The under representation of ethnic Tongan-owned businesses in the private sector today is a concern. On the other hand, our Asian friends seem to be doing quite well and have dominated our retail and wholesale sectors. They have built bigger businesses now compared to 10 or more years ago. The question must be asked: “Why are Tongan people showing little interest in business?”
When King George Tupou I stated “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 4:6), our people turned our attention to formal education as our way out of poverty and it was and still is true today. The pursuit of education has focused on fields that are connected with a high paying job, for instance, medicine, accounting, law, etc.
Unfortunately, so little emphasis is made on business and especially in setting up one’s own business. When Class 6 Primary School kids are asked about what they want to be when they grow up, their answers would always be “I want to be a Doctor, a Lawyer, a Teacher, an Airline Pilot, a Dentist, etc.” or even “farmer.” In other words, no one wants to be a businessman and no wonder we are under represented as a race in Tonga’s private sector.
Our Asian friends know about our general disinterest in business and that is why they are thriving. Good for them!
They know we like to have good jobs as long as it’s from 9am to 5pm. They know we like nice things but we ask the banks to finance them.
They know many of us are impulsive spenders and givers without a care about budgeting or whether we can afford it or not.
They know we get a lot of remittances from loved ones overseas and regardless of Covid-19 we will hardly run out of money because our social security networks are strong and intact.
They know that if we do start a business, we find it hard to separate our business expenses from our personal expenses and the business may likely fail.
They know we find it easier to work for someone else than be self-employed or run our own business.
In other words, they have our number!
The Asian community in Tonga (Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc.) is predominantly a business community. Having financial independence and security and being their own boss is an inherent quality in this group.
They thrive on pressure, they can operate on a shoestring budget and they work together as a group.
They even trust each other enough to ask for financial assistance from their friends to expand their business instead of asking the banks.
Whatever our view is on this issue, one thing is clear – our Asian friends are wealthier than us and the gulf between us, in terms of wealth, will only grow wider unless we change our views on employment and place more importance on starting our own businesses.
I hope we can begin to instill in our children the values of hard work, honesty, resilience and entrepreneurship. It is great to have a good occupation but we are not truly free and our economy will not truly belong to us unless we change our thinking about work and consider business entrepreneurship as a viable career opportunity.