The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 236-238
[Access article in PDF]
Polynesia in Review:
Issues and Events, 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001
University of New South Wales, Sydney
Following the appointment of the king's youngest son, HRH Lavaka Ata 'Ulukalala, as prime minister at the beginning of 1999, several more changes have occurred in the cabinet lineup as the old guard makes way for the new. At the end of 2000, Dr Langi Hu'akavameiliku retired for reasons of health. The first Tongan to gain a doctorate, he had been appointed [End Page 236] minister of education in 1966 by the present king. At the time of his retirement, Langi Kavaliku was also minister of civil aviation and deputy prime minister. Taking over Tonga's education system, perhaps now the most impressive in the region, is the Honorable K T Fakafanua, heir to a noble title, who was previously minister of finance. The new minister of finance is Sosiua 'Utoikamanu, previously governor of the Reserve Bank of Tonga. The deputy prime minister is now the Honorable Tevita Tupou, attorney general and minister of justice. He and Fakafanua (who was appointed a scant ten years ago at the age of twenty-nine) and the minister of police, the Honorable Clive Edwards (appointed more recently), now find themselves in descending order the three most senior members of cabinet.
Other changes saw the Honorable Fialakepa move from the governorship of Ha'apai to replace noble Tu'i'afitu as minister of lands. The new governor of Ha'apai is the noble Malupo. The young noble Fialakepa holds degrees in law and on the advice of Crown Prince Tupouto'a has also been appointed lord chamberlain to help run the affairs of the royal household. In further moves, marine and ports has moved to the Ministry of Works, and civil aviation has gone to the prime minister, who already looks after agriculture, forestry, fisheries, foreign affairs, and defense.
The new minister of finance presented his budget statement to parliament in June. It reported a sluggish economy in which the growth of gross domestic product had dropped slightly from 4.4 percent to 3.2 percent, while inflation remained at 8 percent, its highest level since the early 1990 s. The minister predicted that the gross foreign reserve would remain low, enough for only 2.1 months of imports, at $23.3 million, and suggested that the slowdown in the global economy put at risk the continuance of previous high levels of remittances from families living overseas. The government's financial position is likely to be difficult also due to high expenditure commitments estimated at $128.6 million, an increase of 32.6 percent from last year's figure. Three new units--a Department of Communications, a Department of the Environment, and a Commissioner of Public Relations--have been established, and, in addition, expenditure has risen for all existing departments, especially those of education, health, and foreign affairs.
The long-term outlook, however, is not expected to be so bleak because of improvements in telecommunications, fisheries, and tourism. A multimillion-dollar project will shortly begin to renovate and expand Nuku'alofa's International Dateline Hotel to three-star and four-star level, with two new restaurants and a beachfront. Under new company ownership (People's Republic of China, 51 percent; Tonga, 49 percent), the hotel will have a Chinese managing director. Fishing is now the second highest export earner next to pumpkin squash, which last year did not do as well as in previous record years. Tuna accounts for about half of the fisheries exports. Manufacturing industries continue to contribute less than 5 percent of gross domestic product to the economy.
The most exciting news is the growth expected in telecommunications. [End Page 237] The government has established the Tonga Communications Corporation, in place of the previous companies (Cable and Wireless and Tonga Telecom), to run both international and domestic telephone services. The new corporation's immediate plans are to establish a 2.5G GSM cellular telephone service with email and telephone capacity, and to increase Internet accessibility. The government...