The role and magnitude of the public sector in a small, island economy and sporadic wage increases for civil servants put pressure on recurrent expenditure. These make it difficult to manage fiscal expenditure over time. A small economic base limits areas for alternative employment opportunities. This could imply that the share of the public sector in the economy would remain large in the longer term. Thus, there is a case for considering the size of the public sector in any future reform program.
A program of short timeframe should adequately reflect the time lags that usually occur in implementing policy actions. It would be difficult for a short-duration program, even with up-front delivery of vital reforms, to achieve indicators involving external debt-togross domestic product, revenue mobilization, sustainable fiscal outturn, and improvements in Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability ratings due to time lags of these actions. The magnitude of the effects of these policy measures could be difficult to determine. As such, performance indicators would have to be realistically formulated when designing reform programs, taking into consideration the focus, timing and extent of the reform measures to be adopted.
The 34 policy actions for a crisis response operation stretched out the government’s capacity in absorbing a substantial reform agenda. Constraints to capacity were reflected in the delays in complying with the policy actions, in particular with the policy action on financial ratios, which resulted in waiver of this action. Institutional capacity to manage the reform process and to implement agreed-upon reforms should be factored into the program design and continue to be reassessed during program implementation. The need to continuously strengthen the technical and managerial capacity of institutions, in terms of translating policy actions into workable, concrete measures and assessing reform options, should be carefully considered in designing reform programs.
A steady, step-by-step pace of reforms may be more suitable in the Tongan context, given prevailing capacity constraints. The process of implementing reforms takes time, especially for reforms that require specialized skills, such as those in PFM and those that are structural in nature; these types of reforms take time to implement and cannot be completed by a single quick-disbursing stand-alone program. The program’s sequence of policy actions in the reform areas of PFM, PSEs, and business environment could have prioritized the binding constraints, such as the legal and regulatory issues, before getting into the operational aspects of the reform issues. However, this was not the case for the policy actions on social protection, which targeted vulnerable groups without an established system for identification, delivery, and monitoring. Also, ADB’s coverage of areas for policy reforms under the program could have focused on key needs and constraints. A gradual approach that considers more realistic timelines and proper sequencing could allow more flexibility in prioritizing and refining key policy actions in successive stages of the reform process. This could help strengthen the enabling environment for reforms, foster learning, and build capacity for policymaking and implementation.
Given that submarine cable infrastructure was completely new territory for the government and local expertise was not available to advise government, the project design could have included knowledge events and other knowledge-related activities to enable Tonga, ADB, and partners to capture and transfer lessons for application in the submarine cable projects ADB subsequently pursued with the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, and Samoa. This would have maximized the project’s contributions to ADB’s ICT knowledge work and the enhancement of the PDMCs’ regional and country ICT framework and development plans. It would have also filled the gaps in institutional learning and knowledge development created by project staff changes during implementation, which would have aided continuous capacity development of the public and private ICT sectors in the country.
While the World Bank and the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility (PRIF) provided parallel technical assistance (TA) to strengthen Tonga’s ICT policy and regulatory environment, sector governance could have been further strengthened to enhance the project’s development impact. An independent commission could have ensured that the fundamental tariff and policy regulation framework was in place before cable installation. Follow-up training for the Ministry of Meteorology, Environment, Information, Disaster Management, Climate Change and Communications staff who trained under the World Bank and PRIF TA would have strengthened institutional capacity and helped the ministry transition into its mandated role under the Communications Act 2015 and the Communications Commission Act 2015. These action points may still be picked up in future initiatives.
The Ministry of Infrastructure (MOI), the implementing agency for this project’s school reconstruction component and the Ministry of Education and Training (MET) had high praises for the cyclone shutters installed in classrooms and staff quarters, which can easily be placed over windows during cyclone alerts and stored below the windows when not in use. The two agencies were also appreciative of the folding partitions between two classrooms that could be opened with ease to create a mini hall for bigger school events and regular meetings of parent–teacher associations. The renovated school buildings also have wider roofing areas for rainwater harvesting; in addition, the project ensured that no opportunity was missed for rain harvesting in the freshwater-scarce outer islands by providing them with water tanks with adequate plumbing infrastructure. These design features maximized the benefits of the project’s building back better approach to post-disaster reconstruction. The MET and the MOI replicated the shutters and folding partitions in the reconstruction of schools in the island group of Tongatapu damaged by cyclone Gita in February 2018.
Several project facilities were in remote island locations that lacked jetties for unloading construction materials and/or lacked any means of road transportation to cart materials from the coast to the construction sites. Hiring local contractors from these islands minimized delays associated with these logistical dilemmas, as they were able to overcome these obstacles using their knowledge of tides and traditional methods of unloading and carting materials to construction sites.
Use of force account for works and direct contracting for repeat order supplies from frequently used suppliers facilitated the early start of this project’s physical works. As a result, most outputs were delivered ahead of schedule, allowing the rehabilitated services and facilities to be used much earlier than expected. For projects spread over remote locations, the project has shown that breaking packages into smaller sizes, instead of using a single international competitive bidding package, diffuses the risks and fosters faster completion of civil works. Overall, the project experience has demonstrated the advantages of the procedural flexibilities provided under ADB’s Disaster and Emergency Assistance Policy and how they can be maximized to ensure project effectiveness and efficiency. (Implementation: post-disaster rehabilitation/reconstruction projects, procurement post-disaster rehabilitation/reconstruction projects, procurement DEAP)