Tonga National Rugby League “dysfunctional for years” says Supreme Court judge

    Hundreds of thousands of pa’anga are unaccounted for, accounts have remained unaudited for years, the constitution has been violated, fraudulent elections have been held and court orders ignored.

    That is the picture that has emerged of the Tonga National Rugby League after the latest Supreme Court battle over the management of the embattled sporting body.

    Now the TNRL has been told it will have its accounts for the past five years audited, that it will hold elections for officers and that no funds can be spent on anything not authorised by the TRNL board.

    The order came from Lord Chief Justice Paulsen in the Supreme Court after he heard lengthy submissions on the dispute that has wracked the TNRL for years.

    The details of the orders will be finalised this Friday morning when the judge will hear further submissions from counsel on the terms of the orders.

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said the TNRL had been dysfunctional for years and there was little to suggest the situation was getting any better.

    The case was brought by three members of the TNRL’s board of directors, Siliveinusi Taumoepeau, Tavake Fangupo and Taufa Fukofuka with TNRL president Semisi Sika and chairman Stan Moheloa acting as defendants.

    Improper

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said the plaintiffs  believed that Moheloa and his supporters had  usurped the role of the board and mismanaged the affairs and the finances  of  the TNRL and used its money for improper purposes without board approval.

    He said that previous orders made by Mr Justice Cato in 2014 had been ignored.

    These included a ruling that the changes made to the Rules of the TNRL in 2012 affecting  the election of officers were invalid.

    The change of rules meant that the president, secretary and chairman would hold their positions for four years and not be subject to annual elections.

    Mr Justice Cato ordered that all officers of the TNRL would have to stand for re-election every year. However, this ruling was ignored.

    Complaints

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen examined what he described as ‘serious and wide ranging” complaints against the defendants, among them allegations that Moheloa, with the support of former  secretary  Lopeti  ‘Uhatafe  and  the  treasurer, Matani Mataele had failed to call meetings of the board as required by the TNRL’s rules, excluded some board members from meetings concerning the affairs of the TNRL, caused  the TNRL to incur financial obligations without board knowledge and failed to provide any information to the board about the financial affairs of the TNRL despite repeated requests.

    Other allegations included claims that:

    • Moheloa and others had failed to account for money received for or on behalf of the TNRL, never obtained approval of the board for payments of expenses or accounts using TNRL funds and had used the money of the TNRL for improper purposes for the benefit of the defendants.
    • Moheloa and others  failed  to provide an audit  of the finances of the TNRL for any of the years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 which is required under the League’s rules. In 2012 year the members at the annual general meeting were presented with a false financial report that was not audited and materially mis-stated the financial position of the TNRL.
    • In breach of a memorandum of understanding between the Government of Tonga and the TNRL, under which the Government provided TP$250, 000 to the TNRL to be used for player allowances at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, Sika and Moheloa and others caused the TNRL to fail to comply with the grant conditions and disbursed the money for other purposes.

    “Surprisingly, given the serious allegations that have been made against them, the defendants did not give evidence and they did not call any witnesses to give evidence on their behalf,” Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said.

    “Most of the plaintiffs’ evidence is effectively unchallenged.”

    Instead, the defendants tried, unsuccessfully, to argue that the plaintiffs had no right to bring this action and that the court had no power to make the orders against the defendants that were sought by the plaintiffs.

    Lord Chief Justice Paulsen had already forbidden the defendants from taking money out of the TNRL account without approval of the board. This judgement was made in April after the plaintiffs complained that the  treasurer  of  the  TNRL,  Matani  Mataele,    had withdrawn TP$8000 from the ANZ bank account of the TNRL to reimburse expenses he claimed had been incurred on behalf of the TNRL by Moheloa.

    Discrepancies

    Lengthy investigations by Siliveinusi Taumoepeau, who has been a board director since 2007, found serious problems with the TRNL’s finances, with great discrepancies between the information being supplied to the board and the records held by the ANZ of the TRNL’s bank account.

    Under the TRNL’s rules, all moneys belonging to or received must be paid into its bank account and all accounts must be passed for payment by the board. The evidence showed that these rules had been consistently breached.

    For interest, bank statements showed total expenditure from the TNRL account of TP$93,233.82 in the 2012 financial year compared  with the TP$159,566.15 shown  in  the TRNL’s financial report. That is a difference of TP$66, 332.33. Similarly, TP$106,333.55 was deposited into the TNRL bank account in the same period, yet total income of the TNRL in the financial report was recorded as TP$160,203.60. That is a difference of TP$53,870.05. The differences were unidentified and unexplained in the financial report.

    As a result of his enquiries in to these and other financial irregularities, Taumoepeau complained to the  Police in May 2013  that Moheloa and ‘Uhatafe had drawn money from the TNRL bank account without permission in circumstances that amounted to theft. The complaint was not pursued pending the hearing of the court case.

    Relations among board members continued to deteriorate over the years under review. The plaintiffs and others were excluded from meetings to discuss the Rugby World Cup, were denied information about financial statements and were rebuffed with often bizarre and evasive replies from the defendants, who often made threats in e-mails. Board members were not privy to discussions on merchandising which have left the TRNL severely in debt, or to discussions with the government on World Rugby Cup funding.

    In the meantime, there was a steady drain of money from the TRNL finances as what appeared cheques for personal expenses were drawn on the ANZ account. The persistent failure of the chairman and president to provide documentation concerning the use of government funding for the Rugby World Cup eventually exasperated the government to such an extent that it threatened legal action

    On May 5, 2014 the Solicitor General sent Moheloa a letter demanding that the TNRL comply with its obligation to tell the government how it had spent the funds given to it for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. The Solicitor General said that under the terms of its agreement the TNRL was to submit, two months after the final  day of the tournament, a report with invoices and receipts and any further information requested by  the  Ministry.  The Solicitor General said the TNRL had failed to meet on its commitments despite repeated requests by the Government.  Eventually an audit of the way the government grant had been spent showed that less than half had been spent properly by the TNRL.

    In his findings on the evidence presented in court, Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said he was satisfied that “not all money received for and on behalf of the TNRL has been paid into its bank account with the ANZ bank, that money of the TNRL has been used for purposes that were not authorised by the board and that Mr Moheloa has incurred obligations on behalf of the TNRL without board approval.”

    1 COMMENT

    1. Naʻe mamatea moʻoni e Kōmiti ʻAkapulu Liiki ʻa Tongá pe TNRL pea ʻoku tō e mamafa e tukuakiʻí ‘o e meʻá ni ki he toko tolu ʻa ia ko Stan Moheloa, Lōpeti ʻUhatafe pea mo e tauhi paʻangá ko Mātani Mataele.

      Ko e kau tangata ʻeni ne nau tataki mai ʻa e sino fakafonua ki he līkí ʻi he 2012, 2013, 2014 mo e 2015 ʻo hoko ai ʻa e ngaahi tukuakiʻi faihala ki he paʻanga mo e anga hono fakalele ʻo e poaté.

      Naʻe pehē ʻe Fakamaau Lahi Paulsen naʻe ʻikai ke uki ʻe he kau tangatá ni ha fakataha ʻo fakatatau ki he tuʻutuʻuní, ʻikai tala e fakataha ia ʻe niʻihi ki he kotoa ʻo e kau mēmipa poaté ke aleaʻi ai ʻa e ngaahi meʻa ʻa e TNRL pea lahi e moʻua heni ʻa e poate. ʻIkai ke nau ʻave ʻa e ngaahi fakamatala ne fie maʻu kau ki he ʻū meʻa fakapaʻanga ʻa e poaté neongo ʻa hono toutou kole atú.

      ʻOku lau kilu ʻa e paʻanga naʻe ʻikai ʻilo pe ne fefeeʻi, ngaahi ʻakauni ʻeni ne ʻikai pe ʻātitaʻi ia ʻi he ngaahi taʻu, maumauʻi ʻa e konisitūtoné, kakaaʻi e fili lakanga mo mēmipá pea ʻikai pe ha tokanga ʻe taha ki ha tuʻutuʻuni ki muʻa ʻa e fakamaau lahí.

      Ko e ʻata totonu ʻeni kuo ʻohake kau ki he sino fakafonua ʻokú ne puleʻi ʻa e līkī hili ia ha fetakai he Fakamaauʻanga Lahí ki he anga hono fakalele mo tokangaʻi ʻo e sino fakasipotí ni.

      Ko e hopo ʻeni ʻi hano fakaʻilo ʻe he kau mēmipa ʻe toko tolu ʻo e poaté ʻa ia ko Siliveinusi Taumoepeau, Tavake Fangupo mo Taufa Fukofuka a e niʻihi taki ʻi he poate ʻo tuʻu ai mei he faʻahi taukapō ʻa e palesitení Semisi Sika, Stan Moheloa ko e sea leʻoleʻo pehē foki kia Mātani Mataele ko e tauhi paʻangá.

      Naʻe pehē ʻe Fakamaau Paulsen naʻe tui ʻa e kau talatalaakí naʻe toʻo fakamālohiʻi ʻe Moheloa mo hono kau poupoú ʻa e fatongia ʻo e poaté pea nau ngāue hala ʻi hono tokangaʻi e meʻa fakapaʻanga ʻa e TNRL pea nau ngāueʻaki foki ʻa e paʻanga ki he ngaahi meʻa hala ʻikai ke fakapaasi mei he poaté.

      Naʻe ʻi ai mo e tuʻutuʻuni ʻa Fakamaau Mr Cato ʻi he 2014 ki he liiki ka ne ʻikai pe tokanga ki ai ʻa e kau tangatá ni ia.
      Naʻe kau heni ʻa hono fakahā ko e foʻi liliu ko ia ne fai ʻi he 2014 ʻo uesia ai ʻa e founga hono fili ʻo e kau ʻōfisá naʻe taʻeʻaonga ia.

      Ko e liliu ko ʻeni ki he tuʻutuʻuni filí naʻe ʻuhinga ia ʻe maʻu ʻe he palesitení, sekelitalí mo e seá ʻa honau lakangá ʻi ha taʻu ʻe fā kae ʻikai ko e fili fakataʻu.
      Ka naʻe tuʻutuʻuni ʻa Cato ke fili fakataʻu ʻa e kau ʻōfisá. Neongo iá naʻe ʻikai fakahoko e tuʻutuʻuni ia ko ʻeni ʻe he kau tangatá.

      Pehē foki ‘e he tukuaki’i naʻe maumauʻi ʻe Sika mo Moheloa mo e niʻihi ha alepau femahinoʻaki mo e puleʻanga ʻa ia ne foaki ai ʻe he puleʻangá ʻa e paʻanga ʻe $250,000 ki he TNRL ki he vahe ʻa e kau vaʻingá ʻi he feʻauhi Ipu ʻo e 2013. Ka ne vahe ʻe kinautolu ʻa e paʻanga ki he meʻa kehe.

      Kotoa eni ‘oku te’eki aofangatuku ‘e he fakamaau ha’ane tu’utu’uni ki he totonu mo e hala ‘o e tukuaki’i ko ‘eni.

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