III. INSTITUTIONAL COORDINATION MECHANISMS
B. Weaknesses and strengths of existing mechanisms
Reference has been made to the weakness of the present system, arising from the lack of a legal mandate to back up the functions and responsibilities of the Environmental Planning Section. That weakness will persist until, and unless, there is a significant change in government policies covering the environment.
IDEC would have been an extremely important "watchdog" and an effective mechanism for linking and coordinating the environmental roles and responsibilities of the various government establishments. Unfortunately, it has been rather inactive in recent years. One of the problems is that IDEC has no administrative capacity, other than through the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources. As the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources holds the Chairmanship of IDEC it may be necessary for the Ministry itself to reactivate the Committee and push for more and better qualified staff, more financial resources and better infrastructure. The Environmental Planning Section should be made to serve as the secretariat for IDEC, which would enable it to take a more active and leading role in coordinating and implementing environmental policies and activities.
Another weakness that is sometimes cited is that IDEC does not have representation from the Ministry of Police, the responsibilities of which include enforcing environmental laws and regulations. Further, it lacks representation from the Ministry of Education which could play a central role in educating the public in environmental awareness.
One of the weaknesses of the existing mechanisms of coordination and consultation is the overlap in jurisdiction over various aspects of the environment. That was eloquently explained by the Tonga Environment Legislation Project Report (1995), which stated that:"A number of Ministries noted problems caused by overlapping jurisdictions which led to parties being overlooked or otherwise not included in studies relevant to their areas of operation. Examples cited included the Ministry of Marine and Ports (which is responsible for all maritime infrastructure) not being invited to participate in the Fanga'uta Lagoon Study; the Ministry of Fisheries (which has fish habitat concerns) regarding its marine and fisheries biologist expertise as fundamental to any study of, and decisions about, marine parks; the Ministry of Forestry considering itself to have the relevant expertise for forest and park conservation management planning; and so forth. The problem in many cases is not with the objective of any exercise but with the means and respective responsibilities" (Hill, Young, Cooper, 1995).
In summary, the current modalities and coordination are somewhat ad hoc and weak. Each department operates independently and only infrequently consults other department and agencies. Even Cabinet directives on the environment are ignored. Much appears to depend on the level of awareness, initiative and commitment of the senior officials in the various government establishments. In the light of that situation, the mandatory enforcement set out in the proposed Environmental Assessment Planning Bill will be welcome.