"Unleashing Tonga's Digital Destiny: Pacific Digital Democracy Project paves the way"

July 6, 2023

Pacific Digital Democracy Project launch in Nukua'lofa, Tonga

Photo: UNDP

Nuku’alofa, capital of Tonga, hosted a momentous gathering of government officials, civil society organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), academia, the media, and the private sector at the launch event of the Pacific Digital Democracy Project. This occasion provided a platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities of digital democracy in Tonga and highlighted the significant role of the Project in shaping Tonga's digital future. The event also offered a platform to present the results of the Tongan Digital Readiness Assessment, that provided valuable insights into Tonga's current position in its digitalization journey, its aspirations, and the concrete steps required to reach its goals.

The Pacific Digital Democracy Project, a collaborative initiative funded by the European Union and steered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), aims to revolutionize digital governance and empower citizens in the Pacific region. Tonga, along with three other countries, is a key participant in this transformative initiative, which seeks to establish a strong commitment to digital rights and development principles among both government and civil society stakeholders.

Through multistakeholder, collaborative efforts, the Project intends to enhance online safety, combat disinformation and hate speech, and foster e-government and e-participation systems, ensuring a robust foundation for longer-term strategies.

Moderated by Mr. Andrew Toimoana, Director of the Digital Transformation Department in the Government of Tonga, the high-level segment of the event was opened by Mr. Paula Pouvalu Ma'u, Chief Secretary and Secretary to the Cabinet, Government of Tonga, and Hon. Dr. Viliami Latu, Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Government Tonga, who highlighted how the Project will help operationalise Tonga’s vision to provide accessible, citizen-centric digital services, as outlined in Tonga’s Digital Government Strategic Framework.

European Union’s representative Eleni Levin-Tevi stressed how the Digital Democracy Project is an integral part of The European Union’s broader efforts to promote a rights-based agenda for digitalisation. 

Ms. Yemesrach Workie, Resident Representative ad interim of UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, commended the exemplary progress made by the Tongan government in connectivity, cybersecurity, and the digitization of public services, enabling broader access for the population, while also recognising the need to work together to tackle the growing threats of digital harms, particularly online disinformation and gender-based violence.

Under the expert moderation of Mr. Calum Handforth, Digital Programmes Strategic Manager at UNDP, the multi-stakeholder panel discussion that followed emphasized the importance of leveraging digital technology for democratic processes while addressing the challenges it presents, such as disinformation, gender-based violence, and digital divides. The experts offered strategies, insights, and assessment findings to inform targeted interventions and promote inclusive and responsible digital citizenship.

Participants left the event with one overarching takeaway. The Digital Democracy Project seeks to empower government and civil society stakeholders to navigate the digital landscape while address digital harms. Tonga's commitment to digital transformation and collaboration between stakeholders signals a promising future for a digital democracy that leaves no one behind and upholds the values of human rights, gender equality, and sustainable development in the Pacific region.