NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT MINISTER ROBSON LAUNCHES BITTER ATTACK ON TONGA

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By Michael Field

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (February 9, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)--A senior New Zealand cabinet minister launched a bitter attack on the Kingdom of Tonga Saturday, saying it was endemically corrupt.

But Associate Foreign Minister Matt Robson said New Zealand would not pull its annual NZ$ 6 million (US$ 2,508,600) in aid out because other nations were queuing up to give the Polynesian state aid.

His comments in the Dominion daily here follow increasing concern over the extravagant wealth of King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV and his children Crown Prince Tupouto‘a and Princess Pilolevu Tuita.

"We give six million dollars a year to Tonga, but there are people who profit at the expense of the people because of their hold over the country," Robson told the newspaper.

"The Tongan Government and those close to it show all signs of endemic corruption. It’s been a no-no to discuss this publicly, based on the premise that if we don’t influence them, someone else will. But the policies we’ve been following have not advanced the interests of the Tongan people -- they’ve gone backward."

Robson said New Zealand aid looked as it if entrenched the privileged elite.

"All the signs are that it does entrench an elite who send their children to schools overseas and live an opulent lifestyle."

But he added: "If we pulled out our six million dollars someone else might just come in, so I am taking a conservative line on this."

He said New Zealand tried to aid non-government organizations but by not applying pressure the Tongan Government was able to "thumb their nose at us and their people. They know they can play us off against other aid donors."

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org 

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