Tonga Government Launches Program 'To Change People’s Mind-Sets'

Prime Minister does not spell out specifics of reform program

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 3, 2017) – Tonga's government is embarking on a reform program "to change people’s mind-sets", the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva told a Press Conference that he called on March 30 at the Fa‘onelua Convention Centre in Nuku'alofa.

Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva did not spell out clearly the mind-set that he wants to change or the new mind-set that he had in mind, or target any particular set of people – but the need for new mind-sets apparently became apparent after he and other Cabinet ministers visited Vava'u and Ha'apai recently – and what they saw did not meet up to their expectations.

The Prime Minister was the first to admit that changing "the mind-set of the people" will not be an easy task but he said it is the essence of the reform program that his government is trying to put in place.

Hon. Pohiva said that at both Vava’u and Ha’apai they surveyed five specific areas:

  • government land
  • government buildings
  • government equipment
  • public roads
  • landmark properties
  • public toilet facilities.

In Neiafu they discovered a lot of work that they believed should have been done, had not been done, and a lot of government equipment was broken down and lying idle.

He said that the Ha’alefo prison in Vava’u, should be demolished and rebuilt.

Vava’u is a popular tourist destination but some of the landmarks were in a shameful condition, he said.

When asked whether Cabinet was interfering with tasks that had been budgeted and allocated to various government ministries, the Vava’u Development Committee and Constituency no. 15, the PM responded that they were well aware of the Constituency’s responsibilities. But he said that nothing had been done and some of the landmark properties in Neiafu have to be cleared, because a number of national events will be held in Vava’u this year.

Land appropriation

The Minister of Justice, Hon. Vuna Fa‘otusia, said that Cabinet will introduce a Bill to Parliament soon to make it possible for District and Town Officers to take over the maintenance of government property, private properties and town allotments that have been "deserted" in Neiafu, Vava’u and Pangai, Ha’apai.

He said that when the bill becomes a law, it would enable communities to clear up these deserted properties, and they could use them to grow vegetables or as community playgrounds.

It was questioned at the press conference that while some of these private properties were deserted by their owners because of urban migration, and property owners had left either for Nuku’alofa or for overseas, looking for employment opportunities. If they wanted the properties kept clean then wasn't it the government’s responsibility to provide employment opportunities so that people could return to their homes and that “clearing, and cutting the grass in these deserted properties once a year will not fix the problem.”

The new Minister of Finance, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau responded that unemployment was an ongoing problem. What government is focusing on is fixing things like the roads and other public facilities.

Attitudes to littering

The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, who is also the minister responsible for the environment, said that the enforcement of the Environment Management (Litter and Waste Control) Regulations on 1 April should play a part in adjusting the public mind-set.

Under the Environment Management Regulations any person who dumps waste in a public, private land shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for three months or both.

Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni stressed that the new Regulation is not a government moneymaking project. “We will be very happy if at the end of the year no one has been charged and fined.”

The new regulation will come into force all over Tonga, despite the fact that some towns and villages do not yet have rubbish dumps or official rubbish collection services.

The enforcement of the regulation will be a challenge for the Police, District and Town Officers, and Public Health Officers.

The Prime Minister was asked that after taking into account the interest of government in upgrading public roads and the millions of pa'anga spent on roads construction isn’t it strange that the people are left to walk in the mud on the roadsides to go to church, to the shop or to their plantations, while car drivers enjoyed good roads.

The Prime Minister agreed it looks very odd. "There will be side-walks all the way from town to the airport!" he proclaimed.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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