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Tonga's poverty rate a national shame

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


The latest international report (Asian Development Bank Report) on our country shows that twenty-two and one-half percent (22.5%) of our people in Tonga live below the poverty line!! Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-Six (8,456) of those people live on less than $3.10 per day. One Thousand One Hundred and Twenty-Five (1,125) of those live on less than $1.90 per day. That is a national shame! Shame on our government! Shame on our rulers! Shame on us as people!

In the Bible we are taught how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Book of Genesis we are told: “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.” Many assume that God did this because they were evil people but God says otherwise. In the Book of Ezekiel Chapter 16 verses 49-50 the Lord says: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

God says he destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah because of the people’s arrogance and haughtiness towards the poor; they neglected the poor. And look at us! We can spend millions of dollars to hold a coronation ceremony. We think it is a good idea to spend $80,000,000 to host the South Pacific Games for a few weeks. Our government takes $100,000,000 from China to rebuild what the wealthy lost in the riots; and never compel anyone to show what that money paid for and whether it was ever paid back. The sad truth is that the 22.5% that live below the poverty line does not mean that those above that line are living well.


When will we demand and expect more out of our government? The only thing that we can expect from government is scandals and corruption. That seems to be the only thing that we can truly predict. When has government actually created jobs? What is government’s plan to help the poor?

The truth is our leadership is largely morally bankrupt. Crime is on the rise like we never thought that would exist in our land. But why? The answer is found in our failed government full of corrupt and dishonest men. What happened to rulers that were people others aspired to be like? What happened to Nobles who were truly noble and put the people ahead of themselves? If robbing from our children’s future was a crime, we would need to build thirty new prisons. Do we ever ask ourselves “What chance does a young Tongan child, not born into privilege, have growing up in our land? What is the best he can hope for?

We need to remove the incentive for being in government. Right now the higher you go, the more you can steal. The incentive shifts from serving the people to serving oneself. It is time to get rid of our leaders and elect people who want to lead because they are called by God and according to His purposes. The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:10 “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.” In short; that breaks God’s heart would break ours.

What a place Tonga would and could be if we all lived that way and elected rulers who would guide us in God’s ways and not their own.

Peni Katoa


With respect to the King, Royal Family, Nobles, leaders and the people of Tonga: I am a palangi living in England, so excuse me for commenting on Tongan society. I lived in Tonga as a VSA volunteer teacher in 1969, I have returned to Tonga many times, speak Tongan and studied Tongan history and culture for more than forty years, so I believe I know a little about the Kingdom of Tonga. But my letter is not about me, it is about the important thoughts in Peni Katoa's letter.

I read Peni's letter with much interest. Tonga is not alone in having poverty, corruption and disappointment in the state of public life - Tonga is a world state in the 21st Century. The people of Tonga must find solutions suitable to Tonga today, but may learn from other countries. In Britain, politicians and other public officials have been found corrupt, making false expense claims or gaining favour from their positions, and learning about this, the people lost trust in their members of parliament. A study was established, and the report resulted in Appointing a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, and ways of making sure that people in public life were accountable for their actions. The main thing was to accept people had gone wrong, and that the only answer was to have public, visible ways of holding public officials to clear standards.

It is not easy, but if Tongan people want to be proud of their government, Tongan officials and politicians must be proud to serve the people of Tonga in an honest, open and accountable manner. Commissions can be a way of doing nothing, but a commission with a clear plan and clear frameworks for action could make a better democracy in Tonga. I hope so. Faka'apa'apa atu, Roger Cowell, Keighley, West Yorkshire, England.