HM challenged legislators to refocus their 2016-17 session improving the country’s health, education, and the economy.
The 2015-16 session will go down in history as the year of unprecedented battle to cleanup corrupted practices in which a certain Cabinet member, and a Member of Parliament, was impeached on campaign bribery charges. Former Cabinet member ‘Etuate Lavulavu escaped a lengthy House corruption investigation on misappropriation of Government funds and properties in 2015, but was found guilty on campaign bribery in the 2014 election.
MP Māteni Tapueluelu was temporarily removed from the House for 2014 campaign improprieties, but won his seat back after a lengthy court battle, which a Court of Appeals overturned a previous guilty verdict from Tonga’s Supreme Court. The Tonga Election Commission permitted MP Tapueluelu to stand for election despite breaking a Constitutional degree that bars candidates owing money in any court judgment from running for office. MP Tapueluelu owed $15,000 on a defamation guilty judgment to the law firm of Barrister Clive Edwards, and had not settled the debt when he stood for election in 2014.
HIS MAJESTY WANTS DOMESTIC IMPROVEMENTS
Non-communicable diseases have been cited to be Tonga’s most urgent health problem. King Tupou VI reminds legislators of the pearl in which the nation’s health is suffering mostly from: overweight and obesity.
HM warns legislators against over spending needed funds just to throw money at the problem. Instead, He admonished a collective effort to solve the obesity problem through educating the populace. Throwing money at the problem will deplete the country’s limited resources, but the problem remains unresolved, HM said.
On the educational front, HM cited a recent growing sentiment that Tonga’s level of education has deteriorated for the worst. Unfortunately, this writer has not found this claim to be true. Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Põhiva, who is also the Minister of Education, seems to be the instigator of this negative opinion, but has not provided concrete evidence of proof. No scientific research has ever been done on the subject; the Prime Minister seems to have expressed a personal opinion to justify questionable reforms in Department of Education.
But HM was correct to cite Tonga’s long-standing leadership role in educational achievements in the Pacific. Traditionally, Tongan students went on to bring home the most number of graduate-degree achievers in the Pacific.
ECONOMY NEEDS TO GROW YOUTH EMPLOYMENT
Unemployment has become Tonga’s pain-in-the-neck problem that should receive immediate attention in Parliament. His Majesty cited 2,000 youths graduating from high Tonga’s high schools each year, but there are no jobs for them. An urgent need to provide employable skills in schools, and for job creation in the private sector encouraged.
HM challenged government to perform its duty to provide capitalism opportunities for private businesses to flourish in Tonga; a healthy businesses environment need to exist where entrepreneurs can realize a profit for their efforts; and business shareholders' equity to be rewarded accordingly.
Lauding the country’s agricultural and fisheries capability to feed domestic needs, HM challenged legislators to reduce Tonga’s trade imbalance with trading partners, in favor of exporting more while reducing imports. The recently completed Fua’amotu International Airport upgrading should provide better access to foreign markets for agricultural and fisheries exports.
Unfortunately, recent studies are stacked against Tonga’s exportation efforts. Agricultural developments are hampered by Tongans’ preference for small-plot subsistence-style economy. Commercial farmers have not adopted irrigation techniques to combat Tonga’s vulnerability to dry seasons, for example.
The fishing industry suffers from lack of foreign investments, according to “The Economist” Intelligence Report (2013). The number of licensed foreign fishing boats have decreased in numbers due to unprofitable results: high taxation schemes; and isolation distances from the marketplace.
HM challenges legislators to promote job-creation for youths preparing them for employment at home, and abroad when they do immigrate overseas. Whether legislators would heed HM’s challenges or not, remains to be seen. This writer believes the current government is quick to find faults with past government administrations, but slow to initiate productive social and economic plans of their own.
(Sione A. Mokofisi is an international syndicated columnist living in Tonga. He is Director of English, Journalism & Business Management at Moana Uni-Tech, Havelu, Tongatapu. He’s a published writer/photographer who earned a MBA from the University of Phoenix−Arizona; BS from BYU-Hawaii; AA from Mesa College, Arizona. His opinions, however, do not represent the editorial policy of this Website. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).