Confusion In Tonga Over Who Is In Charge Of 2019 Pacific Games

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Sevele confirmed as organizing committee chair despite PMs objections

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 27, 2016) – Tonga’s Pacific Games Organizing Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Sevele is still Tonga’s official organizing committee of the 2019 Pacific Games, Hon. Fe’ao Vakata, the Minister for Internal Affairs and Sports confirmed this morning, 27 January.

Confusion over who was responsible for the organisation of the 2019 Pacific Games, arose after well-publicised verbal exchanges between the Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva and Lord Sevele.

Recently the Prime Minister made an official visit to Papua New Guinea "to further strengthen the economic and social cooperation between the two countries in the sports arena." But it raised questions over who is organising the games.

The trip to PNG seeking support for the Games, followed a controversy in December after PM Pohiva on 15 December 2015 wrote and demanded for Lord Sevele and his committee to resign because Tonga's preparations to host the 2019 Pacific Games appeared to be at a stand-still.

There were allegations of mismanagement of New Zealand aid money for the upgrading of the Teufaiva Stadium, along with slow progress in the preparation of facilities for the game, and very high salaries for Lord Sevele and his organizing committee staff.

Lord Sevele responded on 17 December that the Pacific Games Organizing Committee is guided by the Pacific Games Organization Act, 2013, and that the committee is financially autonomous and independent of government.

In the midst of this verbal ping pong, the Prime Minister along with the Minister for Internal Affairs Hon. Fe’ao Vakata and his CEO visited Papua New Guinea.

They met the PNG Prime Minister, Hon. Peter O’Neill on 18 January, and ‘Akilisi invited the PNG Minister for Sports and Tourism, Hon. Justin Tkatchenko to visit Tonga "at the earliest opportunity to share their experiences of planning and preparing of a Pacific Games."

However, after the delegation returned to Tonga last week, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement confirming that "No monetary commitments were made during dialogue between Papua New Guinea and Tonga last week."

Huge cost

Tonga made a bid to the Pacific Games Council in 2012 to host the 2019 Pacific Games and it was awarded the right to host the 2019 Pacific Games by the General Assembly of the Pacific Games Council in Wallis and Futuna on 19 October 2012.

It was estimated at the time that it will cost Tonga USD$70 million to host the games.

In the government national budget for 2015-16 it was proposed for Tonga to finance the 2019 Pacific Games by introducing an Airport Departure Tax and a Foreign Exchange Levy. It was estimated that Departure Tax could bring in a minimum of $7 million per annum and the Levy $5 million.

However according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Finance these taxes had not been implemented. The construction of the sporting facilities for the 2019 Pacific Games, according to the Minister of Finance, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke, will start next year and he remained optimistic that Tonga will be ready to host the Pacific Games in 2019.

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