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Tonga: much to be done to meet SDG targets

New York, USA

Tonga Delegation to the 2019 United Nations High-Level Political Forum. Photo courtesy: Tonga UN Mission, New York.

By Eleanor Gee at the United Nations, New York.

Tonga admits it needs to do more to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during a presentation of its country progress report at the High Level Political Forum at UN Headquarters on 17 July in New York, USA.

Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Semisi Sika, who led a delegation to present the kingdom’s Voluntary National Report (VNR), said while much has been accomplished, much also remains to be done.

“This [Voluntary National Report] VNR process has revitalised our commitment to accelerate the achievements of the 2030 agenda,” he said.

Under the theme of “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”, Tonga’s report, which was played via a video on a big screen, started with a statement from Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who communicated that the review allowed Tonga to take stock of their progress to date. (The PM who has undergone medical treatment in New Zealand, did not attend).

The video then highlighted focus areas and success stories working toward achieving a number of the SDGs including:

  • quality education (SDG4);
  • decent work and economic growth (SDG8);
  • reduced inequalities (SDG10);
  • climate action (SDG13);
  • peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16); and
  • partnerships for the goals (SDG17).

The goals are embedded in Tonga's Strategic Development Framework, intended to guide the government's priorities.

Cash transfer scheme

Progress on other SDGs including poverty, health, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, ocean and land management, and infrastructure were also included.

Tonga highlighted plans and achievements under each of the SDGs, such as using education as a tool to alleviate poverty as well as planning a Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme for the 3.1% of Tongans who survive on an extremely low income.

On climate action, Tonga boasted it was the first country in the Pacific and the world to combine two plans into one - climate change and disaster risk management, and ensure they are included in all aspects of development.

In the Energy sector Tonga reported that its energy efficiency target of reducing electricity network losses to 11% of total electricity generation had been achieved in 2017. As of date, Tonga had achieved 10% of the 50% share of renewable energy target by 2020.

Low infant mortality

In the Health sector Tonga continues to honor its commitment to Universal Health Coverage - striving for nationwide coverage and access to quality healthcare services. Non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases are ongoing concerns with high NCD prevalence, low contraceptive use and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Tonga, reported low maternal and infant mortality, and high immunization coverage and that it's progressing well towards certain indicators for SDG3:Health and is close to meeting its target of reducing maternal and infant mortality.

And under gender equality, a Protection Legal Aid Centre was established in 2018 aimed at providing better access to justice for victims and survivors of family violence.

Opportunities were also reported such as engaging with other neighbouring countries in the Pacific and the world to increase development, using the success of the Pacific Labour Scheme as an example.

Better governance

Hon Semisi Sika told UN members after the presentation Tonga can meet the 2030 agenda through “improving our levels of accountability and oversight for better governance” and engaging closely with other sectors such as parliament, private sector, civil society organisations and the community.

At the end of the presentation, questions were asked by representatives of four countries, Belize, India, Norway, and The Netherlands, around legal aid resourcing, equal opportunities for vulnerable groups, strengthening partnerships with civil society and youth, challenges of inclusive education, and trade tools to strengthen economic growth.

Women's issues

An NGO representative from the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO) also asked Tonga to explain why it had not ratified the Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Conventions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as what measures were taken to guard against the exploitation of seabed mining.

Tonga briefly answered the questions but did not respond to the issues posed by PIANGO.

Tonga was one of six Pacific Island countries including Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, and Vanuatu, presenting their VNRs of progress against the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

The SDGs are a call for the world to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They are part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Government delegation included officials from the Ministries of Education, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Health, Statistics Department and the Ministry of Justice. The delegation was also supported by Tonga’s Permanent Representative of Tonga to the United Nations and the staff of the Mission.

Eleanor Gee’s attendance at the United Nations was supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and UNDP Pacific Office.


High-Level Political Forum 2019