PM Pōhiva denies claims government destroys Popua historical site

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Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva. File Photo

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has vehemently denied claims the government has destroyed the historical site in Popua.

“That information is not correct”, he said in Tongan.

Hon. Pōhiva said the government was protecting the site and had developed the surrounding areas with new roads to allow public access.

He said if the king would like to visit the site he could drive there in his car.

The Prime Minister said it was the government’s duty to protect the site.

Known in Tongan as sia-heu-lupe, it hosted ancient royal pigeon snaring grounds which played a large part in Tongan mythology.

The Prime Minister was responding after reports Tonga’s Heritage Society is starting legal action in a bid to stop the government from developing the site.

Hon. Pōhiva said part of the site had been previously destroyed by settlers before the government stepped in last year to construct a recreational community park nearby.

He said the settlers used to get firewood from the site and that’s how they came to destroy it.

He said there were nine historical mounds altogether and one that had been destroyed. The government was working to upgrade and protect the remaining eight.

The golf course

The Prime Minister said during a press conference with the media last week that his government’s project in Popua included an 18-hole golf course.

He said the project was targeted at tourists and intended to attract millionaire golfers from overseas.

He said Samoa and Fiji had 18-hole-golf courses and they were lucky in terms of tourism.

“We are far behind than them,” the Prime Minister said.

Hon. Pōhiva said the late King Tupou IV had a similar plan for Popua and a team from overseas conducted a survey in the area and drew plans for a project there in 1990.

The plan included a marina and a golf course.

The plan was shown on a projector during the conference at the Fa’onelua convention centre on Friday.

It was not known how the late king’s plan was left untouched at the Ministry of Land and Surveys’ office until the Minister of the Ministry Lord Ma’afu found it recently.

Hon. Pōhiva said it was encouraging to see the plan matched their current project for Popua.

He said his government wanted to pursue the late king’s planning.

Reactions

The government’s project in Popua began in 2015 with a community recreational park in an area which was previously used as a landfill.

The Prime Minister said the development of the park and the golf course did not affect the area where the sia-heu-lupe is.

However the development project provoked a public outcry with critics saying it had destructed the royal historical site.

The opponents of the project complained that the Prime Minister ignored the loss of the heritage areas to development.

The Tonga Heritage Society was established in 2015  by people who believed the  historical site had been destroyed.

In the same year it submitted a petition to Parliament with more than 1000 signatures to stop the move.

Members of the society included Tongan academics such as former Minister of Education Dr Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki, Dr Ana Koloto and many foreign scholars who conducted a number of researches in Tongan history such as Dr Wendy Pond.

Dr Pond said at the time the government seemed to have priorities other than protecting the site.

Recently a petition was lodged by Professor Hūfanga ‘Ōkusitino Māhina and Professor Tēvita Ka’ili calling on the government to protect the site.

The main points

  • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has vehemently denied claims the government has destroyed the historical site in Popua.
  • Pohiva said the government was protecting the site and had developed the surrounding areas with new roads to allow public access.
  • The Prime Minister said it was the government’s duty to protect the site.

For more information  

Tukutonga: from hazardous landfill to new recreational park

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