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Two years expected to rebuild business district after riot

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, May 8, 2008) – Chinese construction engineers are still consulting with property owners in Nuku'alofa's central business district, and the Tonga government liaison officers expect it will be at least two years before the town rebuilding is completed.

Site work is not expected to start until after the Coronation in early August.

The start of reconstruction of buildings in the Nuku'alofa's Central Business District that were destroyed during the riots on November 16 2006 was expected to start in June, but architects are still talking to about 14 property owners who have indicated they would like to rebuild.

Yueta Huang, the first secretary at the Chinese Embassy, Nuku'alofa said that the government of China has approved a loan of over $100 million pa'anga [US$49 million] to the government of Tonga for the reconstruction, and a working procedure has been agreed upon.

Leveni 'Aho, a government architect, and one of the members of a government committee to liaise with the Chinese construction company that will carry out the reconstruction work, said in early April a five-members team of engineers and architects arrived in Nuku'alofa to work with property owners on the drafts of the new buildings.

Leveni said that the team met with individual property owners and discussed the type of building they would like to have, "the floor plan, the number of stories, and how many rooms on each floor." Before the team leaves Tonga, they should know exactly the kind of building that the property owner would like to have and, "a detailed architectural plan will be produced after they return to China, before the construction starts."

Leveni said that after the government and the property owner agreed on the loan regime based on the agreed architectural plan, "it would take the Chinese company about two months to mobilise its workers and construction materials to ship here before construction work starts, in either late July or early August."

The property owners of the Central Nuku'alofa Business District whose properties were destroyed during the riot were given until December 4, 2007 to make up their mind if they want to be part of the scheme, and 14 property owners wanted to participate.

"Our advice for property owners is for them to take advantage of the full potential of their properties. If it is appropriate for them to have four stories, they should have four stories, and if they can't afford to then government is willing to take over the repayment of just that one floor, and later sell back to the owner."

Leveni stressed that their intention was that at once the construction is completed in two years time the capital should have some fine buildings.

He said that the original plan to widen the streets had been cancelled but each property would allow a portion of land at the front of the property for a footpath.

No government buildings will be constructed under the scheme, excepting for a revamp of the Hala Tu'i, and new fences for the Royal Palace and Pangai Lahi.

The reconstruction is expected to take two years to be completed, and by the Christmas of 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Nuku'alofa should be glittering with its multi-million new buildings. A few four storey buildings will include a new Tungi Arcade for the Free Wesleyan Church.

By the end of April, Yueta Huang, said that the Chinese team were still trying to finalise with land owners, the land ownership issue, and to conclude an agreement before they returned to China.

It is understood that the property owner who agreed to participate in this reconstruction scheme would be given by government a 99 years lease, and most property owners sincerely believed that they would not get a deal like that anywhere, "5% loan over 20 years and a 99 years lease."


However, one of the land owners who wanted to remain anonymous said that there were still a number of issues to be agreed on and finalized.

"One of the stumbling blocks with regards to the construction is that the construction company is also the architect. Normally, the architect is a different entity who would come along to inspect the construction, not only to make sure that the construction is in accordance with the plan but to make sure that the materials used are what was stated in the plan and that the concrete and the steel used is in accordance with the plan.

"What we have to agree on is that if the construction is found to be faulty then the construction company must agree to demolish and rebuild."

The land owner said that with regards to the loan from the Tongan government at 5%, they were hoping for government to give it to them at even a lower rate, "because the Chinese are giving it to government at 2%. There is a five year grace period from the time we sign an agreement, and that means we will only pay interest without the principal. I have asked for a year of full grace not from when we sign the agreement but from when the construction finished. I also have asked for an extension of the time for default of payment. At the moment, if you fail to repay the premium after fourteen days the government will take the property.

"Anyway, government has not come back, but we should finalize an agreement soon, between us, the Chinese and government."

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