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Tonga needs a socio-political revolution

Nuku‘alofa, Tonga

Tonga needs a socio-political revolution (not just an industrial revolution)
by Francis Kolo

In a world known for its discontinuous change and progress, the critical issues of adaptation, survival and competence have developed to rely wholly on the creativity and innovation of the human capital and the technology they create.

This is reflected in the current situation in Tonga, and in the midst of all the upheavals and unrest now experienced by the locals and witnessed by the rest of the world, there is only one assertion I can conclude with that Tonga needs nothing less than a …“socio-political revolution…” that will revitalize Tongan democracy, if such ever existed, and move the country toward social justice.

Also, at a time when more and more Tongans are giving up on the political process, and when the wealthy and a few privileged individuals have unprecedented wealth and power, it is imperative that we launch a grass-roots revolution to enable ordinary Tongans to regain control of their country.

The tragic consequence of thousands of low income and working people, including the public service workers, losing faith in the ability of the government to respond to their problems, is that today Tonga is one of the poorest nations in the region and the world too (refer to IMF 2005 Article IV Consultation with Tonga (PIN No.05/119) and the current CIA World book on nations).

Wealthy benefactors

Meanwhile, the rich and the privileged that apparently benefit from the existing system are pouring thousands into their own agenda, which include overseas investments and exuberant spending sprees that went unaccounted for, and have no relevancy to existing government policies (refer to multitudes of publications by the NZ Herald, ABC and other news media). The obvious result is that many candidates, especially royally-appointed ministers, who are elected end up being more concerned about pleasing their wealthy benefactors than representing the needs of working people, children, the elderly or the poor.

It is no accident that, rather than raising minimum wage to match the trends in the global economies, the Cabinet seemed to favor their own and give the top 1 percent of the service an 80% pay rise that could cripple the economy and impoverish the very people it meant to govern.

Also, there is little indication by government and the royal leadership of any provision in ways of tax breaks and subsidies to the less fortunate and destitute in the country. It is also, sadly, no accident that more than half of Tonga lives below the poverty line (refer to World Bank 2004-2005 investigations) and schools throughout the country are physically deteriorating, and thousands of working class people are unable to find affordable living conditions and financing to gather for the minimum basic necessities like housing, food and personal security.

Scandals

In the last decades the royal family…’s credibility has been tarnished by scandals including the selling of passports to foreign nationals and the worst of these is the tragic loss of a twenty five million dollar (…“US$25m…”) investment perpetrated by the one-time court jester, Jesse Bogdonoff, an American former magnet salesman now a clown.

The continuous uncovering of corruption and incompetence in the royally-appointed ministers has increased the current tension initially created by the civil servants’ strike of July 2005. The calls for reform have never been stronger than in the last couple of months and have been marked by increase violence against government owned properties and even against the King himself. There are fears things could escalate if nothing improves in the very immediate future, including talks of assassinating members of the royal family (refer to reporter Chris Hammer interview with Vuna Faka…’otusia of 31 August 2005 and published by the SBS Dateline of Australia).

The failure by government to introduce more balanced economic reforms in recent years has weakened the hope for an imminent solution to the current tensions.

Monopolized

Furthermore, the Government’s initiatives to privatize the telecommunications and power resulted in these services being monopolized by the king’s own children. Recent calls for political reform and for the monarchy to adopt a constitutional role similar to that of the English system are relentlessly called for by the strikers and their supporters.

The people elect only a third of the parliament while the king appoints the rest including the Cabinet. Most people believe that the appointment of two elected representatives to the Cabinet this year for the first time in 130 years of monarchial rule is a tactic used by government to divert attention from a series of domestic crisis. These include the recent declaration that the RTA is insolvent, monopolization of domestic air travel by the king…’s oldest son, the unsuccessful and failure to recover the $25 million dollar investment perpetuated by Mr Bogdonoff, and the monopolization of local power and telecommunications by the King…’s oldest son and backed by the two “Indian Princes”.

Political revolution

We need a political revolution in this country, one that will revitalize Tongan democracy and move us toward social justice. We should make every effort to achieve the 60-80 percent pay rise demanded by the PSA and their followers if that is what it takes to resolve the situation. Tongans must enjoy a decent standard of living, rather than having, as at present, the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any developing nation. It is time for a political revolution to revitalize Tongan democracy and move the country toward social justice.

…“Freedom and justice don…’t come easy. As the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass of the USA said; “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” We can learn from Douglass, and from many of our ancestors like Siaosi Tupou I who fought against slavery and gave Tongans their Freedom by granting them the emancipation of 1862.

Tongans have endured for decades the totalitarian regime by those in control, and now fight for a democracy in which all people could vote and fully participate, and be equally represented in parliament, rather than an imbalanced political decision making process led by the unscrupulous few rich and privileged individuals. Working people must continue to fight for the right to organize labor unions.

Awful roar

In my view, the major struggle that we have now is for economic and social justice. Once again, Frederick Douglass anticipated the need for struggle: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

We have in Tonga the wealth and resources today to end poverty, make health care available for all, and provide the best education in the world (it is a well-known fact that Tonga is among the most literate countries in the world today). We won…’t accomplish those goals, however, unless all Tongans reclaim their democratic heritage by fully participating in the political process: by using the power to vote and speak and act for social justice.

One only has to look at the rate of …“brain drain…” that takes place in Tonga now. I don…’t have the facts to advocate any but this certainly indicates something to worry about. That is, when there…’s more PhDs and MBAs overseas than in Tonga is that an issue? Someone somewhere may have the answer.

Hope this will shed some lights to alleviate the current situation. I am strongly in support of a more dialogue approach (i.e. free flow of information) to resolving the situation than resorting to force or violence.

…‘Ofa atu
Francis Kolo
Imags [at] juno [dot] com