Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
header_07
search_bar_left
date_box_left
date_box_right.jpg
search_bar_right
sidebar-top content-top

What's Going on in Tonga?

What's Going on in Tonga?

Occasional Webdiary contributor, Dr Mark Hayes, recently travelled to the Kingdom of Tonga to attend the Pacific's major journalism and media industries gathering, the 2005 Convention of the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) in Nuku'alofa.

Check out the PINA Conference Picture Gallery.

Dr Hayes specialises in, among other things, Pacific media and journalism practices and contexts, and teaches in Queensland University's journalism course.

Mark's last significant offering to Webdiary was 'The Sinking of Tuvalu' in February, 2005. This was later developed and published, with almst 60 exclusive pictures, on the leading Tuvalu web site, Tuvaluislands.com, which has been read by tens of thousands of visitors worldwide, forms part of the best global resources on that tiny, and threatened, Pacific country, recommended by, among others, PBS in the USA, and used as a major teaching resource by UQ journalism students.

Being a curious chap, Mark couldn't go to Tonga without looking closely at some fascinating local developments, and making his own observations, as well as befriending a Tongan bouncer at his hotel, going to church, drinking lots of Tongan beer, chatting with the condom pushing Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of the Fiji Islands who's also a very senior Fijian Chief, finally meeting probably the most interesting person in Tongan politics, networking with a few dozen Pacific journalists, and checking out a local revolution.

-----------------------------------------------------------

If you use the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or the Australian Government's Smart Traveller information, and are planning a visit to the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga, you'll be warned to be careful after dark because roads may not be properly lit and you might get run over by an errant driver, make sure your tour operator has proper boating safety equipment,  that air safety standards may not meet Australian standards, and not to hang out near public gatherings following a protracted public service strike which ended in early September, 2005.

This translates, to me at least, as Tonga being "mostly harmless", about as dangerous as Suva can be unless you're a complete idiot and wander (or stagger) down towards the bus station and Suva Market late at night, perhaps 'tired and emotional', without at least one large Fijian speaker tagging along. Or far more dangerous than Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu, unless you sleep on the air strip because of the cooling nightly breezes thence running the incredibly remote risk of getting run over by a drunk driver.

Except for the fact that in Tonga there's a revolution happening.

The large Tongan doorman outside the hotel fell about laughing when I explained the obvious to him: I'm a skinny Papalangi (white person, outsider), "...easily breakable". In the Pacific, I always get a few large, friendly, locals on side, just in case.

Across the road, in a harbour foreshore park, attracted like Tongans to a rugby match or to Sunday church, delegates to the 2005 PINA Conference saw that pro-democracy activists had set up a tent and strung a few banners around, one of which read, "Mr P.M. We Hate You - Ice Creame No More".

"Huh?" I thought. "What's that sign over there mean?" I asked my new friend.

"Err, it means some people don't like the politicians getting all the goodies," he explained.

"Ok," I thoughtfully replied, saying "Malo" - 'Thanks' in Tongan - to my informant, who went back to almost impersonating one of the large columns holding up the entry way, except he was always smiling. I later saw him deal very effectively with a drunk who luched into the hotel foyer one night, so I remain happy he's on my side.

The hated PM who was to be deprived of his ice cream, by the way, is the heir to the Tongan throne, Prince Ulukalala Lavaka Ata.

Think about it.

Ice cream is a costly treat in a hot place like Tonga, requiring expensive electricity and freezers to make and store. By the time you've gotten the ice cream wrapper half off, the contents are already dribbling down your fingers as melted, sticky goo. Unless, of course, you're rich and thence can afford the air conditioning to enjoy your ice cream in comfort.

I'll explain who owns the electricity company soon. When Shoreline Power increased its tariffs earlier in 2005, there were protest demonstrations in Nuku'alofa.

I'd closely followed the unprecidented public service strike which all but shut the Kingdom down for six weeks back in August and September, pouncing on the extraordinary reporting pouring out of Nuku'alofa, from Matangi Tonga, the leading On Line English language Tongan news source. The other major On Line source, Taimi o'Tonga (Times of Tonga) is in Tongan, which I don't read, being a self confessed mono-lingual barbarian whose Pacific friends all make sound like an idiot because they all speak at least two languages.

In Tonga, it's always important to disguish between nobility and commoners, where many of the former call the latter "kainanga 'o e fonua" or "dirt eater".

Senior civil servants, not a few of whom are also from the nobility, had granted themselves significant pay rises, leaving the commoners on meagre salaries many could not survive upon were it not for money sent home from the large Tongan diaspora overseas.

Enough was enough, even for the usually obedient, respectful, and quiet ordinary Tongan civil servants, whom some critics also describe as lazy and being way too many for the small country with an On Islands population of about 101,000 (2004 ADB estimate) with almost half as many again forming the global Tongan diaspora.

So the public servants, including teachers, nurses, clerks of all kinds, walked off the job. And stayed out for six weeks, staging lively and prayerful protests in a Nuku'alofa park, attracting considerable moral and practical support from the otherwise inconvenienced public, from singing and dancing school students in uniform who joined their striking teachers, and from Tongans around the world.

They politely petitioned the King to intervene, but he was overseas, again, in New Zealand, so supporters all but beseiged his Official Residence in Auckland on the striker's behalf.

Their demands largely turned around getting a serious pay rise, between 50% and 80%. They weren't being greedy. They needed these pay increases simply to cope with a steadily rising cost of living, with an annual inflation rate of around 10%, caused in part by Tonga being dragged into the global economy with nothing much locally to contribute except tourism, and decidedly suspicious hikes in the cost of fuel, electricity, and phone services, all provided by private or formerly government run corporations with members of the Royal Family and other nobles on their Boards and management teams. Most passing strange.

In case your knowledge of Tonga's a bit rusty, in brief, it remains one of the world's few absolute monarchies, with the King, H.M. Taufa'ahau IV, now 87 and in failing health, in theory exercising essentially the same powers as Louis XIV in pre-revolutionary France.  Well, not quite. And not quite like obtained during the reign of mad George III in Britain either. The King's not mad, but almost completely out of touch with developments in his kingdom. The Government opines it cannot more quickly respond to pressing problems because they don't know the King's thinking on pressing issues of the day.

Tonga remains pround of the fact that it was the only Pacific nation not colonised by a Western power during the 1800s, though Britain effectively exercised a protectorate agreement on the Kingdom while allowing Wesleyan missionaries, notably Shirley Baker, to closely influence developments there.

Since 1875, Tonga's had a constitution which vests complete power in the King, and through the King to the 13 family nobility of 33 named heads, who also hold the overwhelming majority in Tonga's single chamber Parliament. There are nine seats reserved for commoners, with the last elections for these held earlier in 2005. Of course, all but a couple of Cabinet posts are held by nobles as well, and commoner Cabinet ministers muscled their way into Government only after some serious Tongan pressure; 'Better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,' as LBJ once pungently opined.

The real power in Tonga rests with the King's eldest son, Prince Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, who's Prime Minister, unmarried, and has no heirs (for reasons everybody knows but polite people don't mention in Tonga; you go figure... New Zealand journalist, Michael Field, banned from Tonga until earlier this year, has no such inhibitions...), the Princess Regent, Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita, and a couple of 'interesting' Indian businessmen with very close ties to business activities such as the power and phone companies effectively owned by members of the Royal family.

The Princess even owns the bit of the otherwise very crowded slot in space 30,000 kilometers above Tonga where communications satellites can be parked in geosynchronous orbit to potentially cover half the planet. A very, very valuable bit of celestial real estate.

A bit of income dribbles in from the overseas lease of the .TO top level Internet country code, which, so a stupid Californian Net research company reported in 2004, meant that Tonga was, along with Niue and Tuvalu, one of the major sources of internet porn after the usual suspects. Yeah, sure, there's these huge servers hidden somewhere on Tongatapu with a quadra-gig fibre optic pipe pouring porn out of one of the most conservative and God-fearing countries on the planet. Idiots!

Make no mistake, the Tongans genuinely revere and love their King, and have enormous respect for the Royal Family and their Nobility.  Some Tongan players in the continuing pro-democracy struggle say some pretty lively and even offensive things, even to my prosaic ears, about their Royals, but these are largely directed at the individuals rather than the overall institutions.

They're also extremely religious, very Wesleyan.

It was thus no surprise that delegates to the regional media conference, your correspondent included, sat on the hard wooden pews in the cavernous, grey walled, Centennial Free Wesleyan Church just outside of what passes for Nuku'alofa's CBD for Sunday's service. Part of the conference programme, with the polite but hairy eyeball applied by our local hosts if we didn't attend, and, in a special concession from Rev Lopeti Taufa, the service was in English.

Some of my book knowledge of Tonga, and what I'd figured out during the previous four days of talking, listening, and watching, snapped into vivid clarity as we stood for the first hymn, No. 362, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee...", with the choir in immaculate white blouses and shirts with black tupenu and vala or  kiekie, with decorative pandanus ta'ouvala secured at the waist with kafa, their glorious four part harmonies - Methodists and their cousins sure know how to sing! - rising to the ceiling blessedly drowning out our feeble attempts at droning the tune 'Nicaea', anchored by the bright silvered instruments from the Church's brass band.

You read that right.

Maybe the church organ was considered too risque by the austere Free Wesleyean missionaries, and maybe they were homesick for their moors and dales, or maybe some Tongans latched on to brass band instruments and decided to make them their 'thing'.

The Church's choir, and the congregation, were accompanied by an honest to goodness, straight out of mid-1800s British coal mining village's brass band, whose members obviously cared for their instruments because of the dazzling reflected light flashing around the church bouncing off the tuba, cornet, or trumpets when the angles were right. Not a bum note or a blatt was heard by your correspondent during the entire service. And the choir's singing was just glorious, heart and soul stuff. The whole package, except for the Polynesians in it, straight out of 1800s England!

Rev Taufa's sermon was taken from Matthew 11: 4-6, the passage being read by Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the Speaker of the Fiji Parliament and UNAIDS Pacific's Special HIV/AIDS Representative. The good Pastor's sermon wasn't quite so unsubtle as to call upon we journos in his pews before him to spread the good news (Gospel), but, not being entirely stupid, we got his point very clearly.

At a PINA session on HIV/AIDS, which rightly scares Regional governments s*itless, as it damn well should, Fiji TV's boss, Ken Clark, had told how, after running a very discrete ad on how condoms could prevent the spread of the disease, their Gorrie Street, Suva, HQ was all but beseiged by outraged Fijian Methodists and pentecostal types threatening fire, brimstone, and exorcisms.

Ratu Epeli, probably the second most sensible Fijian High Chief in public life there after the Deputy-President, former jurist Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, glared, pulled a condom packet out of his shirt pocket, and promised Ken Clark and Fiji TV that he was ready to lend his presence to any ad they wanted to broadcast on the issue, preach his anti-AIDS message, and let the god botherers come for him, a former Fijian military leader more than capable of seeing off anybody.

Same situation could occur in Tonga too, should Tonga Television - guess who also controls this operation as well - run more provocative anti-AIDS material, so wheel in Ratu Epeli, who, through the close ties between Fijian and Tongan Royalty historically and by marriage, carries enormous mana in the Kingdom too. Plus, Fiji TV's Regional satellite operation, Sky Pacific, started serious business in Tonga the same week as the PINA conference (as did Radio Australia's local FM transmitter).

Later that Sunday, Ratu Epeli happily held an informal court at a beach resort at the opposite end of Tongatapu to Nuku'alofa, and I have to admit I was one of those who very much enjoyed the opportunity to informally chat at very informed length with one of Fiji's most important identities. He bought the Ikale.

"Now I get it!" I thought as I joined the group picture shoot outside the church, and later kicked my thinking around with a couple of British media consultants with whom I shared several Ikale on several occasions.

No points for figuring out who part-owns the Tongan brewery either. Some Wesleyans, and Royalty, can be pretty flexible about their beliefs at times.

Yep, my British pals and I agreed, straight out of the mining towns of England in the 1800s.

Some historians suggest that Charles Wesley's Methodism helped stave off a possible political revolution in Britain just as the industrial revolution was starting to bite hard into the lives of ordinary people. There were no such inhibitions in France, and it was a very close run thing in Germany as well.

Many Tongans are now more than brassed off with their governance arrangements.

One of these has to be the most interesting player in the continuing revolution, former Police Minister, Clive Edwards, a commoner (gotta keep saying this, 'cos it's always important to disguish between nobility and commoners in Tonga, though some divisions in the nobility are significant).

He spent eight years persecuting the pro-democracy movement, and cracking down on the local media, until, in a massive break with the Tongan power brokers, he resigned his Cabinet post, joined the pro-democracy movement, stood for and won one of the nine commoner seats in Parliament, and now deploys his formidible legal skills and mind to helping nut out a new Constitution for the Kingdom.

I'd heard him occasionally on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat, heard and read commentaries, read Pesi Fonua's extraordinary two part interview with him in Matangi Tonga in January, 2005, and was fascinated by Sean Dorney's descriptions of the guy and his activities shared in private conversations.

Tongan journos I spoke with at PINA were still pretty amazed by Edward's genuine epiphany over a year ago, and told me about his appearance on Tonga TV late in a 2005 election campaign.

Standing for one of the nine commoner seats, with suspicion and scepticism rampant regarding his motives,  and informed opinion - the always reliable journalist's 'feeling in our water' about elections (taxi drivers are slightly less reliable public opinion monitors, you see) - suggesting he'd not get elected, Edwards went on TV to publically repent.

"Must have been astonishing stuff, given he knows where the corpses are burried because he put a lot of them there," your correspondent sensitively suggested.

"Yeah. It was pretty interesting to see," a Tongan scribe replied.

"Did he cry on television?" I prodded.

"He was right in there, crying, begging forgiveness for all the hurt he'd caused, and the people he'd hurt, it was really something to see," a more voluable local scribe added.

"Did it work?" I asked.

"Yep. He squeaked in to get the last commoner seat in the elections," my first informant said.

So there he was, large, looking like a bored bassett hound with prominent facial moles and jowls, meaty hands and sausage-like fingers often resting on his rotund torso, slightly leading back in the chair, beady brown laser-like eyes beneath pepper and salt eyebrows as windows into an excoriating legal and politically tactical mind, scanning the PINA audience, putting his opinions on how the pro-democracy campaign was going, and what should be in the new constitution in a deceptively languid, occasionally near gurgling voice, about the closest Tonga has to Rumpole of the Bailey minus the whiskey and 'she who must be obeyed'.

Next to him, charing the session, was Matangi Tonga's editor and publisher, President of the Tonga Media Council, Convenor of the PINA conference, and later winner of one of two PINA Regional Media Freedom Awards, Pesi Fonua, looking like a brown ferret, still slightly nervous in the presence of a man who just 18 months ago would have eagerly had him thrown in the Tongan slammer and  the keys lost.

Edward's earlier persecution of the Tongan media was a gift to Matangi Tonga. Changes to the Constitution and the media laws, later struck down in court, made newspaper licensing mandatory, and it was no surprise that Matangi Tonga couldn't get a license. So Pesi and his New Zealand-born wife, Mary, migrated their magazine into cyberspace, which the Government hadn't anticipated, and the thing's never looked back except for the fact Vava'u Press has to subsidise the free service with its book publishing operations.

Leaping back to late August, and Matangi Tonga reported the extraordinary reaction when, on August 25, the Princess Regent, "...brought tears and comfort to civil servants strikers today who applauded her after she delivered a heartfelt speech at Pangai Si'i", the central Nuku'alofa Park where the strikers had their camp....

"Fotu Fisi'iahi, the Spokesperson for the Public Servants Association, humbly thanked the Princess for making such a huge gesture in coming to Pangai Si'i today, saying, 'it is an honour'.

"He then asked her to give him his temporary 60, 70 and 80% salary rises requested so he can return back to work tomorrow.

Princess Pilolevu responded by saying that she would see what she can do but she could not make any promises.

As the Princess left the park the strikers stood up cheering and clapping because they hoped the Princess Regent might be able to resolve the strike soon," Matangi Tonga reported.

No more vivid a glimpse into the dilemma wracking Tonga could one hope to read about. But nothing came of the Princess Regent's expressions of sympathy, which, in the context, just added to the people's resentment.

SBS's Dateline a few days later interviewed striker and pro-democracy activist, Sione Vuna Faotusia, who warned of possible bloodshed, while a Cabinet Minister, Governor Akauola, speculated that arson attacks on a school, Government buildings, and one of the King's residences, were instigated by strikers, and that the Army might have to be called out to break the strike.

To be honest, I thought Dateline's reporting was a bit hysterical, but then, I wasn't there at the time, and the situation, especially after the arson incidents, seemed to be especially fraught according to most other accounts.

By this stage in the strike, years of corruption, nepotism, preferential deals, idiocies like the 'Court Jester' fiasco, and the yawning and widening gulf between nobles and commoners had culminated in a morphing of the pro-democracy movement and the civil servant's strike committee into a broad power grouping the Government's hard pressed to contain or control.

By the second week of September, the Government had capitulated, and granted the sought-after pay rises. Though they sternly warned that the coffers could not sustain such increases and that job losses would be inevitable, as Governments and businesses always do when workers get pay rises.

Lurking over all this is Tonga's bid to join the World Trade Organisation, a process begun in 1995 and likely to be finalised in mid-December. Trade Minister, Hon. Dr Feleti Sevele, assured WTO critics in Nuku'alofa in mid-November that Tongan retailers and wholesalers would be protected once Tonga joined the organisation. If my reading of the Tongan economy is correct, the real action's going to be in tourism, fishing, and some boutique vegetable exports to New Zealand and Japan.

While I describe what's happening in Tonga as a 'revolution', with faint echoes to European revolutions of the late 1700s and into the 1800s, there's no indication whatsoever of Tonga going down that bloody route. Nor is there any indication of Tonga lurching into a 'fragile' or 'failing' state scenario, such as Fiji in 2000, or, worse, The Solomon Islands that same year. It's nowhere near a 'ruined' or 'plundered state' situation, such as PNG arguably has become, as UPNG and ANU Professor Alan Patience sketched out at a regional political studies conference I attended in Suva on my way back from Tonga and the PINA Conference.

The PINA Conference was a magnet for the pro-democracy movement, so they called a press conference to announce that three constitutional proposals had been merged into one, and that would be put to the Government and the King by December 5, 2005, the 130th anniversary of the original Tongan constitution.

To my unlegal ears, the sought-after changes amount to something akin to what obtains in the UK, where the Monarchy and nobility exercise considerable, but by no means (at least usually not) decisive, influence.

But changing a constitution is like trying to turn an oil tanker. It can be done, but it takes a lot of space, time, and skill, and gets ever more difficult if the seas are choppy.

Tonga's governance seas remain choppy.

Probably as a stalling tactic, the Government's appointed a committee to look into possible constitutional reforms, and that's due to report in the middle of 2006.

Pesi Fonua opined on December 7:

"There are now two National Committees for Political Reform, and because they bear the same name we can identify them for this article by calling the first one to be established the A team and the second to be established a B team. Both teams share some of the same members....

"The fundamental difference between the two committees is that while the A team has not formulated any new model of government or amendments, the B team has already got theirs drawn up, and what is left is finding the support of the people.

The approach of the A team, according to the Chairman, Prince Tu'ipelehake, is that they would like to gather the inspiration of the people first before they formulate a model of government and proposed amendment to the constitution and legislation.

Meanwhile, 'Akilisi Pohiva and Clive Edwards are actually members of both committees.

Clive Edwards did not think there was anything wrong with it. He said that there was an urgency for a reform to take place and if things were left for the parliamentary national committee, it could end up like most things that have been left for government to action, 'forgotten'.

His logic is that if two committees are running and the parliamentary committee is not very active, then the other committee can still push along with the reforms."

Which suggests to me that, unless they decisively resolve their differences, and sharpen up their strategy and tactics, they're handing momentum back to the Government, as well as dissapating the heightened expectations and enthusiasm of their supporters.

As Pesi Fonua reported on December 5:

"There's no doubt that today was the busiest Tupou Ist Day Tonga has ever seen, with thousands of people in Nuku'alofa coming out to take part in three different marches on the public holiday, including a big 'March for Jesus' that was led by the King and Queen of Tonga.

It is 208 years since the father of the Tongan Constitution, Tupou I, was born, and to mark his birthday today there was the usual flag raising ceremony in the morning with the police band playing the Tongan National Anthem, followed by a gun salute at the flag pole.

After that crowds gathered to take part in three marches through Nuku'alofa, each with different agendas. Some were demanding for the king to give up his power, others prayed for divine intervention, and others continued to pay homage to the monarchy, and the rest who couldn't make up their minds which way to march, joined the bystanders."

The week ended with the pro-democracy movement handing their proposals to the King's private secretary, with another promise that the proposals would be carefully and seriously considered.

While the King's petitioners will humbly pray, even more so in very respectful and religious Tonga, almost all indications are that 2006 will be almost as decisive a year in the country's history as the year the original constitution was promulgated.

I'll end by quoting from a sermon by Rev Dr Ma'afu'otu'itonga Palu, based in Sydney, published on Planet Tonga while the strike was continuing. In the interests of fairness, however, I should also note that the Rev Dr Palu also wrote to Matangi Tonga on August 11, 2005, calling on the Government and the Royal Family to resign.

Rev Dr Ma'afu'otu'itonga Palu concluded his reflections thus:

"It is to be acknowledged that both sides who are involved in the current political stand off have failed in fulfilling their biblical responsibilities to one another. On the one hand, the government of Tonga has failed to grant justice upon the workers who were entrusted by God to their care. The work person deserves his or her wages. In one sense the National Strike is the work persons “blood” crying out to the ruling authorities for justice to be done on their behalf. That the government has ignored their cry by bringing in proposals after proposals in order to evade a direct response to the demand of the strikers engenders no praise from anyone. To begin with, they should acknowledge that they have done something wrong and then listen to the strikers demand for a peaceful resolution to the stand off.

On the other hand, the Christians amongst the strikers have failed, from a purely biblical perspective, to fulfill their primary responsibility for the government which is to pray for the government, trusting that God is on their side. However, their present course of action is to be seen as the climax of a number of previous failed attempts to get the government to listen to their plea for justice to be carried out in public relations. In that respect, they were put in an inevitable situation by the present government. They are to be praised for their non-violent stance thus far against the PM and the Cabinet Ministers. Their constant vigilance expressed in prayer meetings is also to be encouraged. For that is their right responsibility to the government.

I believe that the current stand off has reached a point of no return. The option of resolving the situation through military power is not open to the strikers for that will only put them and their families in a rather disadvantaged position. The only option that is open to them is to continue on in the strike praying that God will in His great mercy and kindness transform the situation for the em-betterment of all who are involved and of the country in general."

left
right
[ category: ]
spacer

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Oxfam's criticism "outrageous", says Tonga's WTO delegation

Malo all,

In the interests of fairness and balance, Matangi Tonga's reported this response to the Oxfam story from last week:

Oxfam's criticism "outrageous", says Tonga's WTO delegation
19 Dec 2005, 18:33

Nuku'alofa, Tonga:

CRITICISMS of Tonga's accession to WTO made by Oxfam last week, have been called "outrageous", "nasty" and "erroneous", by the Tongan delegation to Hong Kong, led by Tonga's Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industries Hon. Dr Fred Sevele, in a statement today.

Oxfam said that Tonga was about to make history by joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) "on what are arguably the worst terms ever offered to any country".

The Tongan delegation in Hong Kong, who include the Minister along with Paulo Kautoke (Secretary for Labour, Commerce and Industries), and Jaya Choraria (Assistant Secretary, Trade Policy Unit of the Ministry of Labour, Commerce & Industries), made a six page press statement today saying that Oxfam's claim was "outrageously false and nasty... based on emotional ignorance rather than on a true understanding of the realities of the Tongan situation."

[snip]

Tonga joins WTO - UpDate

Oxfam Press Release and Link to their Report on Tonga joining the WTO, here.

------------------------------------------
Radio New Zealand International report:

Tongan NGOs say joining the WTO will put people’s lives at risk

Posted at 02:46 on 16 December, 2005 UTC

Civil Society groups in Tonga say the government could put the lives of people at risk by joining the World Trade Organisation.

Community groups are meeting to decide what action they can take to stop the kingdom from becoming a full member.

Tonga has completed its accession during WTO negotiations in Hong Kong but some regional NGOs say the package the country has been forced to sign is appalling.

Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki from the Tonga Womens’ Action Group for Change and the Community Paralegal Assocation, says sectors like health and education could be negatively affected by membership.

Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki says slashing tariffs to less than 20 percent could also damage small businesses.

“We really don’t know why our minister of labour and commerce has gone to such a grave extent. He has really just put the lives of Tongan people at a big risk here and to be honest with you I don’t know why he’s taking Tonga to that extent. Either he could be pressured, they could be pressure from some outside businesses, or he just absolutely has no idea.”

re: What's Going on in Tonga?

I have to echo F Kendall's words. Depressing reading. Yeh, sell off the farm - that's sure to solve everything.

re: What's Going on in Tonga?

Malo,

As an Update, Matangi Tonga's Mary Fonua's published this rather dire story on the current and looming state of the Tongan economy:

"SUCH a grim picture of the Tongan economy is forecast over the next 18 months that Tonga's Minister of Finance has come out to warn the public of the dire economic consequences of the massive salary increase given to public servants in the September strike settlement.

Even after taking stringent measures to raise revenues and cut costs the government still needs to find up to $31.7 million pa'anga [almost $AU 21 million] to meet a shortfall in the financial year 2006-7 to pay for salaries, leaving a huge hole in a $150 million budget, independent analysts are predicting.

The analysts warn that this substantial budget problem is likely to lead to the sale of government assets, a restructured government, possible redundancies, a decline in the standard of health and education, increasing pressure on the poor, a decline in jobs in both the private sector and government, increased emigration of skilled and educated Tongans, a rapid decline in the value of the Tongan pa'anga, nasty inflation, erosion of real incomes, restraints on borrowing, and bankruptcies.

At the same time taxes are going up and government services are going down."

re: What's Going on in Tonga?

I actually felt too depressed at the reach of this corrupting monetarist, greedy culture we are grafted onto, and have embraced, that has spread to such as Tonga, that I couldn't read more than the first few paragraphs.

Mammon wins. Again.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 8 hours ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 4 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 1 day ago