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Not the response that a demanding public expected

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


Editor's Comment, by Pesi Fonua

At this junction of our quest for social, economic and political reform in Tonga, the one entity that is obviously missing is a credible opposition to form some sort of Shadow Government responsible for the drafting, presenting of demands and reform proposals, and the monitoring of their progress.

Until such an entity is established, reform will be sluggish, because with the ad hoc demands made by various individuals and groupings as we have witnessed so far, the response from government has been the opposite of what the reformers want. As things stand if we want reforms our involvement ends with the presentation of our demands -- the rest is for the government to decide and execute. 

There are many clear examples of government's response to public demands, the latest being the public protest over high electricity charges and demands for Shoreline Power to hand back the power generation utility to government, along with the calls for a more democratic system of government. Of course, government has responded to all of these demands. 

With regards to the expensive electricity the government response was to subsidize electricity by paying Shoreline 11 seniti per unit, which in real terms means that the public is still paying Shoreline, a move that is blatantly a smack on the face for the Tongan people. 

Then the government's response to the calls for Shoreline to hand back the power generation is even more blunt, because it involves forcing the cash-strapped treasury to take a massive multi-million dollars loan, which will take the country years to repay in order to buy the power generation back from Shoreline.

Again that was not the response that a demanding public expected.

With regards to the call for political reform, government responded by appointing some Cabinet Ministers and even a Prime Minister from the elected members of parliament, and again the demanding public is not happy with such a move. 

Government will argue that they have responded to the demands, while the fragmented demanding public is left shaking their heads and saying that was not what they wanted.

The point is that unless we, the people, are united and form a credible Shadow Government to negotiate with government on issues that are important, it does not look as if there is any way upward and forward, and Tongans who are troubled by the need for reform will remain stuck with the stagnation and the increasingly explosive situation that we are finding ourselves in today.


Democracy a cross for new PM to bear - Kristenseen Halatokoua:
The non-stop political debate for change in Tonga look like will on until the end of time. A country of relatively high mark of literacy and numeracy, which is the fundamental tools of understanding, but still yet to improve or orchestrate a real change in its political configuration. The assignment specified to Dr Sevele as a PM might be looks political but competent. However it doesn'’t make any different, he still an unelected political commodity- elected to the House by people auto pick by a constitutional authority into Cabinet. This is not a change in the current political arrangement of Tonga; he might be the first non-aristocratic PM. Dr Sevele is an expert in my opinion, he can enact economic policies overnight when trade sluggish and market stagnant. He can match Peter Costello of Australia or Alan. C Greenspan of America, do I over hype him?

The point is, Dr Sevele can run the Country politically; A Prime Ministerial appointment is not all about economics. Can he balance the social demand and the political/ moral of the Tongan society, such as unprecedented number of crimes of deportees and the impact of the crime that make the community feel unsafe in their own backyard. If it is not a real problem, the cost of the government to facilitate investigation and infrastructure to cope with drug trades and firearms and other social misbehaviour can sum up, or the saying sai pe ko Tonga’ becomes incredibly realistic.

And if it not a concern, the essential infrastructures like electricity, water system, communication, etc, must have a legitimate legality. For instances the Acts for privatisations, directors, shareholders, joint ventures, acquisition, etc. The Shoreline tittle-tattle, is an indirectly by product of lack of accountability and transparency in the current system. Tonga currently doesn…’t have a genuine corporate law or next to nothing, and even a business watchdog. It might be an expensive exercise to have one in place but we currently struggle, because of our inexperience. Now come Dr Sevele, in charge under the same umbrella that his predecessor, Prince …‘Ulukalala fail to accomplish, and certainly the system indirectly contribute to his demise. The Shoreline scandal ultimately causes headache in him and the royals let alone the Cabinet. For Dr Sevele I hope he is not a cork or a police dog, but creative and realistic to counter the untested policy of his master, the monarch.

Dr Sevele have to support the campaign for democracy, there is no option for him to oppose in action, oral or in any statement of his office or even his private life, he owe nothing to anybody, respect and honesty will be conveyed him to success. The democratic institutions such as media, civil societies, etc, will hamper him badly if he doesn't act accordingly. It is a challenge but he have to, there is no excuse for him to turn around oh, because of the King for any irresponsible.

Lastly, he has to push for change in the current system, to my opinion this is the real cross for the Catholic PM. Your master don't like it, for sure, but at the end of the day cross have to bear. Democracy is your cross does not forget that. - Kristensseen Halatokoua

Referendum for the demanding but fragmented public of Tonga - James Tapueluelu:
Watching and reading from afar, I have surmised that it may very difficult to achieve the unity that you have called for. The reasons for this lie in the fact that in spite of recent events that point to some sort of "demands"’ from individuals and groups (even very large ones) amongst the Tongan public, it cannot be said that any one of those views or demands that were made represents the majority of people or electors in Tonga. Without downplaying the problems that have been experienced by both the people and the government, any changes to the system need to be put to the people as a whole.

My view on this is based on a recent survey by Matangi Tonga on the 2005 Election. There were 78, 317 people who voted in the last election in Tonga (2005). Of those who voted, 30, 501 voted for the Human Rights Democratic Movement of Tonga Party - which is 38.9% of the electors. However the remainder of the electors 47,816 did not vote for HRDMT. That figure represents 61.1% of the voters. So, in spite of any desire to be united as to demands and views, the voters are clearly not all paddling in the same "political canoe". That being stated, the issue of what the people want is an important one, if not the most important issue of all. Democratic principles demand nothing less than the answering of this question.

Without endorsing the Washington model of Democratic Monarchy proposed by `Afeaki, I would support his call for a referendum first to ascertain whether the voting public of Tonga really want these changes or not. Are they demanding these things as a nation or are we only considering the demands and views (without much choice) of those who are best at putting forward their views and taking the …‘floor…’, as it were. Other countries in the region who have proposed making huge changes to their political system have followed the same path of having national referendums.– Australia in terms of Republicanism and New Zealand in terms of the MMP system. This seems to be the accepted way of gauging what the people want. It is not gauged through active and noisy "‘politicking"’ by certain groups or by those who can best afford to pay for media coverage, but done in the same way that all democratic societies determine political issues– the ballot box.

If a referendum or referendums were to happen then all the views and ideas that people have, including the King's matapule's model, can be put to everyone to consider. This might be a huge task in terms of education and dissemination of information, but this needs to happen anyway. Making such decisions should not be left only for the most "‘politically-minded" or the educated. Keep up the good work. - James Tapueluelu