FROM OUR ARCHIVES
Editor’s comment by Pesi Fonua
There is an urgent need for Tonga to take a decisive action in 2005 on how to move forward with its economic and political reform programs.
When the government launched its $20 million Economic and Public Sector Reform Programs in April 2002, the idea was that by privatising public enterprises it would create more jobs to absorb redundant public servants when government eventually down-sizes the public service.
At the same time the Private Sector was expected to be vibrant and be able to capitalise on a number of major moves that government was going to make. Government was to introduce a new taxation system, doing away with customs duties. It was going to open up its borders to free trade, first by signing free trading agreements with eight countries, and then eventually becoming a full member of the World Trade Organisation. The Open Sky Policy was also expected to attract more international air flights to Tonga and, of course, more tourists.
But three years down the road nothing appears to be happening according to plan, and the government’s privatisation program, except for the telecommunications, appears to be in the midst of all sort of troubles. In some cases, such as the handling of cargo at Queen Salote Wharf, it has taken back the operation from a Private Company and reverted to the Ministry of Marine. The consequences of privatisation of the Tonga Electric Power Board at the moment is causing a public outcry because while it is claimed that the executives give themselves exorbitant salaries, and some of their friends are not paying electricity bills, and yet the price of electricity has gone up.
Meanwhile, the Open Sky Policy is not making any difference at all to the international air services to Tonga.
With regards to free trade, unless we have the products and the service to trade with, it is becoming more of a threat rather than an advantage.
So where do we go from now on?
Before the end of last year the two factors that had not been incorporated into the Tongan reform program, namely Political Reform and Press Freedom, have finally been accepted. These are the two forces that will lift Tonga out of the mess that it has fallen into.
Tonga definitely has to reform its political system, and we need strong leaders who could converge the energies of Tongans at home and abroad to revive our economy and give us direction for the 21st century. Our traditional leaders, at the moment, are all tied up in their own business interests, making it difficult to separate their business and national interests. So we have to look at how we are gong to deal with the leadership issue.
While reforming our political system our revived Press Freedom will enable us to find our way in this difficult time.
With people having Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression, naturally it will give them the latitude for creativity and, in turn, the ability to create wealth, which, theoretically, should enable every Tongan adult to earn a living.