Improving transportation infrastructure in Tonga

April 10, 2014


Since 2008, the Government of Tonga has integrated nine separate entities with some transport function into one Ministry of Infrastructure. Fua’amotu airport was provided with aviation security, fire and safety equipment, to meet international safety standards. A total of 171km of roads have been upgraded and repaired around Tonga. Navigation aids and other equipment, as well as sector reform have improved maritime safety.


Tonga comprises three main island groups with a total land area of about 700 sq. km dispersed over a 400,000 sq. km area of the South Pacific. Basic infrastructure is of reasonably good quality, as is its social service system. However, its small size, geographic dispersion and isolation and limited natural resources provide a narrow economic base, making it particularly vulnerable to external economic shocks. Tonga faces many challenges in developing and maintaining sustainable internal, regional and international transport and communication linkages, all of which are crucial to the economic development and social well-being of its estimated 105,000 population. The country is faced with limited capital resources and decaying infrastructure, combined with financial and administrative constraints, as well as challenges of meeting domestic and international transport safety security requirements.


The project was to assist the Government of Tonga in establishing and consolidating the operations of the newly-created Ministry of Transport as a unified ministry, and to improve compliance of the civil aviation and maritime entities with international safety and security standards. The Ministry of Transport was subsequently merged with the Ministry of Works to form the Ministry of Infrastructure. The project supported a change management process to focus this new Ministry on its core activities, which was recognized with an international award in 2013 by the United Kingdom’s Institute of Asset Management.

The International Development Association (IDA)  is recognized by the Government of Tonga and the Government of Australia as having the specialist expertise and long-standing association with this particular sector in Tonga to be well positioned to help develop appropriate policy and regulations needed to better coordinate these various initiatives.


  • A total of 171km of roads maintained or rehabilitated between January  2012 and June 2013 by eight domestic contractors: Two contractors are firms owned by women.
  • The creation of a domestic road contracting industry for Tonga which employed 88 people, including 12 women, working on road maintenance throughout Tonga.
  • Improved safety standards for passenger vessels, under an improved regulatory framework with the Government of Tonga’s Marine and Ports Division.
  • Aids to navigation and port-related works completed to improve safety and security of seafarers.
  • Improved infrastructure, including the fire station at the airport and an extension to the airport transit lounge.
  • Road safety improvements through signage, road markings and pedestrian facilities in Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u.
  • The establishment of a ‘Road Maintenance Fund’ to ensure sustainable finance of future investments.
  • The successful creation of the new fully-functioning Ministry of Infrastructure.

" Every time we have heavy rains I always pack my family’s belongings and seek higher ground because our house always got flooded. But ever since our main road was fixed we hardly got flooded "

Losaline Latu

Houma Village


Bank Group Contribution

The Government of Tonga used both IDA and Government of Australia financing through the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility (PRIF) to address identified constraints in the Tonga transport sector. IDA support totaled US$5.44 million, with a further US$ 10.3 million from the Government of Australia. The funding was used to advance ongoing transport sector reforms and initiatives so that the sector can better respond to both current and future national needs safely, securely and sustainably. World Bank and Government of Australia funds were then used to upgrade actual transport infrastructure for land transportation, maritime and shipping, and civil aviation.


After the project commenced with IDA funding, it was restructured in 2010 with US$ 10.3 million in funding from the Government of Australia through the Pacific Region Infrastructure Fund. This funding allowed the project to transition from a heavy policy project to one focusing on concrete investments in the transport sector, particularly road safety, road maintenance, and maritime safety. 

Moving Forward

The creation of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the establishment of the road maintenance fund, along with major improvements to policy and sector operations are the legacy of the project. These will allow Tonga to continue to develop and efficiently operate its transport sector, improving transport safety. Once infrastructure has been upgraded to a maintainable condition,  the need for major donor funding for civil works will not be required.


“Every time we have heavy rains I always pack my family’s belongings and seek higher ground because our house always got flooded.  But ever since our main road was fixed we hardly got flooded” - Losaline Latu of Houma Village, near the capital Tongatapu.

171 km
of roads maintained or rehabilitated between January 2012 and June 2013