Gov’t sends delegation around the world, but concerns about whether it will act on findings

The Tongan government has sent a delegation on a round the world trip to consult Tongans living overseas about what their concerns are.

(L to R) Tasimani Telefoni (First Secretary Tonga High Commission), Warrick Vea, Sione Leki, Amipelela Tokelau, Louise Waterhouse (Hon. Consul for Tonga ), Hon. Tu’i’afitu, Lady Louena Tu’i’afitu, Viliami Folau, Makakaufaki Matekitonga.

But critics are concerned that it does not meet the same fate as a similar excursion in 2012, when the report on people’s concerns was published, but never submitted to Parliament. Some of the concerns in that report dates back even earlier, to 2008.

The Ministerial visit also comes a decade after the Tongan Royal Land Commission recommended women and expatriates be given rights to land.

Little action appears to have been taken over the concerns that were revealed.

The Minister of Lands, Lord Tu’i’afitu, and a team of officials are currently in Australia. They will be there until Friday and then travel to New Zealand and the United States of America.

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The Minister is accompanied by Lady Tu’i’afitu, Deputy CEO Viliami Folau, Chief Draughtsman Sione Leki, Senior Urban Planner Makakaufaki Matekitonga, Registration Officer Warrick Vea, and Assistant Registration Officer Amipelela Tokelau.

Meetings have been held in Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney and will conclude in Brisbane. The Ministry said the programme would address key areas of improvement, share updates, and provide important information about land. It included explaining how land processes work, addressing concerns and working closely with Tonga’s High Commission offices overseas, to make land-related transactions easier.

Referred to officially as the Toe Talatalanoa Overseas Programme, the mission was launched after Kaniva News asked the Ministry’s acting CEO about the lack of action over the 2012 report.

As we reported at the time, the report showed that overseas Tongans’ chief concerns were land, women’s rights and rising sea levels.

The proposals received clearly showed concerns regarding the land tenure system and its history, the law of succession, women’s rights, freehold land, mortgaged land, leased land, abandoned land, land belonging to Tongans living overseas and the foreshore.

People living in the outer islands were worried about the erosion of land by the sea and the right of Tongans to use the foreshores and seek a livelihood from the sea without impediment. People living in rural villages were more concerned with tax allotments and their ability to lease these lands.

People residing close to the foreshores and lagoons such as Fanga’uta were concerned with development projects in these areas that could affect their livelihoods. Tongans living overseas wanted to know how they could contribute to the upkeep of their land in Tonga possibly by payment of taxes that could be imposed on them to contribute to the general revenue of the country.

There was great concern and dissatisfaction with the services provided by the Ministry of Lands.

Two issues that were raised were the role of abandoned land and absentee landholders and the rights of Tongans living overseas.

Women’s rights in Tonga continue to be a contentious issue. Tonga remains almost alone in refusing to sign the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Attempts by former Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva to ratify it in 2015 were blocked by the king, who declared that only he had the right to make treaties with foreign states.

Earlier this year delegates to meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission said Tonga should give Tongan women the right to inherit land.

The call came a decade after the Tongan Royal Land Commission recommended women and expatriates be given rights to land.

Tongan law and traditional custom forbids land ownership by women. Only a son can inherit land with rights passed on to other male relatives if parents do not produce a male heir.

Under the current law Tongans are not allowed to own land outright, but men over the age of 16 are allowed to hold land by grant or by lease.

Women are allowed to lease land but are not given grants and Tongans who move overseas forfeit their land rights.

Radio New Zealand quoted Brazilian delegate Tovar Nunes as saying the kingdom should ratify the convention on legislation to remove all forms of discrimination against women, in particular the right to own land and inherit it.

Delays in taking action on earlier reports and recommendations reflect earlier concerns about the 2012 report. The late ‘Akilisi Pohiva accused the government of wasting money on overseas travel when their reports were not followed up and processed to address its findings.  

For more information

https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/182853/tonga’s-royal-land-commission-reviews-land-laws

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