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Guide to Local Govt

Society, culture, Parliament, government and economy shape the national and local life of the people in the villages, towns and districts of Tonga. Local government is shaped by traditional and modern society in the constitutional monarchy, reformed as a Parliamentary democracy since 2010.

Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) was established on 01 June, 2012 to consolidate the policy and any of the delivery functions related to social and community development. MIA’s approach is to complement the efforts of other ministries to “promote strong inclusive communities in meeting their service needs” and “ensuring equitable distribution of development benefits”.

MIA’s seven divisions are Women Affairs, Culture, Employment, Youth, Sports, Governors’ Office and District/Town Officers.

Tonga cultural values, such as respect, faka’apa’apa, traditionally influence the whole of government. Land plays a significant role in the relationships between the monarchy, nobility and commoners.

Town and district officers have a long established role communicating between central government and locals – particularly from the government. Sometimes they have local town councils with which to work. They identify local road, water and other needs, and can tell the minister of local government about needs and wants. Residents of the main island of Tongatapu have readiest access to the government services in Nuku’alofa. Citizens in the outer island groups of Vava’u and Ha’apai have focused on the links to central government through the local governor. In smaller, more distant island such as Niuatoputapu government representatives can convey requests between citizens and central government. Nobles and matapule have traditionally communicated between the monarchy and villagers. Peoples’ representatives also have increased opportunities to link their electors with Parliament, and to influence government.

Tongans voted in Tonga’s local government elections in 2013 – and will do so again in 2016. Tongan New Zealanders also vote in New Zealand local elections, also held every three years. They can learn from each other – as we will illustrate in links.

The Tongan Prime minister’s 2012 appointment of a minister of local government, within the ministry of internal affairs, led to plans for providing guidance on how local government works, and inquiries as to how it might be developed for Tonga. Local Government New Zealand drew attention to drafting a local government act, through which Tonga’s Parliament could define roles and relationships.

Some Parliaments try to delegate only core services such as rubbish to local authorities, some think local government should cater for a range of well beings. Some prefer economic development services to be provided locally. Local body finance needs to be available.

Agricultural, tourism and other economic activities in and around villages create needs for infrastructure that town officers may advocate to the minister for local government, but which need a joined up government approach. The town officer and the ministry of local government officials may need to cooperate to design proposals for road, water, power or other supplies. Modern needs and solutions, such as information and communications, may widen the agenda. The finance ministry will need to budget, the infrastructure ministry and/or partners may need to build, agriculture or tourism ministries may need to join up with local and central government and business. The lands, environment and other agencies may also need to be joined up in the planning, implementation or regulation of the infrastructure that began from a local advocacy.

Regulation may be necessary at the local level, contributing to rubbish, waste water and sanitation management. Regulation of housing and resources is delegated by some Parliaments to a mix of central and local authorities. Climate change poses growth challenges to people living in low lying areas – and can be addressed by joined up government.

Tonga has traditional and modern needs and responses for its local government.

  • Tonga has no constitutional provision for local government

  • Ministry of Internal affairs role in local government began mid 2012

  • Civic engagement at local government level challenges New Zealand as well as Tonga

  • Educating Tongan citizens to vote in elections

  • Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital

  • PM Sevele had advocated for Nuku’alofa Town Council

  • A Polynesian village, Peni Tupouniua’s 1977 case study of Hoi, near Mua, Tongatapu

  • Niutoua town officer, 1997 case study, Tongatapu

  • Structure and dynamics, every villager is not the same, case study near Neiafu, Vava’u

Three villages, near Foa, near Nuku’alofa c 2000

  • Women in local government water projects. Havelu case study

  • Sanitation and wastewater management Tonga, 2008 case study

  • Aid to village power network

This briefing, from a Pacific Islands Citizenship Education Capacity Building Programme 2013-2016 (PICE) series in  from Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News representative in the NZ Parliament’s Press Gallery and Director, Centre for Citizenship Education), is supported by the Commonwealth Foundation,  the Tongan Office of the Clerk and Tonga’s Minister of Internal affairs and Local government.

Opinion is the responsibility of Anthony Haas,, not of the supporting institutions.

Updated 22 October 2013