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Committee to approach China, World Bank, ADB

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Aug. 31, 2011) - A parliamentary committee, formed on July 26 to produce a report on how the Nuku‘alofa Development Corporation administered and spent a TOP118 million [US$72 million] loan from China on the reconstruction of central Nuku΄alofa, remains in limbo.

A month ago the Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano tabled the motion to the House for the formation of the committee as a matter of urgency because it was a Cabinet decision. The motion was carried with a majority vote of 14-2, against were ‘Aisake Eke and Fusitu’a.

The Prime Minister told the House that negotiation was underway on a proposal for the committee to be funded by either the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank.

He nominated ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Dr Sitiveni Halapua to lead the House’s research committee, which was to also to include an independent lawyer and the government’s Auditor General.

‘Akilisi and Sitiveni were among People’s Representatives who had tabled a motion into the House calling for detailed information on the Chinese loan, and for the reconstruction of Vuna Wharf to stop because it was illegal.

The formation of the Parliamentary Committee was the second attempt by government to find answers to six questions.

An earlier report by two researchers, Dr Tina Brown and Melino Maka, tried to answer the same six questions, but in their final report also told the PM that he was ill-informed by his advisors on the matter. Dr Brown and Melino Maka’s contract with the Prime Minister’s Office was terminated.

The new Parliamentary Committee under the leadership of ‘Akilisi and Sitiveni appeared to have the enthusiasm to get to the bottom of the matter, since they also had tabled a motion to the House, casting doubt over the legality of how the Chinese loan was spent.

The Chief Secretary and Secretary of the Cabinet Busby Kautoke told Matangi Tonga Online on August 29, that the Prime Minister’s office has no involvement in the work of the Parliamentary Committee. He said that the committee was a creation of parliament and they should be responsible for its operation.

Charles Nepia, the head of the Nuku‘alofa Development Corporation, Project Management Unit, said that he had heard of the Parliamentary Committee but he had not met them, and the construction work was going on as planned.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Parliament’s Office said that the only recent discussion on the "NDC committee" was what was said during the parliamentary sessions last week.

According to the Parliamentary Minutes on Thursday, August 25, Lord Tu’ilakepa raised the issue after hearing that ‘Akilisi and Sitiveni had resigned from the committee, but the House had not received any letters of resignation.

Dr Sitiveni Halapua told the House that negotiation was going on with the Prime Minister’s Office and they would report back to the House. He also confirmed that they had not written letters of resignation.

There are only seven months left before the final drawn-down of the Chinese loan on 31 March 2012, when all construction works under the project are supposed to be completed.

The six questions that government wants answers for are:

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