By Kalafi Moala
As a we continue to look at Tonga’s political landscape, the 2010 Constitutional reform finally achieved the ideal to create a people’s majority in Parliament. But as an excuse to mask incompetency and inability to govern, Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and his dwindling supporters pushed for more power. They wanted the King to relinquish all his executive power, and for them to have the ability to exercise that power.
The problems Tonga suffered from 2015 to 2019 was only the pinnacle of a journey that had taken three decades to complete. This was a journey led by a delusional man and a movement which banked on lifting their individual and collective state in life by tearing down the lives of others, especially those ranked high socially. Tonga’s middle class and educated elite, as well as the nobility; the Monarch and the Royal Family were targets in a negatively driven reform campaign.
Recalling the wise words of Abraham Lincoln should give us the determination to stay the course in building a free society, and to never stop calling for an accountable Government. He said: “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift… You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred… You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence…”
In 2019, Mr. Pohiva died, and a new by-election was held for a replacement from his electorate. His son, Siaosi Pohiva, won. The current Prime Minister, Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa was elected as Prime Minister in November of 2019. He selected a Cabinet that included those from the previous Government, independent members of Parliament, as well as some of the noble members. Despite being accused by members of ‘Akilisi’s power base that he betrayed them, Dr. Tu’i’onetoa had outplayed his former colleagues and became firmly the head of a new Government.
As he took over leadership of a new Government, Dr. Tu’i’onetoa announced the formation of a new “People’s Party.” Most of those in Government had announced their affiliation with the new Party. A familiar political personality also appeared on the scene as the architect of the new Party, as well as the thinking mind behind its manifesto and a spokesperson for Government policies. He is the controversial ‘Etuate Lavulavu, former member of Parliament and former Cabinet Minister in the beginning of ‘Akilisi’s Government.
As Tu’i’onetoa’s Government turns the corner on its way to completing its first year in government, the island nation has given a sigh of relief for the smooth transition of power, from a tumultuous five years of ‘Akilisi’s rule, to what is generally accepted as a more peaceful handling of power by Tu’i’onetoa.
As we try and look back over the past three decades of political and social life in our beloved Kingdom of Tonga, we must take a proper evaluation, in fact a diagnosis of where we are right now as a society, and how did we get here?
We may not be where we want to be, but at least we need to look around and make assessment of where we are right now. Are we better now than what we were 30 years ago? Are we less poorer, less ignorant, more at peace with ourselves and one another, than we were?
Is there less corruption now? Is the crime rate lower or higher now than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago?
On the treatment of women, are we better now? Are we healthier now than in years past? What about our families? Are they stronger or more dysfunctional?
We look at the spheres of family, church and religion, education and schooling, government and politics, the economy and business; arts, sports, and entertainment; communications and media. What are we looking at here? Stability and growth, or crisis and chaos?
Are these spheres reflecting wholeness, stability, joyous peace, godly character or are they reflecting a society that is falling apart. But why is the majority’s silence so deafening to the point where inactivity for or against anything has become normal. Why are we laid back now when it matters most that we take action, positive and creative action for our nation?
Where are the voices of common sense? Where is God in our midst? Where are the leaders in our society? Where are the shepherds that lead and take care of the sheep? On second look, it seems to be the sheep that is scattered every which way doing whatever is most convenient while the shepherds are busy living lives for their own ends.
Sometimes, it’s like seeing a population numbed by methamphetamine or filled with religious illusion, believing anything and everything, and the embracing of whatever feels good at the time.
Our economy is at a low point. Quite a number of businesses are no longer able to operate. This results in workers being laid off, and of-course no income taxes are going to the government coffers. But there is a Stimulus Package of $16.4 million allocated to assist affected businesses. Much of this help comes from Government funds, World Bank and ADB grants, as well as aid from countries like New Zealand. But the money from the funding agencies come in as budget support and Covid 19 emergency assistance. It is from this budget support that the unsustainable Stimulus Package is being funded.
But with all that is being done to help lift the economy, Tonga is already in hard times. Families are feeling the pinch, especially those where the bread winners are unemployed as a result of the Covid 19 crisis.
The revitalizing of the primary industries of agriculture and fisheries will continue to help food security in Tonga. As imported goods are getting more expensive, local trade in local produce keeps the local economy barely floating.
But there are specific chronic social ills that is drowning many sectors of our Society. The crime rate is rolling out of control, especially in illegal drug use and distribution. There is hardly a week that goes by without someone arrested for distribution of drugs, especially ICE and cannabis. Tonga has been called in jest by Pacific Media as the “Kingdom of ICE.”
The abuse of women and children in the home is alarming. Sexual assault and rape are regular criminal offenses being tried at the Courts of Tonga. Our heads hang in embarrassment as some of us ask the “why” question, yet unable to come up with any practical answer.
Corruption in Tonga has become an elusive enemy so hard to fight, because it is deeply rooted in our society, and especially in Government and Businesses. It is claimed by economists to be the chief impediment to economic development. The broad definition of corruption is “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain.”
Merit is no longer the chief reason behind the selection of people for public service. Nepotism and the appointments of people for positions of service are tainted with irregularity and lack of integrity. Contracts for major Government projects lack the proper procurement processes, and later discovered that huge conflicts of interest were ignored as lucrative contracts were being granted to family, friends, and even those who gave financial kick-backs to the leaders and decision makers.
This is not the Tonga I grew up in. This is not the Tonga that my parents or grandparents were raised. Worse, this is a Tonga that can be reformed and reset on a new pathway, but it won’t happen because there is not the political will or the moral character to do so by those in power.
But where do we go from here?