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To'ukai mo hono Lohu - Development in Tonga

Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands

Dear Editor

In 1968, Mani Vaka was the boxing champion of the entire Oceania. He was fast, strong, courageous, arrogant, and a real Tongan warrior. He was interviewed and said in Tongan …“To’ukai mo Hono Lohu…”.

I will never forget that quote. He meant that one-day, someone else would take the torch from him.

In early 1989, Peni Vea (TDB), Bill Harris (former Secretary of MLCI), and myself (FIMCO) were told by Baron Vaea to …“Go to your office and do some work…”, this was transpired from an argument that almost cost us our jobs. Hon. Baron Vaea was the father of economic development for Tonga. He started the Small Industries Center, very instrumental on trade negotiations and bi-lateral trade agreements between Tonga and Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand and Australia on SPARTECA. He was directly involved in the development of the vanilla industry, the squash, handcrafts, fish, and fruits and vegetables. He fully supported the role of the Tonga Chamber of Commerce in trade policy discussions, and he allowed the export agencies to fully utilize their resources with minimal barriers.

Baron Vaea was well respected in the entire Pacific region, the other neighboring regions, and in the entire world community. He was open for discussions, easy to talk to, and open-minded. He had vision and he handled the torch professionally and with great respect. His understanding of politics and foreign policy spoke for himself. He was the man of the people of Tonga.

When John Adams became the 2nd US President in 1797, he was characterized by continuing crises in foreign policy, which dramatically affected the affairs in US. It impacted on unhealthy trading between New England and UK, and France. As a result, the US people were unhappy with his leadership style and voted against him for a second term. His son John Quincy Adams became the 6th President and failed also, because of his pretentious attitude, arrogant behavior, and ferocious corruption.

In recent years, Tonga has diverted a large portion of its resources into the services industry particularly in communications, air transportation, defense services, and on unessential policy formulation. There was probably not enough appropriation to educational and agricultural development, public safety and health.

The current economic situation in Tonga indicated the rise in unemployment rate, steep increase in consumer price index (inflation) and the rise in population growth. Thanks to out-migration of Tongan people, which helped to relieve the economic and social pressure. There is also the massive predicament of trade imbalance that leads to unfavorable balance of payments.

What can we do? There is no single solution. There are short-term and long-term solutions. Some of us who are serving in regional and international organizations as well as other government agencies do have different views and ideas, but we all agree that Tonga’s economy needs a better and a well-calculated approach, especially when the world economy is extremely dynamic and unpredictably aggressive.

I strongly feel that Tonga needs to minimize imports, reduce heavy reliance on imported goods especially food items, and minimize wastage of important resources. It needs to invest more on food science and technology, bio-energy, crop improvement and protection, animal and plant disease control, and biochemistry. Tonga needs to focus on production using the latest technology to enhance productivity and enable competition at highly competitive markets.

Why are we still exporting vanilla beans in its raw form, squash in green form, fish, seaweeds, Kava, and many more? We can easily process them and export to earn higher value (value adding). Why are we importing frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen meat, etc? Processing and preservation of these products can be easily done in Tonga. We need to invest more in applied research and product development. That is the potential opportunity for development in Tonga. Let us use this …“To’ukai…” with a logical …“Lohu…”.

Edgar Cocker,


Northern Marianas, USA.