Emphatic NZ reception for Tonga's new PM
Tonga's newly elected prime minister received a passionate welcome by Tongan residents in New Zealand.
Tonga's newly elected prime minister received a passionate welcome last week by Tongan residents in New Zealand.
It was 'Akilisi Pohiva's first introduction to Tongans overseas, as Prime Minister.
Mr Pohiva, who has been in power for just five weeks, is the country's first democratically elected leader.
Indira Moala reports:
The Interim Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet says it was the highest attendance to welcome a Prime Minister of Tonga he'd ever seen abroad. 'Aholotu Palu said they anticipated some political tension at the gathering but were instead surprised at the passionate words from members of the community. Many of whom said they had been waiting their whole lives for the day they would see a democratic leader. Mr Palu told those gathered in Auckland that Mr Pohiva had introduced a new attitude into the government.
'AHOLOTU PALU (Translated): Before we arrived in New Zealand, I was surprised. Akilisi ordered that we go to the Consulate. That is something new. No wasted money. Our government and country has no money. This is something new. He told me to ask Stafford (the Consulate General) and his staff "Go and look for any spare space there for me to lie down in. So I can fulfill my duty to this country.
Among the crowd were seasonal workers who had driven 6 hours to welcome Mr Pohiva. Others came from various church denominations and community groups around Auckland. Hola Taue who migrated to New Zealand from Vava'u, says she was excited to meet a Prime Minister who is a commoner, like herself.
HOLA TAUE: That's a long time that we've been looking forward for a Prime Minister of our own and now that's why I think lots of Tongan people are coming here to listen and welcome him to Aotearoa.
Mr Pohiva told the crowd that he cannot begin implementing any of his policies until the new financial year begins in July. He also said there's a lot of clean up work that needs to be done in Parliament.
'AKILISI POHIVA (Translated): We are trying to complete the unfinished works of the last parliament with the remainder of the existing budget which we have until the 30th June. In July is when we'll really be able to start a new government, with a new budget and implement new policies. We are also trying to figure out the exact financial situation of the government and the country. That job is overwhelmingly huge.
After the Prime Ministers speech the floor was opened to the public for questions. Some of the issues raised included the alleged threat posed by foreigners, a need for lower import taxes for Tongans abroad who wish to send produce to their families, as well as the government's growing debt. Mr Pohiva says they still do not know how they will cope with this debt burden.
'AKILISI POHIVA : You know the outgoing government borrowed a huge amount of money from China and we are now stuck with all this debt burden. And as I said we are fully occupied with other commitments we still don't have time to look at the...how to tackle, how to deal with this debt burden left behind by the outgoing government.
Ms Taue says many have high hopes that the new leader will bring about change.
HOLA TAUE: We come here to celebrate our own Prime Minister! One of our own! Hallelujah!(crowd cheering)
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