Audio of the Prime Minister’s meeting in Niuafo’ou was provided by the Prime Minister’s office and transcribed and translated into English by Kaniva News. This English version of the audio had been abridged.
The Prime Minister met with Niuafo’ou residents as part of his visit around the whole of Tonga to have a ground level view of the damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Tino which struck the kingdom last month.
Prime Minister Hon Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa said the population was small and their concerns should be easily addressed and provided for.
In a speech during the meeting, Hon Tu’i’onetoa said that among other matters, the residents’ urgent needs were to fix their roads, repair and upgrade their wharf, build house weaving buildings, and provide internet connectivity to all remote rural areas.
The residents were also concerned at the flat charge by the only government’s sponsored vessel to the island levied when it shipped water and goods to Niuafo’ou.
The cost for the 10,000 litre tank of water was TOP$3600 and the ship company charged $1500 on top of that.
The Prime Minister said he has noted their concern.
Minister of Finance Tēvita Lavemaau said the government paid its shipping company a subsidy of TOP$45,000 so the vessel could travel to Niuafo’ou.
Hon. Lavemaau said the Cabinet had assigned a committee to work on issues of shipping and airline needs for the Niuas.
The Minister was responding after the Niuafo’ouans described the ships and airline traveling and flight charges as beyond their financial capabilities and asked the Prime Minister to help.
The residents also told the Prime Minister they needed tree-cutting chainsaws, a vehicle for the Si’i Kae ‘Amo Association – an association created to facilitate the community’s needs – and other equipment for road maintenance.
The secretary of the Si’i Kae ‘Amo told the Prime Minister works to process mat weaving plants known as fanakio were very difficult.
He said men had to cut the fanakio from the cliff’s sides and take them a long distance before they reached the sea for bleaching of the plants. He said the roads were rough and it took two to three weeks for the bleaching process to be completed before they brought them back home for weaving.
A woman told the meeting their road up to the mountain was blocked by trees and she was concerned that if any tsunami or volcanic eruption occurred they could not evacuate.
The residents also said they needed internet connectivity so they could contact their families outside Niuafo’ou, especially when they were living overseas.
They said only three villages were connected to the internet.
Another woman asked the Prime Minister to consider sending the government officials to hold meetings with the town officers in Niuafo’ou. She said they only have a few men on the island to rely on and when they left for meetings they had no one to depend on, especially if natural disasters hit the island.
The Niuafo’ouans also wanted to construct a runway for the aircraft. At present, the aircraft has to land on a grass runway. When it was raining it could not be able to land.