By ‘Aulola ‘Are

On 12-14thNovember, the Legislative Assembly of Tonga opened its Parliament doors to 27 young Tongan leaders who had applied for, and successfully secured, a seat for Tonga Youth Parliament (TYP). This was the first TYP in a decade and was possible due to the earnest investment of the Speaker of the House, Lord Fakafanua, his good office and their development partners and sponsors.

The theme was ‘Our Parliament: Bringing Parliament to You.’ I was very fortunate to be part of TYP 2018 representing both my constituency, Tongatapu 1, and as, Prime Minister. Prior to these pertinent three days of debate and deliberation, we were privileged enough to be trained for one week on House Rules, the process for Bills and Motions, as well as discourse on the various issues on which we were to speak. The outcome was the achievement of its purpose; young leaders were able to share a national platform of decision-making, express agency, think counterintuitively and cooperate with reflexivity amongst each other. An annual event of this nature, would certainly work to improve young leadership and allow continuous engagement with youth on matters of political interest.

In all honesty, the intimidation of Fale Alea stems from of a lack of connection to our political leaders. This was evident on our first day as we extended the period of networking with a few members of Parliament (MPs), including the Lord Speaker. We rotated in groups of at least five, asking as many questions as we could. The MPs indulged our curiosity and spoke to us on a spectrum of related issues, ones that either hinder or encourage the proceedings of actual Parliament. Whatever it was that we discussed, the core of our discussions centred on activism and learning to pursue the essence of leadership. Leadership skills are not inherited by default, they are values that one gains through learning and experience; and they are cultivated for the purpose of creating greater good in the work that one does. Over the course of our one-week training, we were exposed to these examples and it helped us shape the method and meaning of TYP.

I found meaning in sharing voices with young leaders that I did not know until TYP. Through our knowledge-sharing, we came to understand that intelligence does not a leader make. To base national leadership on this alone would negate our traditional knowledge, life lessons, and cultural significance that all contribute to forming the corner posts of Fale Alea. Embracing our diversity in education, background, religious views and identity, we saw our successful TYP agenda discussed to a tee. I believe that this initiative helped us to be open to differing views as well as the capacity to address them in a constructive manner. Obviously, this will not always be the case but TYP encourages us as young leaders of today to use this method of cooperative leadership so that we carry these tools with us wherever we go; in our homes, constituencies and even one day, in actual Parliament.

In three days, TYP deliberated on a bill to ban single-use plastics. Due to time constraints, these ‘Bills’ were created with time limits to discuss the core of the problem. The House also debated motions to improve public facilities and government services for disabled persons. As young people, we were asked to discuss the realities of a government initiative to have a certain percentage (or quota) of government employment specifically for youth. On the second day, we discussed the possibility of an amendment to the Illicit Drugs Control Act to increase the penalty for Class A drugs felonies, from no more than 30 years to ‘life imprisonment’. There was a motion to discuss cyberbullying and whether the government can work on controlling social media. We also discussed a consequential amendment to the Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 and we approved reports from Standing Committees regarding teenage pregnancy and child abuse.

I personally believe that in debating these issues, one can argue one’s stance according to one’s values. The purpose of Parliament is to effect change in a manner that is sustainable and inclusive. Perhaps, that is the development of national leadership here in Tonga, because sustainability and inclusion are words that we, as young leaders of Tonga, live and swear by.

We are thinking constantly about the future and how best to create solutions that are sustainable. We aim to use our voice for meaningful purposes hence our keen interest in inclusive programs such as Youth Parliament. The onus is on us as young leaders to work on our leadership which lies in serving others, serving our communities and serving our nation. The real work is only just starting, to paraphrase Lord Fakafanua. As it should. I hope that in the years to come, there will be many like him who will see that investing in Tonga Youth Parliament is also an investment towards a sustainable and inclusive future.

Ko Hotau Fale Alea.

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