(1) What is local government? What does it do? How does it work in Tonga?
(2) What is local government?
Local government is a system that operates at the community level under which locally elected officials operate.
Local government is a system that involves local elected leaders such as district and town officers, as government and community leaders and representatives. They are elected by their respective communities and are required by law to carry out their duties and responsibilities. Parliament may pass laws affecting local government. Parliament select committees may investigate improvements to the law and government administration.
(3) Meeting public health, agriculture, and water needs
It is responsible for the daily administration of public health and agriculture in the communities and also handles other services such as water.
(4) Inspecting services by district and town officers
The District and Town Officers Act provides for district officers to inspect such local services. The town officer reports monthly on these local public health services to the district officers. The district officer also inspects the agricultural activity on the land tax allotments every six months. The town officer inspects agricultural activities of tax allotments every two months and shall report accordingly to the district officer.
There are district agricultural committees reporting to the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, with secretariats provided by the ministry.
Tonga’s Water Act provides for the town officers to chair the village water committees. Central government also provides other important services in local communities.
(5) How local government is related to central government?
The local elected leaders are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The local government unit was transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office in 1st July, 2012 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The Prime Minister’s Office took responsibility for climate change and environment in 2014. Prime Minister’s Office and other departments have responsibilities that affect some aspects of local government.
There are a variety of ways in which local organizations operate within their respective communities. Ha’atafu village in the Hihifo district of Tongatapu, serves the small rural coastal community. Some, like Kolofo’ou in Nuku’alofa serves the urban residents in an old area of Nuku’alofa. The “known” villages within Kolofo’ou like Fasimoeafi and Ngele’ia and more areas that have been recently settled, with a total population of near 19 thousand, under the responsibility of the Town Officer of Kolofo’ou.
Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga does not have a local government structure and most of its services are provided directly by the central government. Central government also provides other services locally.
Finance for local government is necessary and it can be provided by the Ministry of Finance and National Planning, from local sources and from donors.
(6) Local government policies defines activities
The local government also sets out clearly defined mechanisms in which some government activities are delivered to the community. The Local Government system plays a significant role in ensuring that government activities reach the communities effectively.
Mechanisms developed by the Local Government include Job description and report form that is directly response to their Act.
In order for the elected officers to effectively deliver prescribed duties at their community, training needs were identified, programmed, designed and conducted with the support of our development partners.
(7) Outer islands
The elected officers for Vava’u and Ha’apai are under the mandate of the Governors of Vava’u and Ha’apai who are appointed by His Majesty. In Niuatoputapu, Niuafo’ou and ‘Eua, they are under the mandate of the Government Representatives.
(8) Total of 178 district and town officers:
There are 23 districts – 7 in Tongatapu, 6 each in Ha’apai and Vava’u, 2 in ‘Eua and 1 each in Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou. There are a little more than 175 villages represented by 155 town officers, each elected by their respective communities throughout Tonga. Most villages have a town officer and some villages do not have one.
(9) Officials elected for three years
The elected officers serve a term of three years and are paid by the government. These officers are paid an annual basic salary of TOP$6346.25 for district officers and TOP$5037.50 for the town officers. An additional amount based on the number of persons aged 20 and above within the villages and districts.
These salaries were set by cabinet in 2007. Elected officials are to submit a monthly report to the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Those who are interested to become a district or town officer must follow the law for local election which is under the jurisdiction of the Tonga Electoral Commission. The District and Town Officers Election Regulation states that a candidate must be registered with Tonga Electoral Commission; a Tongan citizen and be able to read and write in Tongan. The local election is held every three years. The last election was held on 16th May, 2013.
(10) Village/ town council and committees
Most villages in Tonga have a village committee, and some have village councils, while others have town councils. These local organizations have evolved. They were created to carry out various functions with regards to agriculture, water, women, electricity, and education in each community. Most villages have a women’s committee that helps their economic livelihood including agriculture and handicraft.
Other than the tasks of the local government division, there are some activities which the Ministry’s divisions provide, like Women Affairs and Seasonal Employment scheme. Women Affairs Division focus on policy related to rights of and violence against women and children. It also supports economic livelihood of women working closely with community women’s committees.
Seasonal Employment also helps the community’s economic welfare by providing seasonal jobs for them in New Zealand and Australia.
(11) Emergency management
In a cyclone or other emergencies work with your village emergency committee and listen for information from the National Emergency Management Office on the radio.
Published with the support of
United Nations Development Program
Center for Citizenship Education
Dr. Malakai Koloamatangi
Updated 14 October 2014