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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 258-260

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Polynesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000

The most important event of the year turned out not to be Tonga's claim to be the first country in the world to witness the new millennium. This bid was hotly contested and, if worldwide media coverage is considered the judge, won by Kiribati in any case. Rather, it was the 3 January appointment as prime minister of the king's youngest son, HRH Prince 'Ulukalala-Lavaka-Ata. The prince, who is in his forties, is married to the eldest daughter of the retiring premier, seventy-nine-year-old Baron Vaea, and has a teenage daughter and two sons. As the Crown Prince remains unmarried, the new prime minister or his eldest son conceivably could succeed to the throne. The prime minister has been educated overseas, his latest degrees being in strategic policy and international relations gained at master's level from universities in the Australian Capital Territory and in Queensland. His appointment to office appears to be in line with the wishes of the Crown Prince, who declined the post largely because he would not have been able to appoint his own cabinet ministers, a prerogative that belongs to the reigning monarch. Instead, the older brother will concentrate on his business affairs and undertake other activities on behalf of his aging father, who turned eighty-two on 4 July 2000. Hopefully, his younger brother will give youthful momentum to government leadership. Although it was rather a surprise, the last six months has shown the appointment to be a popular and effective one.

The major political issue continues to be the state of the economy. The last elections showed a decline in fervor regarding the movement toward democracy in favor of elected representatives who were more likely to come to grips with the problems of the struggling private sector. While tourism has shown some progress and, during the widely touted millennial celebrations, made some gain from Tonga's location on the International Dateline, most other major industries, except fisheries, are showing little progress. The tertiary sector has [End Page 258] grown at a greater rate than other sectors over the last ten years, due mainly to the addition of two commercial banks, and businesses belonging to the Crown Prince, the Princess Royal, and a few prominent commoners. Agriculture appears in decline as far as the value of production for both the local and export markets is concerned. Both of the "hopefuls," tourism and fisheries, need substantial investment from overseas to realize their potential. It is widely hoped that the new prime minister, with or without his brother's guidance, will be able to provide ideas, confidence, and cohesion in a more concerted and, importantly, a more coordinated, push for economic growth.

Just before the conclusion of the year under review and after much discussion, the Tongan parliament finally passed a T$43 million budget. Following a cabinet decision in May, an estimated T$3.5-to-4 million of it will be spent on a 20 percent increase in the cost-of-living allowance for all civil servants. This is the first major raise they have had for six years. Since 1989, two cost-of-living allowance increases have been awarded: one of 10 percent on 1 November 1995, and another of 5 percent on 1 July 1999. There is some speculation as to where the money for the salary increases will be found. The government announced it would make up the amount through cost-cutting and savings brought about by a more economical management of resources and a greater efficiency in its operations, especially in the collection of revenue arrears.

This optimism and, indeed, the entire budget were questioned in the Legislative Assembly. Dr Fred Sevele, the Tongatapu Number 2 People's Representative, asked how the government can afford a pay hike for public servants when, just a few months ago, the outgoing prime minister said the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. He fears that the government will be forced to curtail...