The government’s 2024 Pacific Mission, led by New Zealand deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Minister for Pacific Peoples Dr Shane Reti, is travelling to three Pacific islands for a series of meetings and events across Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa throughout the week.

The first set of the Deputy Prime Minister’s bi-lateral meetings was with Tongan Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu at the St George’s Building in Nuku’alofa.

“A close friend, and a trusted friend,” said Minister Vaipulu, when discussing the two countries relationship, adding that “Tonga and New Zealand enjoy a shared history, linked through our Polynesian heritage.”

Following the bi-lateral, Minister Vaipulu was pleased to discuss with Peters priority areas in need of support including climate change, economic development, law, justice and education.

Minister Peters echoed the Vaipulu’s sentiment, emphasising the thousands of years of DNA that links Aotearoa and Tonga. However, Peters did not mention any specific amount of funding that New Zealand will commit to Tonga at this point.

The media were then taken to visit the old pharmacy warehouse that had been stretched thin as a result of Covid-19. Boxes of medication and medical tools were seen throughout the small warehouse, which a pharmacist who worked at the site said wasn’t sustainable.

Leva’itai Asaeli explained to the media the struggles during the pandemic, as a large amount of backlogged medicines were difficult to distribute.

Following this visit, dignitaries, delegates and Tongan Royalty were in attendance for the opening of the new pharmacy warehouse in Tonga’s Veitongo.

The New Zealand government committed $2.4 million (US$1.4 million) in April 2021, for the construction of a new central pharmacy warehouse for the Tongan Ministry of Health.

In his remarks, Tonga’s Minister of Health Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala praised New Zealand for their commitment to improving Tonga’s health system, referring to New Zealand as a “big brother” to Tonga.

And New Zealand’s Minister of Health Dr Shane Reti said the new build was encouraging for Tonga, and praised their endurance through what must have been a stressful time for their health-system.