REGIONAL SUPPORT

Indonesia 2018 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Tevita Lavemaau, Former Minister of Finance and National Planning of Tonga, on the effect of climate change on the country, its work to combat inequality, and further areas of cooperation with Indonesia.

Tevita Lavemaau
BIOGRAPHY
Tevita Lavemaau was first elected to parliament in the November 2014 general election. He was the Minister of Finance and National Planning.

As a member of the group of Pacific Islands, what do you hope to see Indonesia do in terms of leading the way on the renewables front?

I hope Indonesia does more on renewable energy because we are from the South Pacific Islands, and Tonga is ranked number two in terms of the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change after Vanuatu. Therefore, we take the issue of climate change seriously because it will affect our future. If no hard action is taken by the world to control climate change, we will be under the sea in a few years. The lives of our people are dependent on this.

Tonga has made recent policy changes to combat inequality, which is a major issue in the Indonesian economy as well. What can Indonesia learn from Tonga in this regard?

The percentage of income tax to GDP in Indonesia is low. Having a huge population means there is room to collect more tax from the private sector and the public as well. Then, the country can plow that money into developing other areas if they wish, such as telecommunications and infrastructure. Tonga's revenue is 25-35% of our GDP, and there is always room to increase that. Post financial crisis, part of our budget is now funded through budget support from development partners, such as ADP World Bank. Thus, unless Tonga improves its capacity to collect more revenue to take care of its own destination, we will still rely on them. Of that funding, 50% is a grant while the other 50% is a sub-loan from those development partners to finance our domestic affairs.

What opportunities do you see for further cooperation between Tonga and Indonesia?

We have been promoting some forms of cooperation, and it has been extremely encouraging, although there is nothing on the ground yet. I had bilateral talks with Indonesia's Minister of Finance, and the government of Indonesia will set up a separate fund to start momentum in this direction. This is my second visit to Indonesia; I was here about two years ago and on that occasion I had to go through New Zealand and apply for a visa. On this visit, Indonesia issued me a visa on arrival, which is a positive move, and I will propose that our government does the same. For visitors from China, we currently allow visas to be issued on arrival. We, thus, need to continue to open our doors to neighboring countries to facilitate movement and trade.