22 December 2022

It was the biggest explosion ever recorded. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption in January 2022 set off a chain of events that created a perfect storm for Tonga’s public service agencies. 

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption

Tonga was already responding to their first community cases of COVID-19 when the sudden and massive eruption shook the country, shrouding much of it in ashfall. 

The massive energy pulse caused tsunami waves to flood the main island Tongatapu and destroy infrastructure on outer islands. Significantly, it also compromised the country’s undersea cable, severing communication with the outside world. It took down internet, email and fixed line telephone services for the central response agency, the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC), which would take another month to resolve. This loss of communication made coordinating relief efforts all the more difficult.  

The Tonga Public Service Commission’s Deputy Chief Executive Victorina (Dorina) Kioa (pictured left) says almost all government agencies had been connected through the MEIDECC system. However, Health and Finance remained up and running, providing a domestic communication lifeline for other government agencies. 

Beyond Tonga’s borders, communication was almost non-existent. 

“In the first couple of days after the eruption, communication was through a few satellite phones that the diplomatic missions and some government agencies had,” says Dorina. 

“Imagine if there had been no satellite phones. Nobody would have known anything from here or if we were getting help from outside.” 

The government then established limited satellite internet coverage but with narrow bandwidth and slow data flow. 

“On top of that, we had the lockdown from covid. so, the lack of internet was really felt as we were not able to continue working with any sense of normality,” adds Dorina. 

Beyond Tonga’s borders, communication was almost non-existent.  

“In the first couple of days after the eruption, communication was through a few satellite phones that the diplomatic missions and some government agencies had,” says Dorina.  

“Imagine if there had been no satellite phones. Nobody would have known anything from here or if we were getting help from outside.”  

The government then established limited satellite internet coverage but with narrow bandwidth and slow data flow.  

“On top of that, we had the lockdown from COVID-19 so the lack of internet was really felt as we were not able to continue working with any sense of normality,” adds Dorina.  

But they were able to get word to the outside world, including the Public Service Fale, about their new normal and how remote and flexible working was now essential to public services delivery for the people of Tonga.  

Tonga’s recently retired Public Service CEO, Dr Lia Maka, requested assistance from the Fale in the form of laptops so that Commission staff could work from home and with the flexibility necessary for delivering the crisis response.  

The Fale was able to provide 10 laptops to enable Tonga Public Service Commission staff to work remotely from home or elsewhere.

 

Laptops being packed for dispatch to the Tonga Public Service Commission

“We are deeply grateful for the ongoing support of the Pacific Fale and we look forward to working with you and being mentored and supported by you. Malo ‘aupito. Tu’a ‘ofa atu” said Dr Maka in a much-appreciated video address of thanks to the Fale. 

The Fale was humbled to be able to support the Tonga Public Service Commission in its time of need. The bespoke solution was made possible from the collaboration of a dynamic cross agency team!  

Much gratitude and many thanks to the Tonga Consul General to Aotearoa New Zealand, Stafford Aho, Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission, the Public Service Fale team and Liquid IT Limited.  

Fakamalō lahi atu ho’o mou ngaahi tokoni ki he lelei ‘a ha ni’ihi kehe.