It was interesting to read the article “Tonga must avoid political disaster, says Princess Regent” on your website dated 02 June 2006, where there was a proud referral to the private remittances sent by Tongans living overseas being of a size equal to that of the nations GDP and admittedly significant enough to be referred to as shoring-up the country’s economy. Inbetween the lines, we are supposedly the envy of other lower remittance sending nations who couldnt match us. There was also mention of the fact that the size of remittances from overseas Tongans had showed a drastic decrease recently. Hmmm I wonder why! The usual overplayed tug at Tongan patriotism before the sculping followed by way of “This reflects that the bonds of family, church, friendship, culture and tradition may be stronger for the people of Tonga than any other country… sounded all too familiar.
With all due respect to very valid personal and family reasons why Tongans send remittances to family in Tonga, it almost sounds like a race horsey-shaped cloud of blessing the government itself has been riding bare-back Papuan-bit-style (with aluminium forehead bandana) for too long without bothering to give anything back in return to benefit those very self-less Tongan people living overseas whom continually send in such large amounts of remittances each year “to shore-up the Tongan economy”. The Tongan phrase “poto he kole kae vale he anga” for so long comes to mind and it clearly describes a pretty short-sighted attitude by government, and no wonder why remittances have dropped drastically recently from Tongans living overseas.
Possible suggestions on things the government could perhaps kindly impliment for the benefit of Tongans living overseas - “in return for the large GDP-sized remittances they send in each year for free” to continue “shoring-up the battered Tongan economy” could include:
(1) Allow Dual Citizenship for Tongans living overseas (Overseas & Tongan): This would allow them to travel freely to and from Tonga (good for airlines & airport), to stay for longer lengths of time in Tonga (more spending), and in itself would encourage them to consider estblishing more business and investment ventures in Tonga (especially if government can come up with some attractive incentives to match).
(2) Make it high priority to consider establishing formalised Tongan Embassy’s in overseas locations such as NZ and Australia: where a large number of faithful remittance sending Tongan people (with specific immigration, visa, language, cultural and leadership needs) reside. Im sure there arent that many Tongans living and sending in remittances from out-of-the-way places such as China and Great Brittain. Its therefore puzzling that a big majority of Tongan people reside in NZ and Australia, yet no such Tongan Embassy exists at these locations to cater for their needs and offer leadership to them. The bottom-line excuse always seems to be budgetary restraints, yet common sense tells us that setting up office in NZ and Australia would probably be cheaper than doing so in Great Brittain or China. The deficit crater must be quite deep and wide then if the government isnt able to find the budget to set up office in NZ & Aust. from the very highly praised GDP-equalling remittances sent in by the very people residing at these locations.
(3) Greater formalised political involvement for overseas Tongans: If the government really wants to formalise its ties with the remittance sending purse-strings of the Tongans residing over-seas, it should really consider offering them voting rights (as Tongan Citizens) at the Tongan parliamentary elections. An overseas advisory council (from each of the major overseas Tongan centers) to represent the voice of Tongans living overseas would also be worthwhile considering. Such overseas Tongan councils can then be invited to Tonga to participate and voice each groups concerns at a formalised government hosted week-long bi-annual discussion forum. Such a thought-provoking and democratic open-discussion forum has the potential to contribute a more balanced view (between Tongan and Overseas Tongans) that the parliament and government could later utilise to design the path of democratic reformation as we move forward. We also have some very talented and able expatriates living overseas whom could also be invited back for their “intellectual remittance” input during such a national Talanoa Bi-annual Forum (as Dr Sitiveni Halapua puts it).
These are just a few examples of possible ideas, if implimented properly, could then qualify any true meaning to the statement “This reflects that the bonds of family, church, friendship, culture and tradition may be stronger for the people of Tonga than any other country….
This is the era of give and take,… gone is the era of one-way take take take!
Dr. E. L. Saafi
e [dot] saafi [at] auckland [dot] ac [dot] nz