Uncertainty Surrounds Negotiations Over Tonga’s Satellite Slots

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Government rejects opposition claims that it’s selling orbital slots

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 7, 2014) – A mystery surrounds negotiations for two of Tonga’s orbital slots and the signing by the Tonga Government of an agreement with a satellite operator in the Asia Pacific region.

Allegations by People’s Representatives that a leaked Cabinet decision had agreed for the slots to be "sold outright", have been denied by Hon. Clive Edwards, a member of the Cabinet’s orbital slots negotiation team.

But in the Tongan Parliament on July 31, Tonga’s Speaker of the House disallowed the reading of a leaked Cabinet decision No. 365.

People’s Representative ‘Akilisi Pohiva requested that the leaked decision be read in order to clarify the claim that Cabinet had approved the sale of two orbital slots that the Tonga government leased from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

‘Akilisi said that the leaked document stated that Cabinet had agreed for the Tongan registered slots to be sold outright to the APT Telecommunication Company Ltd of Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Speaker, Lord Fakafanua rejected the request for a leaked decision to be read, because Cabinet had not given its approval for the leaked document to be read in Parliament.

The MP’s request was in response to an accusation by the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards, that ‘Akilisi was lying when he told the House on July 31 that the leaked Cabinet decision approved an "outright sale of the two orbital slots to APT Telecommunication Company Ltd. of Hong Kong and Singapore."

Clive stressed that according to the ITU regulations no one can sell the rights to an orbital slot.

The leaked Cabinet Decision had been circulating in public before it was first raised in Parliament by the People’s Representative Sione Taione on July 29, calling for government to clarify the alleged approval by Cabinet for TongaSat to sell the two orbital slots to the APT Telecommunication Company Ltd of Hong Kong and Singapore.

Marketing transfer

TongaSat, a private company, was in the past granted by the Tongan government the rights to secure and market orbital slots under a profit sharing agreement. Initially, the profit sharing arrangement was based on gross profit, and then later it was based on net profit.

Hon. Clive Edwards, a member of a Cabinet orbital slots negotiation team, told the House that he had a copy of an Assignment and License agreement that had been signed. The Assignment and License was for the relinquishing by TongaSat of its rights for the two orbital slots to the Tongan Government.

The Parliament’s confusion over the orbital slot negotiations continued when Clive said there had been another Cabinet decision.

Clive said that the latest Cabinet decision [385] on the two orbital slots was made on 13 June 2014, agreeing to the sale of the Tonga government’s lease of the two orbital slots to APT Telecommunication Company Ltd of Hong Kong and Singapore.

He said that starting this year government would be earning $450,000 (USD) and next year the figure would increase to $1.2 million (USD) annually for the next 25 years, and that at the end of the 25 years period the government should get $35 million (USD) for the leasing of these two orbital slots.

The members of the Cabinet’s orbital slots negotiation team are: Hon. Clive Edwards, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke, with the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Clive also spelled out that the agreement that he and Dr ‘Aisake Eke had signed with APT was a confidential document and he could not make it public.

China

To make things even more complicated Clive reported that he had a copy of a letter that ‘Akilisi Pohiva had written to the Chinese Ambassador to Tonga, telling him to stop the negotiations over the orbital slots because he hadn’t had a chance to look into it.

"What does China have to do with Tonga’s negotiations with a company that is not a Chinese company? What right does he have to ridicule Tonga?" asked Clive.

‘Akilisi responded that he has the right to write, and Clive could not stop him.

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