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By Filo ‘Akau‘ola

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (January 5, 1999 - Tonga Times)---A call has gone out from one of Tonga’s business leaders, Dr. Feleti Sevele, to again amend the Constitution.

The goal this time is to accommodate Tongans who have taken foreign citizenship, to allow them to retain their Tongan citizenship.

"The Constitution was amended to be able to grant citizenship, to mostly Chinese, in this country, and those who had not fulfilled the Constitutionally required period of residency before being granted citizenship," Sevele told Tonga Times (Taimi ‘o Tonga).

"Here we are, going all out to amend the Constitution for the selling of Tongan passports and citizenship, which is said to have brought in 30-40 million pa‘anga; yet we do not do something to accommodate Tongans overseas who are the biggest source of foreign exchange for this country each year."

(NOTE: US$ 1 = 1,6304 pa‘anga on January 8, 1999)

It is estimated that over 70 million pa‘anga in cash and goods come into the country from Tongans overseas. Most of them have taken on foreign citizenship.

Tongans who have been naturalized into foreign citizenship automatically lose their Tongan citizenship, according to the law at present. Sevele urges amendment of this law.

As one of Tonga’s leading businessman, and an economist respected throughout the Pacific (he holds a Ph. D. in economics), Sevele argues that one of the long term solutions to the worsening Tongan economy is to go back to basics and harness the major sources of revenue, namely the people of Tonga -- those living overseas and in Tonga -- and the land and the ocean.

Both the Minister of Finance, Tutoatasi Fakafanua, and the Governor of the Tonga Reserve Bank warned late last year that the economy is heading toward a disastrous outcome unless something drastic is done to turn it around.

The so-called Asian economic crisis has begun to have an impact on the islands’ fragile economy. Declining exports and a drop in tourism, coupled with a bad year of vanilla and squash pumpkin exports, have widened the trade deficit to over 70 million pa‘anga.

Tropical Cyclone Cora, which struck the Kingdom on December 26, did not help either. Most of the damage was done to agricultural export crops such as watermelon and kava, vegetables, and traditional Tongan crops, such as taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, and cassava.

"We are still floating economically because of the remittances from Tongans overseas," says Sevele. "Some have sacrificially sent money to help their families.

"The average amount of imports per year is about 100 million pa‘anga; yet export earnings total about 23 million pa‘anga. The 70 million pa‘anga or so needed to balance out payments is brought in mostly from Tongans overseas; and a much smaller amount comes in from foreign aid and loans."

Sevele says that Tonga is able to sustain a certain standard of living due to money sent to Tonga from Tongans overseas.

"There is an average of 50 million pa‘anga remitted to Tonga each year from Tongans overseas; and this does not include the amount of money that comes in from overseas as a result of fund raising efforts for building of churches, school buildings, and other development projects.

"Compare this with the one time amount received from passport sales, and it does not make sense why we did so much to accommodate a foreign source that will take more out of Tonga than they put in; yet neglect to do something for our own people overseas who are the main source of finance which keeps this country afloat," Sevele said.

"The passport scheme was ill conceived, and was very shortsighted. We should have spent our efforts helping our people overseas, who in turn will continue to be the biggest economic force in developing this country."

For additional reports from the Tonga Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Tonga Times.

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