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Nuku’alofa – October 7, 2021: 11.35am (Nuku’alofa Times): Stakeholders want Tonga to be a ‘Drug Free”.

This was a clear message that has echoed a number of times in the last two days at the King Taufa’ahau Tupou 4 Domestic Wharf Terminal building in Ma’ufanga here in Tongatapu during the National Symposium on Illicit Drugs.

That has also given the Action Plan Committee on Illicit Drugs some serious work to do in line with the call by His Majesty King Tupou 6 for action on what he has termed “Tonga’s greatest challenge”.

The head of the Catholic Church here in Tonga and Niue, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi told the meeting on Wednesday, October 6 that the focus should not be on reduction but stopping the whole circle of supply and use.

Cardinal Mafi called on Christian church leaders to return to the teachings of Jesus Christ so that we may be able to find peace in our life’s journey.

He called on every effort to stop the supply chain and the use of illicit drugs locally.

Cardinal Mafi speaking at the drugs symposium. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

“Let us stop the supply and use of illicit drugs, the focus should be on that rather than on the reduction,” Cardinal Mafi said.

The same sentiments were echoed by the Prisons Commissioner Semisi Tapueluelu.

In his presentation at the meeting Commissioner Semisi said he and his staff are at the tail-end of the process.

“We are right at the end and we see every day what drugs has done to the users,” he said.

“Our call is for drugs to be stopped, there is no other solution to this problem but to stop it at the beginning, from the source.”

Commissioner Semisi said the Prisons Drug Unit sets out to tackle drugs by restricting supplies, reducing demands and building recovery within Prison compounds.

Health Chief Executive Officer Dr Siale Akauola said admissions at the Vaiola Hospital Psychiatric Unit shows that there are those who are being admitted because of drug-related issues.

Health CEO Dr Siale Akauola speaking at the drugs symposium. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

Statistics he shared showed that 31.7% of admissions in 2016 rose to 47.4% in 2018.

Dr Siale said the Ministry of Health supports the National Illicit Drugs Policy (2019-2029) to build a drug free Tonga.

Deputy Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea in highlighting the work that the Tonga Police Force is doing said the most important weapon in the drug fight is ‘cooperation’.

Deputy Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea calling for cooperation. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

He called on all stakeholders to work together to rid the kingdom of the problem.

Deputy Police Commissioner Ashley Fua sharing why it is important to work together to tackle the drug issue. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

His fellow Deputy Commissioner Ashley Fua also stated the importance of ensuring that everyone is on the same path.

Police Drug Unit head Halatoa Taufa revealed that from 104 arrests for drug cases in 2018, Tonga Police recorded 274 in 2019, 285 in 2020 and 185 so far this year.

Drug Unit head Halatoa Taufa says drug fight is challenging

Ice, cocaine and canabis or marijuana are the main illicit dugs circulating in the local market.

He said the drug fight is challenging but Tonga is working with all partners, even outside the country, to meet the challenge head on.

AG Linda Folaumeotu’i says all pointers will be considered by the committee. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

Attorney General Linda Folaumoetu’i told the meeting that the discussions were critical and pointers put through from the floor would be incorporated into the discussions that are being held.

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