ʻATENISI INSTITUTE

An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture

Lakalaka (2005)

Sept. 2017 – "It's the Economy!" Insists Veteran Publisher of Matangi Tonga at Annual Perkins Talk

missing picture: Pesi.jpg

On the evening of 6 September, veteran journalist Pesi Fonua – founding publisher of Matangi Tonga quarterly in 1986 – delivered the maiden lecture of an annual event honouring ‘Atenisi’s second university dean, Roland Perkins, and his wife, the Hawaiian poet Leialoha Perkins.

Fonua’s reporting over the years has earned him two awards from the Pacific Islands Media Association – for competence in print journalism in 1993 and for human rights advocacy in 2005. Yet his skills were unable to prevent MT from being outlawed by the Tongan government in 2003, a move he countered by posting his periodical online, where it now commands extensive global viewership.

In his talk to a packed audience at Lolo Masi Hall, Fonua addressed national politics in the wake of the recent dissolution of Parliament and the PM’s dismissal of the Deputy PM and Minister of Finance. Fonua accused all factions – nobles, democrats, and independents – of squabbling over power whilst the Tongan economy languishes. “Perhaps they vie for power,” the journalist opined, “as a way to avoid confronting the economy.” (In its list of Gross Domestic Product for 2016, the International Monetary Fund ranked Tonga 7th from the bottom globally.)

In Q&A following his talk, Fonua was pressed to concede that dysfunctional aspects of Tongan culture might be impeding development. The journalist admitted that Tongans in the bureaucracy typically respond to family obligations with alacrity, but often contain their efforts in government. “Nevertheless,” he added, “there are some hard-working people in government.”