Tonga - Overview

Tonga’s disaster management framework is couched in terms of “emergency management” rather than “disaster management”. It uses an “All Hazards” or “Functional” approach to emergency management, where the focus in on the emergency support function to be performed, rather than the specific hazard being prepared for or responded to. Its emergency management framework is based upon the current Emergency Management Act 2007 (EMA). This Act establishes the National Emergency Management Committee (NEMC), the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) and the District Emergency Management Committees and Village Emergency Management Committees. The NEMC is responsible for policy and planning and is chaired by the Minister responsible for emergency management and comprises of the Directors and Secretaries of the relevant ministries. The NEMO is responsible for the operational and administrative elements of the emergency management system and is tasked with implementing NEMC directives.


The EMA confers power on the Prime Minister to declare a state of emergency while Cabinet, (referred to in the NEMP as the National Disaster Council) has state executive oversight of matters that may affect national interest.


The Act also calls for the development of a National Disaster Management Plan (NEMP) and District Emergency Management Plans are required to both identify risk factors (at national and District level) and outline the key institutional and planning components of the emergency response. The NDMP prioritizes the integration of disaster risk reduction and emergency response while seeking to mainstream disaster risk management.
The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy under His Majesty King Tupou VI. Until 2010 the constitution was, by and large, the same constitution King George Tupou granted in 1875, under which executive power resided with the monarch. The unicameral legislature is the Fale Alea which comprises 26 elected members, nine of whom are elected by and from among the country’s 33 hereditary nobles, and 17 on the basis of universal suffrage. General elections take place every four years. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, who is chosen by the Legislative Assembly and appointed by the monarch. The Prime Minister selects the cabinet who are then appointed by the monarch. The Prime Minister may nominate up to four members from outside the Assembly and on appointment they become members of the Assembly. This mechanism has been used to ensure that there is a woman in the cabinet if no women have been elected.


Although there is no constitutional provision for local government Tonga is divided into five administrative divisions, 23 districts and 156 “towns”. Each District and Town elects one officer by universal suffrage every four years. This person acts as the state representative in the area and reports directly to the Minister of Internal Affairs, or the governor in the case of Ha’apai and Vava’u divisions. In addition, the town officer is empowered to call a normal fono (a community meeting to discuss matters of priority) and also a “grand fono” where the Minister of Internal Affairs or other government officials may address the community. District and town officers are by law required to submit regular reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on village and district activities, and to organise village or provincial meetings. Salaries and any allowances for district officers and town officers are provided by the government.