Siutakahe'ahoafā: Navigating the Kingdom of Tonga's national development priorities under international aid.
The title of this thesis - Siutaka he ‘aho afā – is interpreted as ‘Day storm voyager’. This title encapsulates the journeys undertaken by the Kingdom of Tonga as it navigates the ocean of international development and the frequent challenges or ‘storms’ it encounters. This research seeks to understand better how Tonga articulates and pursues its national development priorities in the context of international aid. It focuses in particular on Country Programmable Aid to Tonga from Australia and New Zealand in the years 2013-17 and how the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness Principles are applied to Tonga. The main research question addressed is: ‘To what extent are the national development priorities of Tonga shaped or supported by international aid?’
The research is qualitative in approach and is composed of two sources of data: from in-depth interviews with a range of both Tongan and donor officials; and analysis of key aid and development documents. It examines the political and administrative context of Tonga, highlighting the political environment, changing leadership and the direction set by its strategic goals for development. It then looks in detail at the aid activities of, respectively, Australia and New Zealand, and analyses their various priorities and ways of operating.
The research uses the five Paris Declaration principles for aid effectiveness as a framework to analyse the way aid relationships and interactions occurred in Tonga over the period. There was generally high-level support for the Paris principles and these supported the idea that the Government of Tonga should ‘own’ its development, by drafting and implementing its development priorities and strategies. This was supported by agreement to abide by the principles of alignment with Tongan systems and Harmonisation amongst donors as well as pursuing practices which enhanced results-based management and accountability. However, in the details of daily interactions and practices, we also saw how these high-level agreements were often diluted or confused. Although Tonga had its own set of priorities, donors continued to choose which of these they would fund, according to their own strategic goals and concerns. Furthermore, given significant issues of capacity to operate effectively in the aid environment, with much onus on Tongan officials and agencies to provide data, report on progress, consult with the public and engage closely with donors, we saw how Tonga often struggled to exert strong and consistent leadership and control of aid-supported development.
In drawing broader conclusions, the Paris Declaration is found to be a step in the right direction for improving the effectiveness of foreign aid to Tonga. However, what determines the likelihood of effectiveness is multifaceted, and dependent on will, need, and, perhaps most importantly, on Tonga’s leadership. It is found that the most fundamental factor for Tonga – both a unique challenge and a strength - is the enduring resilience of our culture together with our leadership code.