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What is public consultation?

Members of the private sector in Neiafu, Vava'u during a public consultation on the Marine Spatial Planning in October 2018. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

OPINION

By ALFRED TUIKORO

Utah, USA – March 13, 2019: 2pm (Nuku’alofa Times) – What is public consultation?

Wikipedia describes public consultation as this:

Public consultation, or simply consultation, is a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency[1] and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies. It usually involves notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on), consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation).[1] A frequently used tool for understanding different levels of community participation in consultation is known as Arnstein’s ladder.

The process is typical of Commonwealth countries such as the United KingdomCanada,[2] New Zealand or Australia,[citation needed]though most democratic countries have similar systems. In the United States, for example, this process is called “public notice and comment” (see Rulemaking). Some organisations such as the OECD also use such processes.[1] In Canada, the word “consultation” has a special meaning among some First Nations Groups: “it is the duty of the Crown and third parties to consult with First Nations who have asserted, but not proved, aboriginal rights or title.”[3]

There is great variation of public consultations. In some countries there is a list of all consultations, or consultations are mentioned in normal news feed. Depending on the country there can be national or regional public consultations.

Ineffective consultations are considered to be cosmetic consultations that were done due to obligation or show and not true participatory decision making.”

Now – we can look at it in many ways and have different definitions.

Yes public consultation can be done in many different formats and processes.

BUT the important things to remember are:

  1. process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought and that it must be publicised so that members of the public know what the consultation is about and when it does happen it must be a two-way exchange of information, with participation from interested groups of society.
  2. it must not be a show and not true participatory decision making – in other words it must not be a show – something that is being done for the sake of getting it done.

Yesterday’s walkout of Parliament by the Nobles and Independent MPs because they were unhappy at how the public consultation over 6 Bills introduced by government were carried out signals they believe something was wrong.

Was the Radio Talkback show sufficient consultation? Were members of the public given ample notification of the issues that they were going to be consulted about?

Was it a true consultation process?

Or was it just a show – just done to show that consultation was done?

These are questions that we need to be asking government.

Why are the 6 Bills so urgent that government can not carry out a formal public consultation like what other government programs are currently doing around Tonga?

What is so urgent that the Bills would only be consulted on through a radio talkback show?

Is government being fare to members of the public by rushing Bills through without proper consultations?

I notice the explanations in the House that the opposition do not have any say on how government carries out its consultation on Bills.

Is that democratic? Is that right?

Why is the opposition or so called MPs opposed to government not allowed to have a say in how a public consultation is done? Especially when they are also representatives of voters and members of the public.

Food for thought for Tonga!!






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