It has been four months now since 16/11 and, as predicted, the consequential effects on Tonga political reform and the economy have been as deadly as sin. We have gone through a period of soul-searching about why it happened, how it happened and who were responsible for this blunder. As a people, I suppose we all feel emotionally gutted - angry and frustrated that our own brothers and sisters at home were actually capable of delivering such evil. Now of course the reality has hit home - the main business area of Nuku’alofa resembled that of an unfinished Hollywood Western film studio. One could almost feel the tension of a cowboys’ gun fight about to take place and John Wayne slowly walking down the deserted Taufa’ahau Road with both hands on his hips ready to draw his pistol on anything that moves. The only trouble is Taufa’ahau Road is not a Western film set. This is the business nerve centre of our little country.
I am writing this letter to call on all Tongans around the world: Please take part in the re-building of our beloved home. I believe that it is time to stop the recriminations and focus on what needs to be done to assist in the regeneration of the economy in Tonga. I don’t need spell out here what the Tongan Government other agencies’ initiatives have been in the effort to fund the re-building of Nuku’alofa, as they are well publicised in the media. But the bottom line is this: no agency or country in the world will just hand over millions of pa’anga to our Government just like that in order to rebuild the capital. There are business factors involved, and international agencies, industries, business communities and countries abroad are perhaps not so confident in how we do business in Tonga. Whilst negotiations, assessments and reviews are taking place behind the scenes, the economy is desperately in need of hard cash in order to bring it back from the dead.
I put it to you all, my fellow Tongans at home, but mostly to those abroad, that if we stand and work together now, we will be able to breathe life back into the economy in our homeland and no doubt help kick-start the re-building of Nuku’alofa. Perhaps you could take part in one or two fund raising events and thereby aid the process of re-building Tonga. Here are a few suggestions for you to consider and discuss:-
1) Buy Tonga Government Bonds - you can do this via the Reserve Bank of Tonga. There were series issued in 2006. I have made enquiry with the Bank re available Bonds for purchase, and am still awaiting a reply. If you are interested, please log on to the Reserve Bank website and find out more on how to go about buying Bonds. The yield interest is very good. You need to spend a minimum of $1000.00 pa’anga on this type of investment. My calculation is that if the Government release more series this year and, say, a hundred thousand Tongans invest in $2000.00 pa’anga worth of bonds each, well, we are talking about two hundred million pa’anga straight away. YES, BY WORKING TOGETHER, WE WILL MAKE A HUGE IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY. One has to bear in mind though that this is a long term investment. Short term benefit is not our objective here; rather, we are injecting a large amount of hard cash into the economy for the purpose of re-vitalising its very, very poor state of health.
2) Transfer investment: wealthy individuals at home and abroad should transfer their investments back home and invest them with Westpac Bank or other available local Banks. Again, if all of us from abroad do that, more cash will be available.
3) Reduction of feasting activities: Tongan people come fourth in the world obese league table. Yes, we are known for being fat people. Sometimes, we make excuses for ourselves by saying that being fat is in our genes. The truth , however, is that Tongans just over-indulge and are greedy when it comes to food. But seeing that we need cash back home, can I suggest that everyone goes on a healthy diet, cuts out spending money on feasts every time there is a get-together, invests that hard-earned cash in an investment account back home and lets it grow. Not only will you feel healthier for it, but richer as well.
4) Small businesses - Wealthy individuals abroad should consider either setting up a small business back home or funding an existing business which is struggling to survive.
5) Review top Civil Servants’ and Parliamentarian pay: I suggest that the Government should review immediately the pay scales of top Civil Servants and members of Parliament. No Civil Service redundancy, please. It will only hit the poor people. Rather, I suggest the 60% pay rise agreed last year should be reviewed. Better still, the 60% pay rise for Parliamentarians and Civil Servants should cease forthwith - but could be reviewed when the time is favourable.
I would also like to ask the Finance Minister to publish details of the Government’s debt (if any) currently owed to the World Bank or any other banks at home and/or abroad. In this way, we common folks can take part in open discussion on how to go about paying off these commitments. Better still, I am thinking of lobbying rich countries like UK and USA to see if these types of debt can be written off.
I am sure you will all agree that 16/11 was a political blunder or, to put it mildly, a childish, ignorant, selfish act of political suicide by opportunists who momentarily forgot the meaning of democracy. Thanks for nothing, guys. The wake of your political suicide erased any hope of immediate reform. Not only that but it plunged the country into dire economic poverty.
Tonga politics need new people and new ideas. Lessons have been learnt from the mistakes of the past. Let’s make this a corner-stone upon which to re-build the future. The future, I am afraid, does not have any place for those politicians who took part in the destruction of Tonga. Why? Sorry folks but you are now seen as liabilities not only to political reform but also to economic progress. International business communities do not entertain the idea of investing large funds in a country run by political freaks. And Tonga urgently needs to convince the international business community that security in Tonga is guaranteed. This is simply a matter of economic life or death.
I am still confident that the King will welcome political change in Tonga during his life-time. With that in mind, I am also confident that changes will happen but at a much slower pace. Consider this fact: Tonga already has some form of democracy, but operating under a tri-partite system (The King, Nobles and the People). We already have the report from Prince Tu’ipelehake’s Reform Committee which was a focal point for Parliament before 16/11. As far as I am aware, the proposals are still on the agenda for discussion by the parties involved. However, in the aftermath of 16/11, it would be wise not to rush into political decisions until we are sure that any changes will provide security and economic stability at home.
For now though, I believe that the tri-partite system works well in Tonga and has provided stability for the Kingdom for a long time. People tend to forget that our political system mirrors that of our culture. We were all born to an orderly community which has always had a King, Nobles & commoners. Believe it or not we are all related to one another in some form or other and can proudly claim our connection to King George V or any of the Nobles. So the idea of divorcing from the tri-partite system must be thoroughly investigated before we go down that road of change. Who knows, we might learn along the way that our system works better for us that anything else. Caution is the watchword.
Meanwhile everyone, may I stress the urgency of investing funds in Tonga. Our help will be much appreciated.