Small Islands, Big Problems, Complex Solutions

On my recent visit to Singapore, I had the pleasure to participate in a busy programme of events kindly organised for me by the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE). My aim in taking part in these activities was to highlight the plight of my small island state while seeking support and advice.

The Kingdom of Tonga, with its 176 islands scattered across the south Pacific, is a beautiful, historic and peaceful land. But we face many interlocking and complex challenges. These include the threat from climate change, the lack of natural resources, the high cost of infrastructure and a seemingly endless brain drain of our talent to neighbouring countries - such as New Zealand - which offer greater career opportunities.

To address these concerns, His Majesty's Government of the Kingdom of Tonga is looking for help and inspiration. While in Singapore I therefore called on my opposite number, Prime Minister Lee, to thank him for the development support received and to remind him what a fantastic role model his country offers to all Small Island Developing States like my own.

I was grateful to the Prime Minister for encouraging increased participation by Tonga in the Singapore Cooperation Programme to provide diversified training for public officials. I was also delighted to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nanyang Business School to offer scholarships to Tongan candidates. The aim of this agreement is to ensure that our top officials can benefit from the world-class executive training available here in Singapore.

The United Nations has declared 2014 the International Year of Small Island Developing States, with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling this "…an opportunity to appreciate the extraordinary resiliency and rich cultural heritage of the people of small island developing States". With this in mind, our concerns about natural disasters, rising sea levels, and geographic isolation are attracting more attention. The recent Tropical Cyclone Ian and its devastating effects on our islands reminded the world yet again of our vulnerability to such disasters as a result of climate change.

I believe the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States this September in Samoa will be an important means of promoting improved knowledge sharing between small island states. We in Tonga are inspired by the success story of Singapore. It shows that while small islands may not always attract the attention of the media, they can provide a compelling example of noteworthy innovation.

We in Tonga are proud of our Constitution - enacted by King George Tupou I on 4 November 1875. It is now 138 years old and one of the oldest written constitutions in the world. Tonga may have only become a modern parliamentary democracy in 2010, but it has achieved this transition successfully and peacefully.

During my stay here in Singapore, I opened two important conferences. The first, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, covered what small island countries should understand regarding development. I was reminded that planning for a small island involves adapting the environment coping with uncertain conditions.

The other conference was organised by GCPSE and consulting firm KPMG. It explored the compelling research on leadership by KPMG and the Development Leadership Programme. It also marked the official Asian launch of the 2013 Change Readiness Index, which assesses the ability of 90 countries (developed and developing) to achieve sustained long-term growth and improve living standards.

Collaboration between the public and private sector through Public Private Partnerships can help to address some challenges, such as export markets, transportation and limited manpower. As in business, it is imperative to invest in our best assets and resources. For us that means the people of Tonga. Training and capacity building go hand in hand with delivering results and bringing in revenue, creating a well-balanced environment for a healthy and sustainable economy. I was deeply impressed by Singapore and appreciate the scholarships offered to Tongan candidates to attend the Nanyang Business School.

During my stay here I witnessed Singapore's high standards of excellence in public policy and public service. I am committed to achieve similarly high standards to drive the development of Tonga.