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Senseless taxation robs Tongans of new-found freedom

Auckland, New Zealand

Dear Editor:

Re: Tonga's political economy: A critical (re)view

First of all, I must thank Mr Uata for making time and space to digest some of the basic tenets of my newly-developed ta-va, ...‘time-space...’ theory of nature, mind and society. (See: Tonga ruled from the grave) I say this because many of its multi-faceted dimensions require some serious reflection in order that its basic philosophical tenets are to be well understood.

Mr Uata...’s comprehension of the theory speaks for itself, especially so in terms of his application of it as a form of critique of aspects of the political economy of Tonga. As he rightly pointed out, the ta-va, ...‘time-space...’ theory is so formal and general in nature that it enters into all fields of inquiry. Political economy is one of these fields.

This exercise is merely a contribution to what Mr Uata has said, and hopefully future discussions will continue to reflect on the problematic nature of Tonga...’s political economy, especially in view of the current crisis in the organisation, distribution and control of her resources in the larger society.

Neo-liberal reforms

Neo-liberalism has become a global phenomenon. The basic assumptions behind neo-liberalism involve both radical economic and political reforms, where the state gives up many of its traditional functions, moving them across from the public sector to the private sector.

The key rationale behind the neo-liberal reforms is for the private sector to run these activities as businesses, in great anticipation that the returns will greatly benefit the country as a whole. In addition, the whole of the community are expected to pick up some of these functions, where they are to fend for themselves with some basic help from the state.

Neo-liberal reforms simply do not work for Tonga. Quite easily, neo-liberalism as a ...‘model...’ does not fit the case of Tonga. No effective economic reforms can be done in the face of political stagnation. In order that we put in place some effective parallel political changes, there is requirement for some fundamental overhaul of the Tongan constitution.

Failing to effect some parallel political transformations is more of an obstacle than a vehicle for neo-liberal reforms. In place of this political obstacle (or the form and content of it) are cultural prescriptions that work selectively in favour of a highly privileged few with prescribed status rather than achieved status.

Instead of the benefits flowing back to the whole of Tongan society, they seem to concentrate in the hands of a privileged few, with the gap between the haves and the have-nots widened in the process, confirming the fact that neo-liberal reforms are themselves self-defeating in terms of their objectives. The political implications are therefore huge.

While ordinary members of the Tongan community are expected by the neo-liberal reforms to look after themselves on their own, they are nevertheless drowned in a variety of heavy taxation. The normal expectations are for taxes to be used for public services such as education, health and roads amongst other things but instead these are used for the so-called salaried class, leaving the already distressed community to either sink or swim. Many of them are indeed drowning, with great pain and agony.


In one way or another, this situation has a bearing on remittances. Remittances are monies, goods and services remitted from Tongans living abroad to or for their relatives remaining in Tonga. While those living in Tonga are expected to socially free themselves from local economic and political constraints, the state through its heavy taxation systematically yet ideologically robs people of their new-found but short-lived freedom.

Besides the state, Chinese and foreign exporters to Tonga are the other two main beneficiaries. In the final analysis, the ordinary people at both ends of remittances (i.e., the givers and receivers) are the real losers. That is, that in their attempt to alleviate their masiva or poverty by means of tauhiva or maintaining their spatial relations as close-knit social groups, they become even poorer and poorer.

Tonga...’s economy

Undeniably, Tonga has got more than enough intellectual, cultural and social resources to be able compete in the global market. The problems that Tonga is facing are to do primarily with the organisation and utilisation of her resources, such as fisheries, cultural property rights, tourism and IT, to name a few.

In order for Tonga to be able to enter into constructive trade relations with the rest of the world, she must be seen to be able to produce products unique for / to Tonga. In doing so, Tonga will be able to exchange her goods and services competitively through effective trade networks, which will benefit the country as a whole.

The lack of securing trade relations on the global market means that export-import relations will have a serious impact on Tonga as a whole. The correlation between a huge trade deficit and a high inflation holds serious political implications for Tonga economically, manifested socially by means of the problems faced by the country as a whole. The ordinary, disadvantaged and poorer people are at the receiving end of this rather unfortunate situation.

In fact, these economic problems are a function of the kind of education that Tonga has for so long favoured, where technical, vocational or utilitarian education has been single-mindedly promoted over and above liberal, classical or critical education. The former kind education is, of course, needed but we need to raise it to a level that is compatible with the world over, and also give the latter type of education the lead in the social organisation of education.

Sadly, though, is the fact that ...– having miserably failed to politically organise the economy effectively and sensibly giving the proper order of precedence to the social organisation of education -- the state turns around and "digs" deep senselessly into the pockets of ordinary, poorer Tongans with no regards to humanist morals as the only available means of revenue collecting.

The ordinary people are suffocating due to increasing costs of goods and services, and there seems to be no end to this inhumane, immoral situation. The recent introduction of the so-called consumption tax is a continuing refinement on this senseless instrument of revenue collecting.


The best way to look at both development and governance is to do so in terms of the intersection of non-Western and Western cultures. The points of intersection are embodied as conflicts, especially in terms of the relative arrangements of ta and va, or ...‘time...’ and ...‘space...’ across the rest and the West.

In addition to political economy, the general ta-va, ...’time-space...’ can be applied to the distinct yet related concepts and practices of development and governance.

As a post-WII Western concept and practice, economic development has been the subject of ongoing theoretical and practical conflicts. There are ways of defining development but it can be defined as an economic instrument for the constant mediation of both cultural and historical tensions between traditionalism and modernity.

Of course, the whole rationale behind the permanent negotiation of cultural and historical conflicts between the rest and the West is thought to be done in favour of the West. There have been real problems connected with the treatment of development in the existing literature, which is predominantly singular, linear, analytical and mono-cultural in nature. With respect to this unidirectional or one-directional mode, development is seen to be informed problematically by a sense of both evolutionism and progressivism.

From a ta-va, ...‘time-space...’ theory of development, we can now treat development as a plural, circular, holistic and multi-cultural in character. On the basis of this multiplicity of entities, development should be multi-directional, with workable elements taken from within and across cultures, which are then symmetrically interwoven in order to produce harmony and beauty.


While development is yet to be firmly situated both theoretically and practically, we are now being bombarded with another problematic concept and practice called governance. As a World Bank-led, Western-based ideology, governance can be defined as an political instrument for the permanent negotiation of cultural and historical tensions between modernisation and globalisation.

The chief requirements of governance are transparency, accountability and justice, all of which are democratic ideals, in formally and practically the same way as those required by development, principally informed by the displacement of traditionalist practices (e.g., subsistence economy) in place of modernist practices (e.g., capitalism and technology).

As a Western-driven, World Bank-led ideology, governance, like development, is theoretically and practically informed by a singular, linear, analytical and mono-cultural arrangement of ta and va, ...‘time...’ and ...‘space...’. Like development, governance is governed by a sense of individualism, materialism and consumerism.

A more workable system of governance is one that recognises plural, circular, holistic and multi-cultural norms sanctioned by varying ways in which ta and va, ...‘time...’ and ...‘space...’ are arranged within and across cultures. This is so because development and governance are meant different things in different cultures, so that we merely cannot subject all norms to some kind of total social morality.

The major weakness of the Western-led development and governance is the sense of separatism involved in both of them In development, the political dimension is virtually absent, in the same way that the economic element is missing in governance, especially so when economics and politics, like culture and history, are inseparable human entities.

Sustainable development

This is another problematic UN-formed, Western-driven concept and practice that has been uncritically embraced by academics, politicians, policy-makers and practitioners the world over. As a modern doctrine, sustainable development was initiated and developed primarily as a global reaction to a global environmental crisis.

While this is so, the environment is somehow theoretically and practically excluded from the equation, where both the ecology and society must be seen equally to play a central role. This is a paradox, a problem of thinking about the reality of the matter. It is about the environment yet the environment is excluded from it.

In accordance with the UN resolution, sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs". In this respect, sustainable development is essentially anthropocentric to the extent that it systematically excludes the most important variable from the equation ...– the environment.

Fonua: People and their environment

The Tongan term fonua exists in other parts of the Pacific as vanua, fanua, fenua, enua and whenua. As a pan-Polynesian concept and practice, it means people and their environment. As a traditional, Pacific-driven doctrine, fonua can be used as a systematic critique of the problematic modern, Western-led doctrine of sustainable development.

As a ...‘model...’, fonua espouses a philosophy of life that systematically combines both society and ecology, in ongoing relations of process, cycle and exchange to one another, with sustained aims of creating harmony and beauty between people and their environment.

This is philosophically most evident in the different senses of fonua, which means mother...’s placenta (fonua), land and its people (fonua) and grave (fonua), individually yet collectively characterised by rites of passage such as birth, living and death as eternal relations of process, cycle and exchange going on between people and their environment.

Unlike the UN-led, Western-driven ideology of sustainable development, fonua as a philosophically-informed, Pacific-developed doctrine is situated right at the centre of plural, circular and holistic ta and va, ...‘time...’ and ...‘space...’, giving it a sense of reality, objectivity, harmony and beauty.

In the Pacific generally, and Tonga specifically, it is thought that people walk forward into the past (kuongamu...’a), and walk backward into the future (kuongamui), where the elusive (and yet to happen) future and seemingly fixed past are constantly mediated in the ever-changing, conflicting present (kuongalotoloto). There is then a sense of classicism, realism and aestheticism underpinning the Pacific or Tongan conceptualisation and praxis of ta and va, ...‘time...’ and ...‘space...’.

...‘Ofa atu fau,

Dr ...‘Okusitino Mahina

Lecturer in Pacific political economy & Pacific arts


University of Auckland

o [dot] mahina [at] auckland [dot] ac [dot] nz">o [dot] mahina [at] auckland [dot] ac [dot] nz


We cannot blame the Western world - S. Langitoto Helu - Auckland, New Zealand:
I thank Dr. Mahina for being diligent in maintaining this dialogue, which started with a critique of the hierarchical nature of the Tongan language as a possible cause of inferior complex among the commoners by Sefita Hao‘uli. I intercepted with a proposal to save our language from being overhauled and I personally invited Dr. Mahina out of my respect for his wit to join in. I understand that the dialogue has evolved into a wide range of topics, which is due also to the profound contribution of Dr. Mahina. We (with Dr. Mahina) have been best of friends since our high school days in Tonga at ‘Atenisi but when we disagree on academic issues we have always been proud to lash it out.

I also want to thank the editors of the Matangi Tonga for their endurance in providing a media for such intelligent and informative dialogue to take place. I also thank Mr. Uata for the contributions and the catalysts he has provided to keep this dialogue alive and interesting and for doing a splendid and fabulous job in representing U.S scholars. We (with Dr. Mahina) monitor replies and acknowledgements that go directly to Dr. Mahina's email and I have wondered how Matangi Tonga could have accommodated the whole lot if all were coming to their switchboard.

Sustainable development

I want to point out possible oversight in the argument provided by Dr. Mahina against the theory and practice of the concept of “Sustainable Development” in which “Sustainable Yield” is rooted. The concept of sustainable utilization of renewable resources is known to have existed at least for many centuries, even in Tonga and here in Aotearoa in the pre-European\Western contact period. Awareness of the detrimental effects of human exploitations on our environments has been a major concern in science and among serious stakeholders for more than a good half of a century. In other words sustainable development existed way before it was formulated by the UN as a policy and in other places not only in the west. It is therefore a possible oversight to treat sustainable development as a novel undertaking and to associate any attempt to materialize sustainability with the west only.

I think the world owes the UN for spearheading such a policy that has resonated in our minds for so long but we have not had the guts to stand up for. We, in the Pacific, also are destroying our environments in our own way. We cannot blame only the western world because they take the lead in the deterioration of our environments. We should blame us in the Pacific for our role. For instance, in Tonga we have tampered with “Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon” and its mangroves, the main spawning grounds for most of the inshore fish species. The effect is obvious, i.e. inshore resources in Tongatapu need regeneration.

On the other hand, the application (practice) of sustainable development is based on a quantitative assessment of the resources of interest. The parameters upon which management policy and strategy are based are thought to be vital to the resources and their environments. Unfortunately, the assessment is carried out via mathematical\statistical modeling approach. The models implicitly include environmental parameters as well as biological, economical and social factors. It is therefore a possible oversight to claim that environmental consideration is avoided from the formulation and application of sustainable development.

I will discuss “fonua” and contrast it to sustainable development later.

Tu‘a ‘ofa atu

S. Langitoto Helu
PhD scholar
Department of Statistics
University of Auckland