Tonga - Domestic policy

Tonga is at a crossroads in its history. Land reform issues, for instance, are a recurrent theme; because of a growing population and finite land mass, many persons legally entitled to land can no longer obtain it. This situation is further aggravated by the tendency of some nobles to take advantage of their status by leasing out estate land to those who would be undeserving according to Tongan law. To date, little progress has been made on land reform, though Tupou IV has set an example by dividing his 'api (land) allotments in half, thus allowing the redistribution of more land to the commoners. Unfortunately, few other members of the traditional elite have followed suit.

The king has been criticized, however, as one who is ready to jump on the bandwagon of any scheme that might prove profitable for the Kingdom. He has promoted tourism with great enthusiasm, touting it as Tonga's salvation from economic impoverishment and underemployment, although it has been slow to develop. In January 2003, he gave approval to a Chinese businessman to build a cigarette factory in Tonga, in contrast to his own public health campaign urging the population to abandon alcohol and tobacco use. Through the years, a variety of other, perhaps less realistic, schemes have been considered and sometimes pursued: Tonga as a duty-free port, a tax shelter, a Pacific Monte Carlo. More recently, administrative emphasis has been placed on attracting manufacturing and export industries with foreign backers. Meanwhile, until the government strikes it rich, projects in the agricultural sector are kept afloat to buoy the balance of trade and keep the Tongan people fed and occupied. Subsistence activities, kingship networks, and overseas remittances (which are steadily increasing) are not discouraged since they ensure that the social welfare of the Tongan people will be provided for while the government continues to look for Tonga's lucky break.

The king also has to deal with continuing allegations of corruption with the Royal House. In 2002, the king himself was accused by a few members of Parliament of having a secret overseas account worth us $350 million. The money allegedly came from proceeds of gold bullions found somewhere in Ha'ano. Tupou IV has denied these allegations. (He does, however, have an account with the Bank of Hawaii, which contains proceeds from his vanilla bean export project.) Accusations of misuse of funds have come from the New Zealand Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has reason to suspect that much of the $6 million dollars in aid given to Tonga each year has been used for pet projects of the privileged elite, rather than the nation as a whole. The king also denies these charges. Further accusations have been made concerning the business activities of Crown Prince Tupouto'a and Princess Pilolevu Tuita. Their entrepreneur efforts have included a 1997 partnership with a San Francisco-based Internet company, Tonic Corporation, to sell Internet domain addresses ending in ".to" (the domain name assigned for exclusive use by the Tongan government). An earlier enterprise involved the acquisition of equatorial satellite slots. Tonga, which has no satellites of its own, owns at least seven slots, with leasing controlled by the princess. Critics contend that these and other such businesses should be state-owned. Tupou IV, however, maintains that his children have the freedom to own and operate private businesses just as any other Tongan citizen.

With the king, who is in his 80s, in somewhat poor health, political tension in 2002 has begun to grow as both traditionalists and reformers consider objectives for the post-Tupou IV era.

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