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GOVERNMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF TONGA Government Information Unit Prime Minister’s Office Nuku‘alofa, Tonga

PRESS RELEASE February 19, 2002


The Prime Minister, H.R.H. Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka ‘Ata, in a press conference held last Thursday, strongly expressed Government disappointment towards bitter attacks launched by a senior NZ Cabinet Minister on the Kingdom of Tonga, saying it was endemically corrupt.

Further reports confirmed that the Associate Foreign Minister Matt Robson said New Zealand would not pull out its annual NZ $6 million (US$ 2,537,400) in aid because other nations were queuing up to give the Polynesian State aid.

The Prime Minister clearly stated that the press statement aims at reporting Tonga's position with regard to the issue that had been raised recently in the press and in New Zealand.

Prior to this press conference, the PM had met the New Zealand Acting High Commissioner Gareth Smith to clarify whether such statements made by Matt Rob or Phil Goff were government statements. Upon clarification Matt Robson's statements were personal views, in contrast to Phil Goff’s statements, which were/are reflections of the New Zealand government's views.

The Prime Minister further said that Goff's remarks might appear to coincide with the upcoming parliamentary elections in Tonga on March 7th and raise appropriate speculation as to the underlying intention of his comments: A deliberate attempt made by a foreign government to influence Tonga’s elections with the assistance of the press and media. The press had before damaged New Zealand/Fiji diplomatic relationships. The Island of Fiji is just one example of the damage afflicted by this sort of civil oppressive performance conducted under the influence of media. New Zealand should also be aware, that we have over 600 hundred students in Fiji, and every time there is political interference, there are substantial costs involved with the security of our students.

The Prime Minister in reply to a question on foreign interference, accentuated the notion that all internal affairs should remain only internal and in accordance with the constitution and the laws of that country, as opposed to being dictated to by other foreign governments. The internal affairs of the Kingdom are subject to its own constitution and what the people want. New Zealand as a country has its own constitution. It is up to the people of Tonga to decide and not to be dictated by other governments.

On the question as to whether Tonga can do without NZ aid, "We should not be under any illusion that they do this for our own good. We remind ourselves that aid does not solely benefit us as a country, but aid benefits the donor as well. One example would be that they give us aid and they dump mutton flaps on the Tongan market, mutton flaps that are hardly edible by the health standards of New Zealand." According to data from the Ministry of Health, increase consumption of mutton flaps has led to a proportional increase in non- communicable disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease among the Tongan people. Mutton flaps are not fit for human consumption.

On the claim that there is corruption in the royal family and the government, the Prime Minister stated that "we would like to have evidence and the details. If 'Akilisi Pohiva and others have such details they should provide us with such."

There is to be held a Workshop on Media Reporting organized by AusAID in the next couple of weeks; this may assist media reporting in Tonga to report on facts.

The Prime Minister expressed his support to media publications in Tonga. "Media could assist government to become more transparent, and taxpayers have the right to know the occurrences in Government. Intelligence gathering such as this is normal in the Pacific region, but we should be more factual. We want proof of any claims. ‘Akilisi Pohiva has been publishing claims in his publication "Kele'a" in regard to His Majesty's alleged wealth of US$ 350 million. It turns out to be fake; it’s not a paper that promotes the truth; rather it’s a paper that promotes his own views. The people are quite intelligence, as the literacy rate is about 98% and they make up their own conclusion.

'Akilisi Pohiva is the only Member of Parliament who campaigns overseas and around the region to cut off aid to Tonga. The taxpayers have a right to know all this and the government should be more transparent with a consultation type of Government, the Prime Minister said.

On the question of what's the future and the likely solution, it "depends on their reaction. The two countries are firmly engaged, and the best way is to maintain diplomatic relations. We cannot move away from each other in terms of geographical location in terms of history. We have a long linked history in military relationship and trade. Our relationship has been instituted."

In reference to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his statement on aid, the PM went on to say, "He is the one who is in charge of aid; the ball is now in his court."

"Diplomacy is clarifying the position of one's country, and less interfering with the internal politics of one's country. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘A gentlemen does not insult you intentionally.’ We are just as sensitive as other countries," the Prime Minister said.

For further information please contact: Government Information Unit Prime Minister’s Office Nuku’alofa TONGA

Tel: (676) 24 644 Fax: (676) 23 888 Email: or  Website: 

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