Peace Corps Videos

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Money Matters

There are many things in Tonga that make no sense. That's a topic for another day. But there are also many things which make perfect sense, some so much so that you wonder why we don't do the same in the United States. And believe it or not, many of the things that make sense have to do with money.

Tongan currency is pretty much issued in the same denominations as US currency: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollar notes. However, the big difference here is the use of the $2.00 dollar bill. I probably use the $2.00 dollar bill more than any other denomination and it makes great sense. If you buy something that costs $6.00, you can give the clerk three $2.00 bills or a ten and get back two $2.00 bills. I don't understand why the $2.00 bill has not caught on in the United States. When we see a US $2.00 bill we tend to save it because it is special. In Tonga, it's an important part of currency.

Another issue about currency that makes sense is that each bill is color coded. The ones are green, the two's pink, etc. It makes it very easy to tell what kind of bill you are using without having to look for the number on the bill.

Coins are also designed logically. The bigger the coin, the more it is worth. Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent amounts. The 50 cent piece is the largest and like the 2 dollar bill, widely used. By contrast, you almost never see a 1 cent coin. At stores, the amount is always rounded to the nearest 5 cents. If your bill is 22.02, you will pay 22.00. At 22.03, your total becomes 22.05. The one exception is if you pay with an ATM card which is usually only accepted at the larger stores. In that case, you pay the actual amount. (Almost no one accepts credit cards)

Another money matter that makes a lot of sense to me is the way items are priced. The total price includes the sales (consumption) tax. If an item costs $2.10 in a store or at a restaurant, you will pay exactly $2.10 for it. No additional tax is added at the end. At the larger stores, the receipt shows how much tax was actually paid, but the amount out of your pocket is the amount posted.

Another thing that makes a lot of sense, at least from a consumer perspective, is the way that Tongans pay for cell phones. You buy a phone, any kind you want, as long as it has a SIM card. Then you go to either of the two phone providers and buy a SIM Card, which costs about $5.00. That gives you your phone number. Then you purchase calling cards in values ranging from $5 to $20 to put credit on your phone. If you only make $5.00 worth of calls one month and $40.00 the next, you only pay for what you use. You have a year to use the balance on your phone and each time you recharge it, it extends your credit for another year. There is no fee for having a phone. You just pay for the minutes.

Of course, you only have voice and text messages here, nothing fancy like Internet or E-mail, but a system where you pay for what you use seems to be a lot fairer than signing a contract, paying for minutes you don't use and getting a phone for "free" but then having to pay for it in higher per minute charges.

***Other News***
Next week, The Tonga Development Bank (where I work) will be hosting a workshop for business owners and prospective business owners. The goal is to help them be successful and for their business to grow. I put together some of the PowerPoint slides that will be used at the session and thought I would share them here online. It will give you an idea of the very basic business concepts we are trying to teach. Most businesses here do not keep very good records and some don't keep any records. (I didn't put together the record-keeping presentation so it is not included) I did the PowerPoint in English, but it will be converted to Tongan for the workshop. You will see the word Fakamo'ua in the slides. That is basically the same as the word credit. You'll also see a Biblical quotation. You would almost never use that in a business presentation in the United States, but is perfectly acceptable here. In fact, I "lifted" that quote from a past presentation because it seemed to fit.

Here's another interesting insight into Tonga culture. We will be inviting people the day before the workshop. I was told by my counterpart at the bank that if we invite them too early, no one will show up so it is best not to give them a lot of notice. Now, just imagine doing that in the United States?

My friend Karen had her bike stolen last week. She has written about the incident on her blog and it is worth reading.

If you live in a city with a 3-D IMAX theatre, be on the lookout for a new movie called "Dolphins and Whales 3D". Part of it saw filmed in Tonga and there are several photos of Tonga on the movie web site.

In addition there is a News Release about the movie here:

Jean-Michel Cousteau's DOLPHINS AND WHALES 3D: Tribes of the Ocean Narrated by Daryl Hannah To Make a Big Splash at the Cinemark IMAX Theatre in Dallas on February 29

***Notes***
Next week is a big week for me. That means saying good-bye to many of my friends here in Tongatapu. (I'm scheduled to come back in late April for a in-service training session) My stuff gets shipped to Vava'u on Monday and we have the workshop on Wednesday. Next Friday, I fly to Vava'u and will get there just in time for a Vava'u volunteer meeting. That means I'll get to see almost everyone shortly after I arrive. Can't wait!!

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