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Look ahead to new opportunities

Mataika, Kolofo'ou,Tonga


MANY thanks to Matangi Tonga for allowing us to participate in this debate fora. It seems to be an interesting issue discussing whether to maintain the Tongan Diplomatic Mission in UK and Europe.

How important is it for Tonga to have actual, not virtual diplomatic relations in Europe?

First of all we live in a world of increased connections and interdependence through diplomatic relations, trade agreement, improved market access, communication, poverty alleviation, travel etc. We all are mutually supporting each other and whatever may happen in one part of the world, whether political, economic or social, it may directly affect us and the way we live our daily lives. UK and EU are very important for Tonga in many ways. Nurturing diplomatic relations with countries like UK and EU do not only strengthen the rule-based international system and support our values and interests internationally, but it also build up Tonga’s proactive engagement in specific areas such as voicing our vulnerabilities to assist us with resilient development.

By continuing such a strong and close warm relationship with UK and EU it will not only deliver concrete benefits for both Tonga and others but it will also strengthen and re-energise important bilateral and multilateral relationships in the long-term venture. With regards to checks and balances, one must compare cost and benefits; we do not know how much monetary assistance Tonga gets from the EU in Brussels.

There is a normal aid programme and there are ad-hoc programmes that are launched in Brussels, and countries represented have a good opportunity to seek proper proposals from their capitals to get the most out of these ad-hoc programmes. The meetings in which policies and strategies that guide the disbursements and implementation of EU development aid in the developing countries (and the EU representatives like the one in Suva as Dr Fisi’iahi alluded to), are held in Brussels by the ACP Ambassadors almost every week and someone from the THC in London, as I understand, have to personally attend and participate in these meetings to defend and advance Tonga’s interests and hopefully maximize our share of the cake.

Let us take a look at Greece! Does Greece shut down her main diplomatic missions abroad because of the nations’ great debts? By all means no.

Think about Iceland! The nation was declared practically bankrupt after the financial crisis had struck the nation, but this severe situation did not spur the Icelandic government to shut down its most important foreign missions.

I hear from my Pacific friends in Brussels that Tuvalu has established its mission in Brussels (2008) and Palau is in the Process.

It would be regarded somewhat odd to ask your employer to accept your request that you from hereon will be working from home as your economy has dropped due to high spending and thus has made it too costly to commute to work. It goes without saying that you have to reduce your expenses on almost everything else than what will effect your working situation in a negative way. This corresponds to Tonga as well. Tonga can not simply shut down a main diplomatic mission because of her poorly financial situation. Relations have to be nurtured and we have to look ahead because at the end of the tunnel there is always a light and with every sunrise come new opportunities.

Some of you have suggested that some of these diplomatic relationships can be easily done through the new technology such as emails etc. I am afraid that in this day and age, anyone can create an email address and operate as the Ambassador for Tonga and with the Wikileaks around, the exchange via email is a step backward. I would also like to know whether any of you know of any diplomatic mission that use emails and the telephone as the main- or only method of establishing and maintaining its relationships?

As I mentioned above small countries like Tuvalu, Niue, Cooks Islands and Palau are now coming out to Brussels to establish their missions to ensure that they are seen and heard and ultimately get their fair share of the cake. Comparing little Tonga with just over 100.000 inhabitants to super powers like UK and the US is of obvious reasons of no use in this discussion. Doing such comparative analysis, it is advisable to compare your subject nation to a nation with similar size.

The past UK government closed its mission in Tonga and other parts in the Pacific because it was a party belief (Labour) to close them down. According to an article in the Independent of 15th May 2011, the new government (Coalition) even though operating under significant cost cutting measures, is now looking out to reopen and strengthen its diplomatic missions abroad. This view was accentuated by the British Foreign Minister William Hague at his speech on HM the Queen’s Birthday, and hopefully Tonga is one of those to be reopened.

In reading Mrs Senolita Swan’s letter of proposal… . I recommend that you consult HE Dr. Kioa privately about your grievance and confidential data

We have a Tongan concept ‘fofola ‘ae fala kae fai ‘ae alea’ that I marvel, that is our traditional way of dialogue and communication. I believe this is a great way of finding out the truth from the right people. Once we get the truth and the full picture, we can then make comments based on the truth and hence avoid misleading the public. Your proposal is clearly not based on facts as the cost of education and medical health in Brussels will most probably triple or quadruple the cost of operation in London, as those two alone are free in London.

Countries aspire to open their missions at very central locations such as London which is the hub to Europe, not in the outback as you recommended, where it will take more time to commute just to meet their officials and vice versa. I believe there are other organizations as well that the Mission represents in London; the IMO and Commonwealth Secretariat to name a few. London is a door-opener, in many ways, central to all the countries and organizations that they represent which is a fact that has to be taken into consideration before concluding whether to shut the doors and leave all opportunities that lies ahead.

Furthermore the HC was applauded in the Tongan Parliament in the past years for managing to cancel Tonga’s Fuakavenga Loan. When my husband asked the HC how he did this he explained that it was while he presented his credentials to the President of Germany at the time. He requested if Tonga’s loan for the Fuakavenga can be forgiven and even suggested how it could be done. This is not something that can be arranged via the email or from the vicinity of Hull for that matter. As for cost cutting, the HC wrote to the community last year, asking that due to the budget cuts there will be no National Day at the same scale that had been practiced the last four years.

HE Dr. Kioa is the only High Commissioner that I know of that does not have a fulltime driver. He travels by train, metro and taxi in Brussels, and the mission’s employees also use the public transportations in and out of London. As for the Queen travelling by train in London, fortunately we’re here in Europe and we all read and follow her whereabouts. If she did, it would have been a one off to open a new line, and if she did, they would close or block all the coaches while Her Majesty is on board.

I applaud Dr. Fisi’iahi from NZ for defending the NZ mission; I wish my fellow Tongan in the UK shared your sentiments. As for renting or selling the properties, I agree with you but this is no time to sell any property as the value of the properties is currently very low. The figures you provided for renting the properties is highly unlikely, again as the market is low and a lot of renovation needs to be done to these two properties before you can rent it and I don’t think Tonga has the money to spend on renovations. What little it has, should be invested in acquiring more assistance and further aid for the country. So before you Mrs. Swan mislead our fellow Tongans to think that they have a ‘little money earner in London’, let’s just reassess this again and find time to consult the rightful people. Let’s not insult the graduates and professionals in the Ministry of Finance and Foreign Affairs in Tonga. I am sure they have conducted their cost-benefit analysis, and the assistance and aid collected in Tonga from the EU, Europe and UK (i.e. parts of the product of having a mission in London), will by far outweigh the cost of operation that we’re worried about.

There is no such thing as a second class High Commissioner/Ambassador. My husband and I take time to visit the High Commissioner whenever we’re in London. Witnessing the caliber and level of professionalism that our current High Commissioner operates at makes me proud of my island Kingdom… .

Tonga is a small developing nation, why do not we join together as a Tongan Global Community to show respect and support our Tonga Missions wherever they are established, and always remember our Tonganess; ’ Faa’I kaveinga koula ‘a e mo’ui ‘a e Tonga; Faka’apa’apa; Feveitokai’aki; Lototo mo e Mamahi’I me’a.

Faka’apa’apa atu

Katalin Baranyi

msbaranyi [at] yahoo [dot] com