian Government as the donors of $35 million that would not be released for the 2018-19 National Budget, unless the Foreign Investment Act is amended.
 
After the Acting PM's letter was read by the Clerk of the House, it stirred up vociferous exchanges in the Tongan Parliament today.
 
A Bill to amend Tonga’s Foreign Investment Act was one of ten Bills that was tabled into Parliament this morning, when the Tongan Parliament opened its 2019 session.
 
Initially, the Minister of Finance, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa told members of the urgency for the House to pass a Bill to Amend the Foreign Investment Act, so that a $35 million budget Support for the 2018-2019 National Budget could be released. He did not spell out the details of the amendments.
 
However, the urgency of the request from the Minister of Finance did not make any impact in the House because there was a concern highlighted by Lord Fusitu’a that among the 10 Bills was a push by Cabinet to take away the authority of the King. He stressed that they had only five days to study the 10 Bills, and he was pushing for the House to give them more time to study the Bills.
 
However, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Legislations, Samiu Vaipulu was in favour for the House to address the need for the $35 million Budget Support to be released.
 
He also expressed his dismay over the demands by these aid donors for Tonga to amend its Foreign Investment Act, and called on government to go easy with the importation of motor vehicles.
 
Later the Clerk of the House read a letter from the Acting Prime Mininster, Semisi Sika, pointing out that $35 million budget support from the World Bank, ADB, the European Union and the Australian government would not be released to the Tongan Government if they do not amend the Foreign Investment Act before the end of February.
 
The debate in the House then became more focused on the 2018 Bill to amend the Foreign Investment Act. There was concern over the right of Tongans who also have foreign nationalities, whether they are classified as Tongans or not.
 
The debate ended with the issue remaining unclear, after Tu’i Uata, the Minister for Trade and Economic Development, responded that if a Tongan with multiple nationality would like to invest in Tonga, he could be whatever he wants, “if he wants to be an Aussie, he is an Aussie.” .

SOURCE: TONGA WIRES/PACNEWS


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