Heavy Rains Bring Flooding To Tongan Capitol, Government Has No Money To Help

New roads stopped water from flowing away from low-lying areas

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 14, 2016) – The government's mixed responses to the flooding of the low lying area in Nuku’alofa during the weekend stirred up a few loud exchanges between Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers, during the Budget debate in the Tongan Parliament yesterday, Monday 13 June.

The Prime Minister, Hon. 'Akilisi Pohiva, kicked off the morning session by expressing his concern over the living condition of people in the flooded low-lying areas of Nuku’alofa, which also included a good part of his constituency.

Flooding had occurred a number of times in these areas in the past, but this time the Prime Minister said “unfortunately, there is not much we can do to help, because of our current financial position.”

He said that the newly constructed roads in the areas stopped the floodwater from flowing out of the areas “and we need several millions to fix the problems.”

However he wanted people in these areas to know “that they are not forgotten.”

With those symphatic words for the people in the flooded areas of Nuku’alofa, the Prime Minister then got into what appeared to be what he really wanted to raise at the beginning of yesterday’s session of the House.

He wanted to address a claim by Lord Tu’ilakepa last Thursday, 9 June, that government last year set aside $260,000 to pay for computer software from Piveni Piukala and Siaosi Pohiva (a son of the Prime Minister).

To put things right the Prime Minister said that there was no $250,000 and $260,000 for computer software from Piveni and Siaosi. He said that Siaosi works for Educational Quality an Assessment Programme of the Pacific Community (EQAP) And he was not working with Piveni on software.

Lord Nuku wanted to know if Siaosi and Piveni were contracted.

Hon. ‘Akilisi responded that he signed the contract, but Siaosi was not contracted.

“Was it advertised?” asked Nuku, but there was no response. “I think there is a Conflict of Interest.”

Procurement process

After morning tea, Lord Fusitu’a reminded the Whole House Committee that it was decided in Legislature for the Computer Software issue to be tabled into Committee for further discussion. He said that there were a number of issues to look at. Was it tendered? Was there a contract? They also should look at the procurement process.

The Prime Minister said that there was no need to put the work out to tender. “I am the Minister, and we were in a hurry.”

Lord Fusitu’a said that only an Anti-corruption Commission would be able to solve the problem.

The Prime Minister responded that the reason why there is no Anti-corruption Commission is because of a disagreement between the Privy Council and Cabinet, and it held up the process.

Lord Vaea called on the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to “reduce the budget, there is no money.” He pointed to a vast difference in what the country imports, comparing with its exports.

He expressed his concern that government is trying to run everything. “Where is the private sector? We are heading into a situation we will be heavily in debt.”

Budget deficit

The Minister of Finance, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke responded that “God is with us, and Tonga will be good in the future.”

Lord Fusitu’a disagreed and pointed to a budget deficit of millions of Pa’anga.

‘Aisake however pointed that government has $35 million Foreign Reserves, enough to keep the country running for nine months. He also pointed to the millions that are available for loans from commercial banks.

Lord Nuku reminded the Minister of Finance that the Prime Minister had just told the House that government could not help the people in the flooded areas of Nuku’alofa because “there is no money”.

“What happened to the government's Emergency Fund?”

Looking backwards

“Let's go back to the past, the cause of all these problems,” said the Prime Minister.

Lord Nuku told the Prime Minister to stop blaming the past, and be responsible for what is happening today. “Where is our Emergency Fund? Where is our Constituency Fund?”

The Prime Minister said that they had pumped water from the area before, and if that is what he wanted, they could buy some pumps.

“It is the responsibility of the government,” said Lord Nuku.

Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House that government had responded to what had taken place, and there is an emergency service for anyone who is in need to call. “Now we are looking for a long term solution.”

Lord Nuku, wanted to know what would happen if they passed the Budget Statement now. “We have been told there is no money.”

The Prime Minister told the member to continue if he wanted to go on.

Following instructions

After lunch the Chairman of the Whole House Committee told the House that he went home for lunch, and the Archangel Gabriel showed up and told him that he should call for the House to vote on the Budget Statement.

Lord Tu’iha’angana, told the Chairman that there was no need for the House to vote. The Budget Statement is part of the budget and the debate should move on to the actual budget itself.

So, unfortunately for Archangel Gabriel, the Chairman took Lord Tu’iha’angana’s point, and the debate moved on to actual vote allocation in the budget, and they started with Vote No. 1 – the Palace Office. There is a reduction from $5.1 million last year to $4.34 million for 2016-17.

Lord Tu’iha’angana queried why there is $300,000 for the renovation of the Royal Residence at ‘Eua and only $100,000 for the Royal Residence at Ha’apai, which had been heavily damaged by Cyclone Ian.

The Minister of Finance, ‘Aisake Eke, however pointed out that the actual figure for Ha’apai was $550,000 and not just $100,000.

Because of the decision for the debate to continue on both the Budget Statement and vote allocations, though they had moved on to the Palace Vote, members were still referring to figures in the budget statement.

Lord Nuku stressed the importance to identification any reallocation of figures in the budget statement before they debated and passed the actual vote allocations in the budget.

However, the Prime Minister responded that if he insisted for the debate in the House to proceed in that way there would be no response from government.

Lord Tu’ivakano said that they could reshuffle votes allocations, but asked “is there any more money?”

The Prime Minister insisted that it would be easier if the debate focused on each vote allocation.

The Ha’apai People's Representative No. 12, Vili Hingano, wanted to talk on how millions dollars of Australian aid money was sent back to Australia because government could not use it.

‘Aisake Eke explained that if the Tonga government can’t use Australian aid allocations for that year, “we have to return the money to Australia. New Zealand aid is different, they give Tonga three years, and if we still can’t figure out how to spend that money then it has to be returned to New Zealand.”

While this discussion was going on, the Ha’apai People's Representative No. 13, Light of Life Taka, told the House, that the goings on by some of these members over the budget appeared to be part of their plan to table a Vote of No Confidence on the Prime Minister. “They want to reach the Kapa Ngako [tin of fat] of Government,” he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni moved for the House to vote on the Palace Vote Allocation.

The Chairman called for votes. It was carried 17-0.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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