AFTER 105 YEARS, BRITAIN LEAVES TONGA

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 3) – It was the most emotional farewell that His Excellency Paul Nessling and his wife Kathryn had ever experienced during their 30-years in the British Foreign Service, when they left Tonga in the dead of the night, at 2 a.m. on April 1 - having softly closed the doors on over a century of British representation in Tonga.

But Nessling, the last British High Commissioner to Tonga, believed that the closure of the High Commission after 105 years would be more beneficial for Tonga, because its interests would now be taken care of by a British High Commissioner in Suva, who will be in touch constantly with European Union, the Asian Development Bank, and World Bank representatives.

"But unfortunately the next British High Commissioner to Tonga will miss getting to know the Tongan people and their culture, which is very different," said Paul with watery eyes. "I am leaving feeling very positive about the future of Tonga, but with a lump in my chest, because I will leave behind many good friends and my staff, particularly Viliami, and it hurts. I have been in the Foreign Service for 30 years, and I have to come to the opposite side of the world to find a staff member like him, who would go out of his way to do what is required of him."

Paul said that because he is a representative of a government from the other side of the world, the white colonial seafront residence served many purposes, "in a number of instances, over a glass of wine, disputes have been settled and we have had numerous social gatherings."

Paul said that they were leaving the old residence as it is, excepting for the old pictures on the wall, which they have transferred to Suva.

"To keep its integrity, everything will remain as it is, including the furniture. I also have got permission from the Queen to leave behind the crest and the cannons from the Port au Prince, which were presented as a gift from the Tongan government. To be honest the building has been through a lot of cyclones and it has an awful lot of termites even though we have looked after it the best we can, but it has come to the end of its life span."

A last ritual that Paul had to perform on the afternoon of March 31 before leaving the residence was to break about one dozen 47-year-old liquor glasses that were made specifically for the residence, and to bury them at the residence, and then to lower the Union Jack for the last time.

Paul said that 15 months ago the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw made an announcement that they were going to close down eight sovereign posts with UK-based staff, and one locally-staffed post.

They were Port Vila, Vanuatu; Nuku'alofa, Tonga; Dili, East Timor; Asuncion, Paraguay; Nassau, Bahamas; Maseru, Lesotho; Mbabane, Swaziland; and Antananarivo, Madagascar; as well as Tarawa, Kiribati, which was locally staffed.

Paul said that things had changed since 9/11, "and though I am happy sitting here with only a picket fence around me, but in the real world today there should be a security fence." But for Britain to provide the high level of security that is needed for its foreign missions, there have to be fewer missions.

Paul disputed the claim that the British are moving out from the region, leaving room for the Asians, the Chinese and the Japanese influences to take over. He said that the economic growth of Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Japan and China means that the Pacific region doesn't have to get their goods from the other side of the world but from their neighbors, "the emerging economies of Asia."

With regards to any impact on British aid to Tonga following the closure of its High Commission in Nuku'alofa, Paul said that Britain contributed 13.5 percent of the European Union development budget to Tonga. In addition he had funded things like the Youth Parliament, and other social programs for women. He sincerely believed that with the High Commissioner for Tonga being stationed in Suva, and being able to meet with the European Union representative regularly there would be a better chance for Tonga to get more money from the European Union.

"I have never felt so positive about a place when I left than with Tonga, though I will miss the people and my friends," said Paul.

April 4, 2006

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to 

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