Tonga Finance Minister Clears Air About Forbes Interview

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‘Aisake claims no knowledge of agreement to pay for PM promo

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Aug. 12, 2015) – An extravagant venture of the Tongan government to pay $130,000 (USD) for an advertorial in the June 29 issue of Forbes Magazine was organised by the former Secretary to Government, ‘Aholotu Palu, along with the Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Prime Minister’s Office, it was claimed yesterday by Tonga’s Finance Minister.

Hon. ‘Aisake Eke in a statement, also denied allegations that he had prior knowledge that the interview was contracted to be paid for.

‘Aisake stated that he found out that the government would have to pay up, when he was himself contacted for an interview by the two people who had already interviewed the Prime Minister in Tonga.

The Forbes Affair has developed into a verbal slinging match between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Finance. They are blaming each other for contracting the Forbes people for the making of the advertorial. The Forbes Affair remains a dark cloud over the promised transparency of the new government of Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

Denials

Yesterday’s revelations by the Minister of Finance were a response to claims that were published by Kalafi Moala, media adviser to the Prime Minister, in his newspaper, Taimi ‘o Tonga.

The Minister of Finance wanted to correct four allegations that he stated were in the Taimi article.

The first was a claim by Kalafi that the Prime Minister did not know that Forbes had to be paid for the interview and that he found out after the Minister of Finance had signed a contract with Forbes.

‘Aisake denied the allegation. He said that he himself found out about the Forbes interview when the two people telephoned him after their interview with the Prime Minister for an appointment to interview him as well. It turned out it was expected for him to allocate funds from the national budget to pay for the interview for the Forbes advertorial. It was only then that he realised the government would have to pay for the interview. He asked how much, and when they said $150,000 (USD) he told them it was too expensive. So they dropped the price to $130,000 (USD).

‘Aisake said that according to the then Secretary to Government, ‘Aholotu Palu, the Prime Minister had agreed for an interview with Forbes when he was told that they wanted to talk to him. Once the Prime Minister agreed for the interview, the PM’s Office then proceeded to organise an entry visa for what they thought were the two Forbes interviewers. After the two people arrived in Tonga and interviewed the PM, apparently it was only then that the PM had become aware that he would have to pay for the interview so he had directed them to talk to the Minister of Finance about the budget and to pay for the interview.

Justification

‘Aisake denied a second claim made by Kalafi that the Minister of Finance had justified the paid interview of the PM because it would be good marketing for Tonga because of Forbes millions of readers.

‘Aisake pointed out that the PM had already told the House that he agreed for the interview because it would be a good promotion for Tonga. He said that it was only later that the Ministry of Finance released information detailing the payment and the benefit for Tonga of such an exercise.

Cabinet decision

The Taimi article had thirdly queried why ‘Aisake organised the interview and paid for it with the budget allocation of the Ministry of Tourism, without consulting the ministry for their approval.

‘Aisake again denied that he had any involvement in the arrangement of the interview of the PM by Forbes. He said that the payment for the interview with funds from the budget allocation of the Ministry of Tourism was a Cabinet decision, and the Minister of Tourism was in Cabinet.

Fourthly, ‘Aisake denied a claim by Kalafi that the interview had been planned by ‘Aholotu Palu and the Minister of Finance, without informing either the Prime Minister or the people who could advise him on such matters.

‘Aisake stressed that the arrangement for the interview was organised by the former Secretary to Government, ‘Aholotu Palu, with the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office.

He ended his statement, issued in Tongan, by expressing his doubt over Kalafi Moala’s credibility as a media adviser employed at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Earlier, Parliament was told that 400 copies of the interview were to be distributed in Tonga during the coronation in July, but no copies of the advertorial had been seen in circulation. Parliament was also told that the interview was going to be translated into Chinese, but so far there has been no proof that a Chinese translation was ever carried out.

The Minister of Finance had also told the house that they would investigate to find out who had contracted Forbes before payment was made.

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