A Pacific Trailblazer – the CEO of Tonga Development Bank

March 2, 2020

There are many trailblazers in the Pacific and Leta Havea Kami is among them. Leta is the first female managing director/chief executive officer of the Tonga Development Bank, TBD, a role she has held for the last seven years. Leta started with TDB in 1989 as a business advisory officer and worked her way up the ranks managing key departments of the bank.  As head of TDB, Leta oversaw the introduction of Ave Pa’Anga Pau (“Send Money Securely”) voucher, a cashless, compliant, and stable remittance product for Tongans living overseas to send money home - developed by IFC and TDB, with support from the governments of Australia and New Zealand. This is Leta’s story. 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Balancing family, work, church and social and cultural obligations. 

What has been your most notable achievement as CEO of Tonga Development Bank?

Commercializing the bank’s operation and expanding products and services in a responsive and innovative manner to meet customer’s needs and improve financial inclusion while carrying out its development banking mandate successfully. 

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, it’s a special day to be still for a moment and acknowledge God’s blessings on the lives of great women in the world, in Tonga and in our communities, who have successfully paved the way for women today.  It is important for us day to reflect on our role models’ prayerful lives, courageous sacrifices and lasting accomplishments to inspire ourselves individually to faithfully set a goal, big or small, for ways we can further contribute to lifting the economic livelihoods, security, empowerment, health, education and freedom of women in our countries. 

Remittances are critical to Pacific Island nations, and a major source of income for many. How important is the payment system that was launched in 2017 to the women of Tonga?

The no fee ‘Ave Pa’anga Pau, APP, remittance voucher system launched on Valentine’s Day 2017 has successfully increased the flow of money from New Zealand to loved ones in Tonga, who mostly are women.  APP has also positively impacted on lowering the cost of sending money so that more money is received by women and their families in Tonga. Most senders are on the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme and recipients, mostly women, are banking for the first time. We support them with banking products to help them save and support their investment plans to improve their livelihoods.  We are excited and looking forward to expanding APP to the Australia corridor this year. 

What’s your vision of an ideal future for Tonga?

My vision is: build a financially stable and educated middle-class which is encouraged to invest in local businesses; have innovative and sustainable programmes and empower women to help support and improve Tonga’s economic growth, have social/cultural stability, and active communities and healthier people.