Tonga AG Criticized For Bashing Reconstruction Loan Report

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‘Akilisi Pohiva says ‘attorney general should know his place’

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 18, 2012) – Tonga's Attorney General, Neil Adsett, said that a Parliamentary Select Committee that investigated the use of a multi million loan from China for the restructuring of Nuku'alofa had done a good job, but its report had no real finding of any person taking money they should not have had, or using money for themselves or against the interest of Tonga.

But the Attorney General's freely expressed opinion has upset the select committee's chairman, 'Akilisi Pohiva, who issued a press release on September 14 stating that, "Mr. Adsett should know his place."

In an interview with Television Tonga, on September 13, presenter Salote Sisifa asked the Attorney General for his professional opinion on the findings of the Report on the Nuku'alofa Development Corporation and the Reconstruction of the Nuku’alofa Central Business District following the riots of November 16, 2006.

The select committee's report claimed that laws were breached in using the muli-million pa'anga loan, on the basis that the loan was given for the construction of buildings burnt down in the events of 16/11.

However, the Attorney General believed that the parliament's resolution for the use of the loan was, in fact, very broad and general.

"The resolution was not very specific. If it had been specific and said that you can spend this money to build this building and that building, there would have been more of a problem, but it was quite general in terms - it was to rebuild Nuku'alofa and provide for the related infrastructure. So I think as far as the buildings were concerned, even though there was rebuilding of more than was burnt in the fire, I think that was allowed by the resolution," he said in the interview.

The Parliamentary Select Committee report highlighted the renovation of the Royal Palace and the reconstruction of Vuna Wharf, which were not damaged in the riots, and recommended that further investigation be made into a possible breach of the law.

But the Attorney General said he could not see any evidence for this.

"I think the Minister of Finance should have gone back and formalized that with a resolution but I don't see that as a major issue, frankly. I read the report, looking all the time for some evidence of stealing or misuse of money and there is nothing in the report about that. That is the good thing about the report to me. That they have had a look at these things and they have done a good job, a very through job, but there is no real finding at all of any person taking money they should not have had, or using money for themselves or against the interest of Tonga," he said.

The Attorney General stated that he had an independent role looking over the findings of the parliamentary select committee's report.

"As the Attorney General I am independent, my job among other things is to prosecute. I am looking at what I had to do and I am not finding any prosecution that would be involved, I am not finding any person singled out in this report for stealing money.

Costly investigation

"More than that, a lot of money has been spent on this report. There was a report before as well, and for part of this, a Sydney accountancy firm was engaged and very quickly raked-up a bill of about a million and a half pa'anga, which is still unpaid, and there might be an action against government for that, that will be defended but it will be very expensive. So to me a lot of money has been spent," he said.

"It has been a good report, but there is nothing in that report that points a finger at any person, at any misuse of money, so for myself I think the report should be applauded but I will not be taking any action on what I have seen so far."

The Attorney General also commented that he hoped for parliament to continue with more important work in the house, "such as the15 bills that are already there and 10 more to come, and to turn their focus to it."

Chairman's response

Meanwhile, the chairman of the select committee, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, MP, on September 14 in an angrily-worded response to the Attorney General's hope that parliament should continue with more important work in the House, stated that "Mr. Adsett should know his place in the context of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Tonga, and should not tell the Parliament of Tonga what is important, what is not, and what it should focus on."

He stated that parliament had on September 12 rejected a motion to refer the select committee's report to the Attorney General. "The committee strongly disagrees with Mr. Adsett’s interpretation and opinion of the 2007 Resolution by the Parliament to approve the China loan."

'Akilisi also stated that the select committee was not responsible for the unpaid accountancy bills. "The Attorney General commented on the disputed costs of the Australian firm engaged and then terminated by the government to do this same work now claiming the government owes them TOP$1 million [US$581,869]. As that legal claim is currently in dispute, and an ongoing concern of the government, Mr. Adsett's comments are premature… The committee's report was not based on the Australian firm's work," 'Akilisi stated.

The Attorney General is appointed by the King in Council.

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