Humble, ethical lifestyle shaped career of Tongan philanthropist and Minister

Fakafuo ‘e he anga fakatōkilalo’ mo e tō’onga mo’ui faka’ēfika’ pe fai ‘a e me’a totonu mo tāu’ ‘a e ngafa fatongia e tangata milionea foaki’ofa mo Minisitā Tonga’. Ko e tangata ‘eni kuo’ ne pekia ko Dr Sione Tapa pea na’a’ ne foaki’ofa ha pa’anga ‘ova he Taha Miliona’ pea fakalāngilangi’i foki ia ‘e he Kautaha Mo’ui ‘a Māmani’ ‘aki ‘a e mētali koula WHO Health-for-All Gold Medal. Na’a’ ne foaki ‘a e Taha Milona tupu ke fokotu’u’aki ha sikolasipi ma’a e kau fie ako ki he Mo’ui’ pea pehē ha Taha Kilu Onomano ma’ae Uēsiliana Kolonga ko e fakamanatu hono uaifi’. ‘Oku fifili’i e milonea ‘a Tapa’ hili ko ia’ ne ‘ikai ko ha taha pisinisi ko ‘ene ma’u’anga pa’anga ko hono vāhenga pe mei he pule’anga’. Ne ‘ikai toe hiki ‘ene mo’ui talu mei mu’a. ko ‘ene ki’i kā Siapani pe he 1970 ko ia pe na’a ne kei ngāue’aki a’u ki he’ene mate pehē ki hono fale motu’a ne langa he taimi ko ia’. Ta ‘oku lava pe ia ‘i he funga ‘o e mo’ui fakapotopoto, leva’i mo faitotonu ‘o e fatongia’ ke te tu’umālie ‘i ha fonua masiva hangē ko Tonga’.

A Tongan philanthropist who gave away more than TP$1 million and was honoured by the World Health Organisation, has been praised for his humility and prudence.

As Kaniva News reported, Former Minister of Health Dr. Sione Tapa of Kolonga, who served the government of Tonga for about 41 years, died on May 9.

Tongan correspondent and former newspaper editor Faka’osi Maama, who often reported on Dr Tapa, described Dr Tapa as a person who lived a humble, prudent and financially restrained life style.

He said the former Minister had donated TP$160,000 to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in memory of his first wife, Tangikina Tapa.

Dr Tapa donated more than TP$1 million pa’anga to the Tonga Health Promotion Foundation in 2012 to set up a scholarship award for students who wanted to study health.

Maama, who is also a resident of Kolonga and was close to Dr Tapa, believed it was very hard for a Tongan to equal the way Dr Tapa managed to collect millions of pa’anga while his only source of income was the salaries he had earned as a civil servant and a government minister.

Dr Tapa’s generosity caused many people to wonder how he could have saved so much money from his government salary.

As a civil servant and Minister of the Crown, the people of Kolonga never saw him riding in the government ministerial vehicle when he attended church and community activities. They only saw the ministerial vehicle at his home in the morning when it arrived to take him to work and in the evening to drop him off from work, Maama wrote.

Dr Tapa acquired a small Japanese car in 1970 and was still using it before he died. The old house he was living in 1970 was the same one  he was living in when he died.

Members of Parliament who worked with him regularly made a joke about Dr Tapa’s prudent life.

On one occasion Dr Tapa was signing a payroll to get his pay  – a few hundred pa’anga – from a clerk. A two cent coin fell onto the floor and went missing. Dr Tapa knelt down and crawled on the floor trying to locate the coin before he got it.

The joke reflected Dr Tapa’s economic policy and how he set his economic goals in a country where about 22.1% of the population lives below the national poverty line.

Ministry of Health CEO Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola told Kaniva News Dr Tapa’s work ethics were way ahead of his time.

“My own personal view about Dr Tapa is that he was fully dedicated to his duties to King and Country,” Dr ‘Akau’ola said.

“He was full of confidence yet humble enough to know that giving was far greater than gaining material things.”

It was not clear whether Dr Tapa left any financial investment for his second wife Sala Puloka Tapa, who survived him. They had no children.

WHO Health-for-All Gold Medal

Dr Tapa was described by Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in 1991 as “a gentle man” who was committed to social justice and equity.

He said Dr Tapa constantly supported the Organisation in its health for all and primary health care initiatives.

The WHO awarded him the Health-for-All Gold Medal.

The golden medal was a sign of appreciation of Tonga’s participation in WHO activities since 1956 and becoming a Member on 14 August 1975.

Dr Nakajima said the level of Tonga’s contribution was largely to Dr Tapa’s endeavours.

He had taken part in numerous WHO meetings, always with wise and timely comment, Dr Nakajima said.

“Those present in the governing bodies and privileged to take part in the same meeting remember how often his intercession has resolved a difficult moment and allowed the discussion to continue,” he said.

Works and education

Dr Tapa was born in Nuku’alofa on 30 October 1923. He studied at Tonga College before he graduated from the Fiji School of Medicine in 1944.

He obtained the degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1953 and a Diploma in Public Health from the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene, London, England, in 1960.

Dr Tapa worked as a medical officer in the Medical Department of Tonga from 1955 to 1956 and as Chief Medical Officer from 1957 to 1970.

He was appointed Minister of Health in June 1970, serving concurrently as Minister of Finance from September 1970 to May 1971 and from November 1972 to January 1981.

Dr Tapa was elected President of the Thirtieth World Health Assembly on May 3, 1977.

He served as Chairman of the WHO Executive Board from 1989 to 1990 and as Chairman of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific from 1982 and 1983.

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