Tonga Education Minister Slams Donor Funding Allegations

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Demands apology over ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s ‘misleading’ remarks

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Oct. 4, 2012) – Tonga's Minister of Education in parliament is calling for 'Akilisi Pohiva to apologize to the New Zealand Government, to herself and to the Tongan people for making misleading and unfounded allegations about the donor funding received by the Ministry of Education.

Dr. 'Ana Maui Taufe'ulungaki's call for an apology is contained in a Resolution Motion that was read to the House yesterday, October 3.

The resolutions states that People's Representative 'Akilisi Pohiva had told New Zealand's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Murray McCully, wrongly, that the Minister of Education, Dr. Taufe'ulungaki, had misplaced TOP$700,000 [US$402,276] of New Zealand aid funds to her Ministry.

The Minister of Education told the House that when Mr. McCully visited Tonga in July, a meeting was scheduled for his delegation to meet Tonga's members of parliament at the Scenic Hotel, Fua'amotu.

She said that only 'Akilisi turned up, and following the meeting, the former New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga, Dr. Jonathan Austin, queried her over why 'Akilisi had told the New Zealand Foreign Minister that there was a missing TOP$700,000 New Zealand aid to the Ministry of Education.

No misappropriation

The Minister said that she had subsequently discussed the matter with the New Zealand Foreign Minister, and the New Zealand and the Australian High Commissioners who had carried out an investigation of 'Akilisi's claim.

A letter signed by the Acting New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga and the Australian High Commissioner was attached to the Minister of Education's Resolution Motion, stating that following their own investigation they found there was no misappropriation of funds in their assistance to Tonga's Ministry of Education.

Demands

But 'Akilisi responded to the resolution motion by demanding answers to a number of questions, and said that he would not apologize until the questions were answered.

Dr. Taufe'ulungaki answered most of 'Akilisi's questions, but the Speaker pointed out that the House had to decide what to do with the Resolution Motion, and if they should table it into Whole House Committee, to the Privilege Committee or to the Finance Committee.

Lord Nuku objected to the idea of tabling the motion to Standing Committees, he said that they were hiding the issue from the public because deliberations in Standing Committees were not broadcasted live.

Waste of time and money

Hon. Clive Edwards pointed out that to notify aid donors that there was fraud in one of the government ministries was a very serious allegation. He insisted that the House should know their boundaries, he believed that for the motion to be tabled into Standing Committees for further investigation was outside the House's jurisdiction, and it would be another waste of money and time.

However, the Speaker announced for the motion to be tabled into a committee to be made up of members of the Finance Committee, the Privilege Committee and the Auditor General.

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