Fwd (PNG): Mr Pohiva, meet 'Our Susan'

Alan Bradley abradley1 at bigpond.com
Sun Apr 21 05:47:03 MDT 2002

The following article is interesting both for what it says about PNG and
what it says about Tonga.  The democratic movement in Tonga is one of the
low-key struggles you rarely hear much about.

>From the Post-Courier (http://www.postcourier.com.pg/ ):

 Weekend Edition Fri-Sun 19-21st, April, 2002

Mr Pohiva, meet 'Our Susan'

OUR Susan, of course, is Susan Setae, whom I hope will forgive me for my
familiarity of reference. But it is difficult not to warm to an identify
with one of our leaders who so clearly is not simply paying lip service to
condemnations of corruption in our masters.
She certainly did not hold back last month when, as president of the
National Council of Women, she launched into a blistering attack of the
"curse" of "corruption, bribery, stealing, greed, lust . . .", and not a few
other sins which she clearly did not need to search around for any length of
time to come up with.
"How long are we going to steal from this country and make our people become
vulnerable to poverty and force them to become aliens in their own country?"
Hard-hitting words and all the more so because she speaks as a member of the
leadership elite she so clearly despises.
Well, brothers, we have an election coming up soon, and if you think there
is something in what she has to say, all I can hope is that you have a woman
candidate for whom you can vote among the 20 or 40 or 60 or more aspiring
big men making up the list in your constituency.
However, that advice is incidental to the real point of this story.
Some weeks ago, one of our students down South sent me a newspaper cutting
with various lines of the story highlighted and his only comment two large
exclamation marks scored in red in large size in the middle of it all.
The story concerned our Pacific neighbour, Tonga, and I'll just state it as
it is without making any of my own judgments.
Tonga is a kingdom, with a royal house which, though it might not stretch as
far back as that of the Brits, nevertheless has a few hundred years under
its belt.
The present monarch is King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV; and it was his
great-grandfather who ushered in the country's Constitution in 1875 which
granted every family access to a 3ha block of land for food crops and copra
making and who was clever enough to keep out all potential colonial masters
wandering around the Pacific at that time.
So, you can see modern Tongans have a lot to thank their royal house for,
and are happy to do so.
But though their constitution helped save them from colonialism, it also
secured the position of the indigenous elite, their own home-born
Understandably, it now being the 21st century, some of the educated
commoners have begun to question the hereditary rights and privileges, but
especially the restricted voting system, which keeps the political power of
the land firmly in the hands of the nobility who advise the King.
But there are other big problems, primarily an increasing population which
is threatening the traditional guaranteed access to land, and a weak economy
whose main support is the remittances sent back to the islands by Tongans
living abroad.
In addition, also understandably in a closed, elitist system of government,
a lot of accusations are tossed around that hereditary leaders are not as
transparent and public-minded as they might be.
Now these are accusations and complaints, not established facts (and I
stress again I am not taking sides), but my interest, and Susan Setae's
relevance to all of this is with the justification the reformists provide
for their solution to all the problems they perceive.
The solution the anti-hereditary group proposes is the introduction of
democracy. Nothing so very radical in that; very, very few monarchies have
managed to survive to this day, even fewer the ones not presiding in a
figurehead fashion over thorough-going democracies.
So we in PNG don't have to draw back in horror, even if the nobles (and it
would appear not a few commoners, too) of Tonga think it would be the
absolute pits.
But, it is the anticipation of how the effects of the great reform are going
to work that has me, and I imagine will have most of you, waving hands
around in horror, and I imagine have our Susan laughing loud and
hysterically to the alarm of her neighbours.
Are you sitting securely Susan, far from any place you might have a nasty
fall from as your senses whirl away?
Well, here goes, hold tight. Akilisi Pohiva, the leading Tongan reformist is
reported in the Sydney newspaper as saying: "Democracy is the only system
that can reduce corruption, nepotism and all sorts of evils."
Okay, that's it, everyone can now relax; someone get Susan a long drink of
cold water and bathe her forehead.
No, Mr Pohiva, I am not making fun of you. From the very little I know of
you, I can admire you as a man of integrity, a man of principle, a man
willing to suffer severely if necessary for his convictions.
Whether you are right or wrong in believing what you seek will be for the
betterment of most other Tongans, what is good in what you do is that you
have established a focus of peaceful and legitimate opposition to the
government of the day, and all governments need the scrutiny of an
opposition to keep them transparent and honest, no matter how much they
protest they have the interests of the people at heart.
Leaders change, conditions change; an opposition is a people's insurance
that the goal of their interests does not change.
The real cause of my double take at your words, as reported in the press at
any rate, is that they must have been uttered around the very same time that
our Susan was tearing large bits out of the reputations of our leaders for
the manner in which they have totally undermined and transformed democracy
in our country.
Yes, democracy should be a force for all the things you condemn. Yes, those
objectives are written in our Constitution.
But the reality is we cower under the effects of an oppression of corruption
and tyranny in comparison to which what you have, or think you have, in your
own land, and for which I assure you a lot of people in PNG would very
happily agree to a swap no questions asked tomorrow morning, if tonight was
not possible.
Quite honestly, Mr Pohiva, the easiest and most effective way for the Tongan
leadership to counter your proposal to democratise them would be to exhibit
to the intended beneficiaries, the ordinary Tongans, the way democracy works
We have democracy; we are overrun with it, it's pouring out of ears as we
suffer the loss of services and opportunities our mineral wealth should have
brought us as we crouch at home in the evenings, forever frightened that
howling animals are going to break in and attack us and dishonour our women
If you are going to urge democracy for Tonga, then I urge you to take your
time and study what has happened to us since Independence and how so many
fine words and intentions have long ago been washed down with the monsoon
Could I, and I am sure Susan, advise that you go about your democracy
building very carefully if it is truly your people's interests you have at
Meanwhile, with luck, a Tongan student will not have sent a copy of the
newspaper report of our Susan's rousing speech to the Palace.
(Last month's elections in Tonga saw the Human Rights and Democracy Movement
win a majority of the popularly elected seats in Parliament. They are now
proposing that the country's 33 nobles continue to elect nine of their
number, but to an Upper House.
They want the King to give up his right to directly appoint 12 Cabinet
Ministers who are also MPs, and have a lower House entirely elected by the
people. The pro-monarchy Kotoa Movement is not impressed by this plan for
political reform and described it as unnecessary and costly).

Copyright, 2001, Post-Courier Online.

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