Tonga Chamber of Commerce develops Private Public Dialogue with Government

As Tonga’s private sector struggles to cope with COVID-19’s first 12 months, the importance for the private sector to have a united voice is imperative. Since Government holds the purse for our economic recovery, only a united private sector will be able to facilitate a faster and more efficient recovery by providing Government with factual recommendations that are grounded in their experience before and during COVID-19.

The only private sector organization that has the facility to provide this for the private sector is the Tonga Chamber of Commerce & Industry Incorporated or TCCI.

TCCI has been in existence since the late 1970’s. It began with Tongan business pioneers like Lipoi Tupou, Loni Vea, Fakava’inga Taumoepeau, Albin Johansson and Tsutomu Nakao, to name a few.

The aim was always to advocate and promote the interest of the private sector. It started small but TCCI continued to grow in strength as the years went by.

In the mid 2000’s, TCCI received a grant from the Government of New Zealand to operate a skills training program for private sector businesses under the name of Tonga Business Enterprise Center (TBEC). This facility benefited the private sector immensely for years until it ended in 2017.

In late 2020, TCCI secured a grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to promote private sector awareness about climate change and its impact on businesses. This project will also inform businesses on how to ‘climate proof’ their business. This project has already been signed and will be monitored by a tripartite partnership between TCCI, TDB and MEIDECC which is expected to begin in April 2021.

Despite the good that TCCI has done for the private sector, the journey was not always smooth. In fact, there was resistance in the early 2000’s when some local business owners felt that TCCI’s culturally diverse representation meant there was less focus on Tongan members’ interests.

In 2007, these Tongan business owners attempted to take over TCCI during its AGM and ‘nationalize’ it. Fortunately, this effort failed and TCCI continues to embrace its culturally diverse voice to this day.

TCCI, for the past 2 years, has collaborated with the Ministry of Trade & Economic Development (MTED) to formalize a Public Private Dialogue (PPD) between the Ministry and TCCI. (It is also a member of MTED’s Tripartite Committee with PSA in relation to its new Employment Relations legislation). The PPD was intended to facilitate a dialogue between TCCI and the MTED on any issues of concern, namely legislation and policy, to name a few.

It is important to note that MTED, in its last meeting with TCCI, indicated its intention to formalize the PPD as early as April 2021. Such a move will make it easier for Government to collaborate directly with TCCI on private sector matters and TCCI will liaise with its members and the private sector in general. After all, TCCI is Tonga’s designated Private Sector Organization (NPSO). Hence, this PPD will strengthen the private sector’s collective negotiation powers and will give MTED the confidence that its partner speaks on behalf of the private sector.

TCCI President, Paula Taumoepeau said: “I want to emphasize that the Chamber of Commerce is not restricted to representing any one sector. We represent all sectors and all businesses – large, small, and micro.”

The new Minister of MTED is very supportive of a PPD with TCCI. He was open to suggestions from TCCI regarding Government’s COVID-19 response plans.

MTED has shown confidence in TCCI’s PPD initiative and hopefully this demonstration of goodwill may soon manifest itself in the formalizing of the PPD which will set the platform for future dialogue between TCCI and Government.

Source: Talanoa o Tonga News