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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (August 31, 2001 - Tonga Star/PINA Nius Online)--A People's Representative in Tonga's Parliament has asked for a full report from Minister of Finance Siosiua ‘Utoikamanu about an estimated T$ 20 million (US$ 9,306,221) in the Tonga Foreign Reserves account said to be in jeopardy.

Ha‘apai MP S. Teisina Fuko requested that the Minister ‘Utoikamanu report on the management of the account, the trustees' involvement, investment activities, and the current financial status.

He also requested a report on a trip the minister went on to the United States earlier this year, supposedly to verify the stability of the account.

In previous debates in Parliament, MP Fuko expressed his concern but received no straight answers on three questions:

These were:

In 1988, the government passed the "The Tonga Trust Fund Act," which set up the account with three trustees to manage the operation.

The act required that a separate "Foreign Reserves" account should be established, where the Kingdom would save its reserves to be used for national emergencies or major developmental projects in the future.

The Prime Minister was appointed chairperson. The other members were the Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice/Attorney General.

The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance have changed due to retirement or new appointments. The only remaining original trustee member is Minister of Justice Tevita Tupou.

Funds generated from Tonga's controversial "Special Persons Passport Scheme" sales provided the initial Tonga Trust Fund deposits.

However, it cannot be determined what the accurate current status of the funds is given today's volatile money market uncertainties.

The Legislative Assembly has not received financial reports for the financial years 1998/99, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001.

"We also expressed to the Acting Secretary our dissatisfaction that there are no definite times or methods during which the government is required to repay loans from the Foreign Reserves account," said MP Fuko.

"These loans amount to T$14.9 million (US$ 6,933,135) as of March 31st, 1998 and it they are accounted for in the Audit Report of 1998 as a Government short-term loan. From an audit point of view, it's important to state clearly and precisely the repayment methods and time, and the loan should be listed in the Government account, as a loan from an external source.

"Regardless of this, the financial report for March 31, 1999, has not been submitted to Parliament so that action can be taken accordingly."

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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