By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – It is commonly known as the Touliki Swimming Pool, the only public swimming pool in the island kingdom. Built by taxpayer money, and at the time publicly proclaimed as a pool “for the families to enjoy.” Since its closure in March 2020 due to a young girl drowning, speculation and rumors have been swirling around town as to what is being built on the recreational site.
It could not be better located as a recreation site for families. It is right on the waterfront in Touliki, Ma’ufanga, on the eastern outskirts of the main town Nuku’alofa, just a stone-throw from the Naval Base in Touliki.
But there is something awkward about that pool. It has an unfinished look about it; has been for years. Nothing has been done yet, not only to improve safety, but also to make it a popular site for swimming and relaxation.
There have also been many complaints about the pool, some claiming it is too deep in the middle area, and has no outward passage to the ocean, thus creating a ‘dead sea’ effect, that can cause rapid sinking to the bottom.
Whether there’s scientific fact to this claim has not been officially confirmed, but the fact remains that since the opening of the pool, 14 lives have been lost to drowning, most were young people.
In a time when the pool area seemed unutilized, there suddenly appeared a fence and some construction on the site. A structure that looks like two reconstructed containers being put up as a temporary office or maybe even a juice bar or ice cream vendor.
In a society whose thinking and talk seems to be based mostly on rumors than facts, the stories started revving up like engines, at such a speed that in just a week, there were several narratives circulating in town.
Some of the residents in the relatively well-to-do neighborhood started raising concerns about what was going on at the Touliki Swimming Pool area. Based on the narrative that has been fed to them, some were questioning whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been made.
One resident told this writer he heard that a bar and eventually a Nite Club would be put up in the area. And a petition to stop the works going on in the area was in circulation.
Nothing solves the problem of baseless rumors than getting the facts right on any story. Often however, when the facts are eventually revealed, many have already believed deeply in the rumors they heard, they find it hard to believe the truth.
The name that kept popping up in conversations is Construction Company Ca’Bella, owned and managed by Paea Pau’u. One of the stories is that Ca’Bella has taken out a lease on the Swimming Pool property, and they will commercialize the pool area with café, bar, Nite Club, and the swimming pool may charge a fee for its use.
But all these rumors were dismantled when Ca’Bella Managing Director Paea Pau’u was interviewed over radio. This writer also spoke with him, and got the facts of the story.
In fact the Swimming Pool story is a good one. It’s a story of development, of hope, and improving a public asset that may then be utilized by the families for whom it was built.
Paea says that it was not a lease they got, but just a permit to improve the area, and to manage the pool for a period of 12 months. He is dealing with the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.
“And it’s not Ca’Bella that is involved. I am personally the one that is issued the permit, and have the agreement to carry out what needs to be done,” Paea said.
Paea also said that the rumor that Fijian chief Ratu Tevita Mara from the Palace Office was involved in the Swimming Pool project is totally false. “I sometimes do work for the Palace office and there have been involvement with Ratu Tevita on other projects, but not on this one with the Swimming Pool,” he said.
Paea said that he hopes to complete the improvements to the Swimming Pool area by about March. “We will open it and will be much safer for swimming. We will have security in place once the pool is reopened.” He also said a café and restaurant will operate from the location, as a service to the people who are there for recreation.
“One of the conditions of our agreement is that we cannot put up structures that are permanent and hard to move. This is why we are putting up temporary structures that are easier to move, once told to move out,” Paea said.