Housing Land and Property Law in Tonga: Disaster Law Housing, Land and Property Mapping Project


1 Introduction

1.1 Overview

The Red Cross Red Crescent aims to respond to disasters as rapidly and effectively as possible, by mobilising its resources (people, money and other assets) and using its network in a coordinated manner so that the initial effects are countered and the needs of the affected communities are met.

The Australian Red Cross (ARC) is a key Partner National Society, supporting the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) response to natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific.

The Red Cross Red Crescent has identified that better knowledge of local housing, land and property laws in the Asia-Pacific is vital to ensuring that emergency shelter is delivered efficiently and equitably in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Australian Red Cross, with technical support and initial research from IFRC, has provided the research template to which this memorandum responds. This memorandum comprises three main sections.

• The first section, entitled 'common types of tenure', provides an overview of the different types of housing and land tenure in Tonga. It outlines the methods used to create and transfer tenure, and analyses the degree of security of tenure afforded by each form of tenure.

• The second section, entitled 'security of tenure of vulnerable groups', considers whether, and to what extent, certain groups face legal barriers to owning or accessing land and housing. This section focuses primarily on women and the Chinese ethnic minority, both of which face legal barriers to owning land.

• The third section, entitled 'eviction, expropriation and relocation', considers Tongan statutory and case law which governs, or is applicable to, forced evictions, compulsory acquisition of land and relocations. This section also considers whether compensation is available in these situations.

1.2 Background information on Tonga

Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean comprising approximately 170 islands, only 36 of which are inhabited. Statistics from the 2016 Census have not yet been published. However, according to the 2011 Census, Tonga has a population of 103,000, with approximately 75% of the population living on the island of Tongatapu in the nation's south.

Approximately one quarter of Tonga's population lives in urban areas and this percentage is increasing. Tonga's main urban centre, and national capital, Nuku'alofa, is located on Tongatapu and has a population of approximately 25,000. Tonga's second-largest urban centre is the town of Neiafu on the island of ʻUta Vavaʻu.

Tonga has a relatively homogenous population, with the vast majority of the population identifying as being of 'Tongan' origin. This term encompasses both Tongans of Melanesian and Polynesian ethnicity, although the vast majority of persons identifying as 'Tongan' are Polynesian.

The main ethnic minority in Tonga are the Chinese, who established a significant presence in the 1990s. According to the 2011 Census, 0.8 per cent of the Tongan population is of Chinese origin. This figure is greater in urban areas, where 2 per cent of the population is of Chinese origin.

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The King, the royal family, nobles and chiefs enjoy certain privileges and responsibilities. Importantly, as discussed in the body of this memorandum, nobles and chiefs hold hereditary land estates. However, the executive role and powers of the monarchy has been substantially devolved.