New Zealand Foreign Minister Visits Tonga

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McCully calls figures for Cyclone recovery ‘frightening’

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 3, 2014) – Tonga is seeking an estimated $56 million [US$45.2 million] for reconstructing homes in Ha‘apai after Cyclone Ian, Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu said on Friday at a press conference, held jointly with the visiting New Zealand Foreign Minister.

Hon. Murray McCully said there was an enormous challenge ahead for Tonga’s government and the figures given by the Deputy Prime Minister were "frightening".

Hon. Samiu Vaipulu estimated the cost of reconstructing 800 permanent houses to be around $48 million and for transitional houses around $8 million.

Samiu said Cabinet had a plan in place to move people from tents to temporary housing during a three months long transitional stage, and into more permanent housing within 18 months.

"We are now looking for donor partners for funding a total of 800 residential houses and we would like to rebuild Ha‘apai, so they don’t move to Nuku‘alofa and for them to stay and try and recover their economy as well," he said. "We have agreed with donor partners and the churches and NGO’s that we will have one standard of housing for all, and they will all use the same plans," said Samiu.

New Zealand

Mr McCully said that in responding to Cyclone Ian New Zealand’s initial focus was on assessing the damage, and getting shelter and water to people, and then on electricity re-establishment and the re-establishment of crops.

"There is a $2.4 million total spend so far, but we are looking at other areas for contributions over the coming days.

"It is fair to say we will be spending significantly more in Tonga on the development front as a consequence of the cyclone in Ha‘apai and it is too early to put some figures on it," he said.

"The Deputy PM has just made some quite frightening figures in terms of the cost of reconstruction of houses and that is obviously something that is going to require multi-donor effort, and we will have some further discussions to work out how New Zealand can best contribute to that process."

Development programme

Mr McCully said New Zealand's role in Tonga is to assist with a bilateral development programme and his annual visit was planned before the cyclone occurred.

"The cyclone recovery has been pushed to the fore. I had a good meeting with the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers and will meet some people in the agriculture and horticulture industry, an area I am interested in here, to keep those businesses to grow their exports to New Zealand and for local consumption.

"Before the cyclone we brought forward a very substantial electricity reticulation project that has cost $22.5million (NZD). It’s a very large undertaking that will make a sign contribution to savings in electricity system," he said.

"In terms of the cyclone recovery there are some things we can do within the existing programme, but I want to be quite clear the cyclone recovery funds will be on top of the funds normally committed to Tonga in the coming year

"But the primary focus here is to look at the enormous challenge that the government has ahead and to work out how New Zealand can best support that process," he said.

"We have got around 60,000 Tongan-New Zealanders, so the level of interest at home is very high."

"It’s easy to try and generate big numbers and get headlines on these things but it’s important to allow the process to be locally-led, to get things in the right order and to make sure that all of the local considerations are taken into account," he said. "And then respond to a specific request alongside other donors."

MA60

Mr McCully commented on the New Zealand travel advisory on Tonga’s Chinese gifted MA60 aircraft to Tonga and said it was something that New Zealand officials "assess from time to time".

"The Deputy PM and I may have some different views on the best way forward there, but we are good friends and we are in constructive dialogue on the best long-term arrangement for both the transport and marine safety here. We haven’t really focused on that issue during this trip as the immediate requirement is to focus on Ha’apai," Mr McCully said.

"It’s been very useful to have this opportunity to spend time with the Deputy Prime Minister and look at the work done here."

Heartfelt thanks

The Deputy Prime Minister, was overcome by emotion as he tearfully thanked Mr McCully and the Government of New Zealand for all their contributions, as well as the New Zealand High Commissioner Mark Talbot and his office in Nuku’alofa.

"You have been with us all along and it's much appreciated," he said.

Mr McCully left Tonga on February 1.

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