Tonga Cyclone Victims Still Living In Tents A Year On

admin's picture

Land tenure disputes reportedly hold up housing construction

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 2, 2015) – The delay in the completion of the reconstruction of residential houses that were destroyed by Cyclone Ian in Ha’apai on 11 January 2014 has made life extremely difficult for families who are still living in tents a year on from the disaster, the People’s Representatives for Ha’apai told the Tongan Parliament last month.

They claimed that dispute over the land tenure was the major hold up in construction of housing.

There were a number of propositions to speed up the construction and to move people from living in tents, but so far there is no solution to the problem. The house owner must confirm that he owns the land before a house can be built.

The reconstruction of houses for the many families who lost their homes was a priority for government after Ian’s devastation on 11 January 2014.

Cyclone Ian was hailed as the strongest hurricane to have struck Tonga, gusting at up tp 300km an hour.

With such a devastating blow on the livelihood of these vulnerable people, assistance was pouring in once the extent of the damage was made known.

The financing and the reconstruction of residential houses were taken over by the World Bank, the Tongan Government and the church of Jesus Christ of the Later Days Saints.

The Minister of Land Lord Ma’afu with some of his staff spent weeks in Ha’apai to try and sort out any disputes over land ownership.

By October last year reconstruction was scheduled to start and to be completed by the end of 2014.

With a 50% / 50% arrangement the World Bank and the Tongan Government made available $USD13.8 million for the reconstruction of 400 houses. The LDS offered to finance the reconstruction of 108 houses of church members whose homes were destroyed by Ian.

However, at of the end of January 2015, not one of these houses has been officially declared to be completed.

Ringo Fa’oliu, the CEO for the Ministry of Infrastructure who oversees the construction of the 400 houses, funded by the World Bank and the Tongan Government said on 29 January that it was not possible to meet the initial completion deadline, so a new deadline had been set for the end of March or early April.

Ringo stressed that his ministry is responsible only for the reconstruction of residential houses.

He said that they had signed contracts with four construction companies and budgeted for the construction of 400 houses.

One of Ringo’s major worries is that the contractors have no work to do because of a hold-up in the processing of the land issue. He said that such a hold-up was costing money, and it would eat away his budget.

The 400 houses are in two groups, 200 houses in Group A and aother 200 houses Group B.

The difference between the two groups are that Group A houses are bigger, valued at $32,000 per house, whereas Group B houses are half the size and value.

To decide what group a house owner should belong to, Ringo said that they took eight guiding factors into consideration before placing a house owner either in Group A or B. These factors included, if a disabled person was one of the occupants, and the urgency of the house owner’s need.

He said that at present 86 houses in Group A had been approved and were currently under construction.

Eighty seven houses had also been approved and were currently under construction in Group B.

Ringo said that with regards to the land issue, the three groups of land owners who were involved are the government, the nobles and individual land owners.

He said that there had been a few problems with individual land owners.

He said that when they are building houses for those who lost their houses during the cyclone, they were dealing with the actual person who was living in the house when the cyclone struck.

If the actual owner of the house was overseas when the cyclone struck, "he is not entitled for a house, but the one who was living in the house is, and a new house for him could be built on his own land some where else."

There was also a proposition that to overcome the land problem, for the building of these houses to go ahead and for government to be the guarantor.

However, Ringo said that after some discussion with lawyers from the office of the Attorney General, there was no firm decision on that proposition.

LDS homes

Howard Niu, the LDS Tonga Service Centre Manager, confirmed from Ha’apai that their contractor, Oregon Pacific is currently working on 72 houses out of the 108 houses that the LDS Church was building in Ha’apai for church members whose houses were destroyed by Cyclone Ian.

According to David, they had got documents from the Ha’apai Governor’s Office, clearing the land issue for them to proceed and build the 108 houses.

Their houses are the same size of those in Group B of government houses, and they have set a completion date for 20 March.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment