NZ taxpayers funding repairs to 300 storm-damaged homes in Tonga

New Zealand taxpayers are funding repairs to 300 storm-damaged homes in Tonga after the Pacific country was struck by Cyclone Gita in February.

It was described as the worst storm to hit Tonga in about six decades. 

Melino Maka, a leader of Auckland's Tongan community, says he's struggled to access information about aspects of the work being done to repair damaged homes in Tonga. 

Maka says he's been contacted by about 20 people in Tonga who have questions about the efforts and he's tried unsuccessfully through various channels to get them answers, he says. 

“When people don't get information they start to speculate. 

“Where are they at with it [the work]? What is the criteria for those people who are eligible ... and is it full or half repair?" 

Maka, who chairs the Tongan Advisory Council, was among the people who joined Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on her 'Pacific reset' tour of the region in March. 

He was also at a Habitat for Humanity event in Flat Bush, south Auckland, in April when the charity launched a campaign to assist with long-term recovery efforts in Tonga and Samoa following the destruction caused by Gita.  

Maka says he told Habitat's then-chief executive Claire Szabo, who's now on leave, that Auckland's Tongan community needed to be part of the work so they can "take ownership" of it. 

“I said we need to get some processes [in place] around the 300 houses [being repaired] and the criteria for [choosing] who you are going to help, and are you going to have a lottery [to choose whose homes are repaired]?” 

Maka's comments come in the wake of radio host Heather du Plessis-Allan saying on-air that Pacific countries are "nothing but leeches on us [New Zealand]”. 

She later clarified her remarks, saying she "was talking about the Pacific Islands and the people who run it". 

In response, Stuff journalist Andy Fyers reported New Zealand spends millions in the Pacific annually, but this country "has strategic goals it wants to achieve by spending the cash ... so it funds a number of social and economic programmes aimed at improving living conditions in the Pacific". 

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says the New Zealand Government provided Tonga with a $10 million (US$6.6 million) recovery support package following Gita. 

More than $4.5m (US$2.9 million) was to support Tonga's disaster recovery framework. 

Caritas NZ director Julianne Hickey says the Tongan Government assessed more than 2000 houses as having been damaged or destroyed by the storm. 

Assistance provided by the New Zealand Government to Tonga included funding to Caritas NZ, Habitat for Humanity, and Caritas Tonga to deliver house repairs and training for 300 vulnerable households across 20 communities on the country's main island of Tongatapu, Hickey says. 

“All beneficiaries were endorsed by the [Tongan] Government prior to commencing the activity and were selected on the basis of need ... irrespective of faith or political allegiance.” 

Habitat acting chief executive Alan Thorp says minor repairs have been completed to 276 homes in Tonga as of September 14



Photo file. Caption: Damage caused by Cyclone Gita in Tonga in February