Tonga Now

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (Dec. 13) - After the donor meetings yesterday, it quickly emerged that Tonga will require every penny that donor partners and agencies can offer for rebuilding.

Government has been working round the clock to secure a facility to help private sector rebuilding which can only be financially endorsed from donors. The Kingdom’s budget is only sufficient to maintain core public services, leaving very little to provide financial support for revitalizing the damaged Central Business District.

The perpetrators of 16/11 and Pangai Si’i supporters failed to realize the consequences of their actions, which set off a chain reaction of catastrophes to the Tongan economy. Dubbed the most economically destructive event in our history, November 16 will go down as the day 100 years of development went up in smoke in a matter of hours.

While businesses experienced direct property damage and trading losses as well as indirect losses via entry restrictions (Proclaimed Area), most of the public is only now realizing the extent of damages to them.

A combined value of the destruction is estimated at over 200 million pa’anga [US$98 million]. Losses could exceed 300 million pa’anga [US$147 million] if lost earnings and harm to our international reputation is taken into account.

At the moment there is no denying that moving forward will require cooperation of Government and the people of Tonga. Injections from the donor community will no doubt catapult rebuilding and recovery efforts, but the Kingdom of Tonga as a whole must move forward together.

There are still groups who justify [the riot] as a wakeup call for political change, as the actions of a frustrated public majority. These groups are blind to the true impact on the ‘real’ public majority, the whole of Tonga, who will experience economic hardship as a consequent of a struggling economy. They have to ask this question? Was it really necessary to destroy our economic lifeline in order to prove their point? The events of Nov. 16 showcased the destructive nature of this group, which has caused the problems we are now trying to fix. Such extreme views on the rate of change threaten the stability of the economy and well being of the majority. It also discourages further foreign investment in Tonga.

The Government is facing its toughest challenge ever to ensure Tongan citizens have adequate health care, education, public services as well as providing proper security to maintain law and order. Compounding these setbacks is the real costs of damaged CBD which is equivalent to about 50 percent of Tonga’s GDP.

As a nation, coping with aftermath of [the riot] will be a test of what makes you a Tongan. Ahead of us are tough times and difficult circumstances, do we cower and hide hoping our troubles will disappear? Or do we stand together and work for the betterment of our nation, the legacy left to us by our ancestors whom we will hand over to the next generation. We will emerge a stronger people to rebuild a stronger economy.

Moving forward from a rubble-filled Nuku’alofa CBD must involve the entire community resolving our differences. As a Christian nation with strong foundations on faith, peace and harmony, mending broken relationships will pave the way forward. Last month, His Majesty in his speech at the closing of Parliament on the 23rd of November challenged us as a nation to join together in moving forward to rebuild our capital.

Tonga Now is the website of the Reform Information Office, a unit within the Office of the Minister of Finance. The unit was established to assist the Minister of Finance in disseminating information to the public.

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