Monarch to sever ties with business

By Angela Gregory

Tonga's new King, Siaosi Tupou V, will give up his vast business interests in a move that will help gain the respect of his people and prove pressures for reform are working.

A statement to the media yesterday said the King had announced he would dispose of all his business interests in Tonga.

"This is in conformity with the obligations and demands of his high office."

Arrangements for the divestment of his holdings in the Shoreline power companies were near completion.

The sale of the rest of his interests would follow as soon as suitable shareholder arrangements could be made.

The move had been foreshadowed by Prime Minister Feleti Sevele when he said in an extensive interview with the Weekend Herald - which had heard rumours that this would happen - that some surprises were in store.

"Put it this way: he will take actions and decisions that will surprise a lot of people," Dr Sevele said.

MP 'Akilisi Pohiva, a founding leader of the democracy movement, said the move boded well for the democratic cause.

Mr Pohiva said there would have been a conflict of interest had the King not got out of the commercial sphere.

"I think it's a good start for the new King ... All the people in the country will be pleased with his willingness to give up his involvement."

Dr Tavita Tui Uata, president of the Tonga Business Association, said the King did not have much choice as he knew the writing was on the wall.

"You need to give up your business interests - if not, you have to give up the throne."

A forceful democracy advocate, Dr Uata said after the King was sworn in as the new monarch he would have gained a different perspective and appreciation of his role. His move also showed that public pressure could achieve results.

Tongan political reformers wasted no time this week, after the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in Auckland on Sunday, in demanding that their new monarch ditch his commercial interests to prove his worth as a man for the people, not for himself.

The new King had diverse and lucrative investments including telecommunications, electricity and beer.

Pro-democracy factions are continuing to push for the Government to hasten political reforms in the country of about 100,000 people, many of whom are very poor.

There are murmurings of mass civil disobedience or worse if the people are left waiting too long, especially now that King Tupou IV, whom they loved and respected more than they love his offspring, has died.

Dr Sevele said changes should not be rushed and there was already evidence the new King was sympathetic to a more democratic style of Government.

Tongans, meanwhile, are busy with the funeral preparations, including preparing food for the thousands of mourners who are paying their respects each evening in the grounds of the royal palace in Nuku'alofa.

The entry of the groups from churches, villages, schools, Government ministries and businesses is staggered to allow them time and space to farewell the King.

After leaving the grounds they can then feast at various food distribution centres.

A huge umu (earth oven), the biggest yet in the kingdom, has been dug out in a village and giant taro and yams are being stacked up as gifts to the royal family with pigs, fine mats and crafts.

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