Representative for the Fourth Constituency of Tongatapu, Mr Mateni Tapueluelu has succeeded in dismantling some of the last few areas of town land held in the name of the public.
During the 2014 election, Candidate Tapueluelu had expressly promised the town officer and settlers of Patangata that if they vote for him, he will make sure that they own all and everything they’re settling on.
Vote-buying involves the giving of specific benefits by politicians to certain individuals in exchange of votes, but with the overall effect of negating the long-term public interest. The dishing out of public lands for private ownership is blatantly against the public interest.
As with Steve Ratuva’s political ‘clientelism’ (the type of political corruption rampant in the region), Mateni’s moves are exactly that.
Mr Tapueluelu had more than often voiced that government “has no love”, in not giving these lands to the settlers.
Surveyors from the Ministry of Lands have been deployed at the area, to divvy up the lots. For the new owners to legally own the land, the Minister for Lands will have to sign the transactions with the approval of Cabinet.
One anonymous resident of Ma’ufanga regrets having not settling in Patangata for the now free land, “but I obeyed the law!”
Government is expected now to tax more from consumption and foreign businesses, to facilitate rents for premises it doesn’t own in the waterfront area.
Instead of using the area to establish government buildings or industries that save the public money or create jobs for the whole of Tonga and earn revenue for the public coffers thus easing the tax burden, Tapueluelu used his personal connections in Cabinet to dish out promises in order to secure power in Tongatapu #4.
Mateni Tapueluelu is husband to PM Pohiva’s eldest daughter Lautala, who is Publisher and owner of the most aggressive propaganda newspaper in Tonga, the Kele’a.
Patangata, among the last few zones of public land in the area, had been illegally settled by migrants from the outer islands.
The sold plots, prime real estate at the end of Vuna Road in Patangata, are attractive to a range of industry including fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, transport, among others. The Patangata area is one of high-risk zones to storm surges and tsunamis, making it dangerous for residential use. If developed properly for industry, security would normally be integrated into proper planning and zoning.
Most of these settlers have their own private family lands in their islands of origin but had moved to Tongatapu for education and jobs. Eventually most set up temporary settlements for some generations.
Because the government hasn’t recognised the area as a formal settlement, the whole area has never been connected to the main grids. Because this region was left undeveloped, it had slum-like outlook, when the residents engaged in scavenging and recycling when the public waste dump was still in the area.
But if there’s anything that Tonga does not have much of, and is quickly running out of, it is land. The population is expanding at a rate higher than most developed countries, but Tonga’s land area hasn’t and, in fact, some is in danger of inundation by sea-level rise.
Mateni’s moves also defeats overall uncontrolled spread of Chinese enterprises. One government official says that it wont be long before those lands would be bought up again by Chinese businesses to build the same industries Tongan entrepeneurs would have done anyway.
Chinese enterprises prefer a ‘divide and rule’ approach to taking up privately-owned prime realty to set up businesses, further eroding local and national interests.