World Bank approves US$4.65M for digital access to Tonga public services

Tongans will soon benefit from improved digital access to key public services, including significant upgrades to Tonga’s civil registration and national ID systems, following the approval of a US$4.65 million grant by the World Bank’s Board of Executive D

The Tonga Digital Government Support Project will strengthen digital access, efficiency and security in Tonga’s public service, by supporting a number of whole-of-government digital initiatives, includinga new National Government Portal that will improve Tongans’ access to services and information across all Government ministries and agencies, as well as improvements to Tonga’s regulations for digital economy and digital government, data protection and privacy, and cyber security.

In addition, the project will improve Tonga’s civil registration and national ID systems, ensuring that each Tongan citizen and resident is assigned a unique ID number at birth, that their legal identity can be authenticated for accessing services in-person and online, and that birth, death and marriage records are linked. For Tongan families, this will mean that newborns can be registered more quickly, and that all Tongans will have better access to education, health, employment, elections, immigration, property ownership and banking. These efforts will accelerate achievement of Sustainable Development Goal target (SDG) 16.9: to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.”

Tonga’s remote location, small size and dispersed islands pose many challenges to its economic development, including inefficient public service delivery and high transaction costs. Despite recent investments in improved connectivity in Tonga — notably, World Bank-supported broadband internet access – further investment is required to build a whole of government approach to digital government, and to more effectively connect Tongan households and businesses.  At present, the civil registration and national ID systems are not effectively linked, and Tonga has limited data protection standards.

“Delivering effective online public services to our people is essential to the development of Tonga,” said Hon Dr. Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa, Tonga's Minister for Finance. “We are delighted to be working with the World Bank to improve our digital technology across all government agencies and advance digital access and efficiency for Tongan communities.”

“Our work in the Pacific has shown us that integrated, shared and inclusive information flow within and across government agencies can improve the quality of life for citizens, and reduce the complexity for businesses trying to grow,” said Michel Kerf, the World Bank’s Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. “We are proud to be working with the Tongan Government on this project; the first of its kind supporting digital government in the Pacific.”

The US$4.65 million grant comes from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the most in-need countries and will be implemented by Tonga’s Ministry of Finance. The project has been supported by the Australian Government through collaboration with the Commonwealth Digital ID Initiative of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the Korean Government through the Korea-World Bank Partnership Facility (KWPF).