To discuss the proposal, representatives from the Tongan Government, public service, civil service and media came together earlier this week.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu K Vaipulu has asked those at the forum to consult the community about the proposed Freedom of Information policy.
The forum also heard about the government's plans to establish a national Anti-Corruption Commission.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Tonga's Justice Minister, Clive Edwards
EDWARDS: This is something that's been going on for a while and government has been working on it since last year and we hope to put that into operation by March, by next month, but we've finish the discussions papers and we've now got the workshops and consultation work with the public and next month we're hoping to implement the policy and then have legislation following.
COUTTS: What's behind it though, the freedom of information? Is there a particular incident or case that's come up where it's prompted or given rise for the call for a freedom of information policy?
EDWARDS: Well, what's giving rise to this policy is the fact that with the changes we've had, we've got now a democratic government and it's part and parcel of the change that have been proposed and we're going to look at it now to make sure that it's in place and people can use it, but it has always been some demand and been provided on a basis that it's OK, we'll let it go, but we want to make it that the people have the right to ask for that and have the right to be supplied with the information.
COUTTS: What will be the skew of the new freedom of information policy, will it make it more difficult and harder or is to free it up and make it more user friendly for people who want information?
EDWARDS: It's going to free it up and we're going to set up a centre to make sure that within a fixed period of time that information supplied on request and we are proposing that will be no less than ten days when ministry receives a request for information that that information be supplied within that time period.
COUTTS: And with the conference that you're having at the moment or the hearings on the new policies, what are people talking about? Have they got issues that they've raised?
EDWARDS: Well, what we are talking about is that we've got the balance up, a freedom of policy or freedom of information policy. What we've got to do is to balance up, what people are entitled to be supplied, there will be certain sensitive information that will not be available to them or will be available to them after that period of time, because we don't want to upset what's been done or discuss or negotiated. There are certain exemptions like the criteria that's applied in other jurisdictions where freedom of information is put up given to the people OK?
COUTTS: And it's a bit of a balancing act, isn't it. On the one hand, we see over the last 12 months where Wikileak says that everything should be available to the public, there should be no secrets, it doesn't matter what level of government it is. And then on the other hand, we see media organisations, phone tapping and getting information that way that perhaps they shouldn't. There is a bit of a balancing act. So what do you think, is there a fine line?
EDWARDS: Well, that's what the media and other people say, but what do the people want. Do we give your personal information to everybody who wants it or information that's public. These are some of the things that have to be sorted out and that's all very well for certain media to say they're going to demand everything and get everything, but I don't believe so, because we are formulating this policy in accordance with the international covenant and what should be the rights of people to be protected and what they're entitled to privacy, but not the full privacy that has been in the past, but the information would be available.
COUTTS: Can we move on now Mr Edwards to the Anti-Corruption Commission. Now is this in keeping with the regional development of Anti-Corruption Commissions or is there a particular need within Tonga?
EDWARDS: No last Friday, cabinet resolved that the recruiting process and the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission is to be proceeded with immediately, so that it will be full operation shortly after the freedom of information comes into force next month, but the recruiting process may take three months to get the right people in place and have the office of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Commissioner set up and in cooperation, that's what we're doing now.
COUTTS: And what will be the focus for the Anti-Corruption Commission? Will there be particular targets for its initial operations?
EDWARDS: It's a normal function of the Anti-Corruption Commission to look at all the transaction, where there's any corruption that's going on and to investigate any complaint or any suggestion that there's any corruption that's been perpetrated or been carried out by the government ministries or ministers or officials and while there has been for this government or the Tongan government, this is the new administration, while the Tongan government has been in existence for awhile. There has been a lot of media complaints which they have regarded without substance, but have never been fully investigated, whether it's true or not. And having an Anti-Corruption Commission would look at it. Whilst I personally do not believe that any corruption of any scale is going on in this country. It's perhaps a very smaller scale and nothing warrants to have all that big office. But nevertheless, we want to put it in place first to check out and make sure things are done properly in this country.
COUTTS: How powerful will the Anti-Corruption Commission be? What powers will it be given?
EDWARDS: They've got full powers and they can investigate any complaint or anything that they believe there's something not proper on the face of it and once they've got any information or basis for some charge, they will have to refer to the attorney-general for proceedings to be issued and action to be taken. But it's an investigatory body that looks into all these things.