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Where is Tonga heading?

Suva, Fiji

Dear Editor,

So where is Tonga heading? In fact Tonga is quite a unique case. The country has very little natural resources to speak of, except its people whose remittances sustain the economy.

Because the Tongans are very attached to their homeland and are proud of their heritage and identity, so in some sense they are being held economic hostage by the rulers, as the only tangible influence they can exert is to withhold sending money home. But that only punishes their loved ones.

Ordinary folks on the street or a woman in the village might not be paying any direct tax, but let’s not forget for every single pa’anga they spend at least 35 seniti goes to the government coffers, so they actually pay a lot of taxes without being aware of it. But they have very little say as to how their tax dollars are being spent.

The very top tier (I don’t want to abuse the word ‘elitists’) of the society are so arrogant they think that the law of the land doesn’t/won’t apply to them. One example: its been exposed (they didn’t refute it) that the so-called ‘Indian Princes’ are being paid $½M p.a., ok, lets accept HRH’s theory of ‘if you pay peanuts, you only get monkeys’. My question is, does that income get reported in their annual personal income tax returns? Why does the Commissioner of Inland Revenue not go and have a look and make sure they pay the right amount of income tax? The same was with the “prince” who was also exposed to have imported building materials for his private house but under the company’s name that made it duty-free, Why didn’t the customs follow up? The answer is obvious, as someone wanting to keep their jobs, it’s better not to mess up with the whiskers of the tiger. Common sense in Tonga tells them how to make a choice, as I have said, they have a family to feed.

It is perhaps futile to point our fingers at this Indian prince or that, as they are the by-product of the system, as natural as weeds will grow on a fallow piece of land. Everyone is guilty of ‘rent-seeking’ in one way or another other because that is how the ‘system’ works, or some proudly call it ‘the Tongan Way’. Over the past 19 years this has been happening again and again.

My guess is that I may not live to see Tongans becoming fully democratic, but rather a see-sawing, drip-drip-drip of changes/progresses. My reasoning: First, the government is autocratic but atrocious. Secondly, nobody starves, the fertile soil and overseas remittances guarantee it. Thirdly, the mentality of obeying and not questioning the authority (at home, in school and at work up to the top leader etc) is so entrenched that it may take a very long time to change. (Now when one is asked to provide ‘polas’ for their nobles or the king, they may mumble in private, but not defy openly). Fourthly, so far our Judiciary is still independent and our big brothers (Australia, NZ etc) still have certain degree of leverage through aid and trade, but now the government is trying to dilute that by ‘looking East’ which actually is only China, (which itself is a extremely repressive regime) to influence should things really goes from bad to worse.

I’ll call it a day here.


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