Auditor General demands repayment as hundreds of students at private school can’t be found

    The Auditor General’s office has recommended that the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute be referred to the police after massive discrepancies were found in its accounts.

    The Institute, which began operations in 2004, was set up by disgraced former politician and Minister for Infrastructure, Etuate Lavulavu.

    The Auditor General’s office said hundreds of students supposedly attending the private school could not be identified and that the Institute should repay TP$553,800 to the Technical  Vocational Education and Training fund (TVET).

    The report said some of the information used to create students’ identities appeared to have been taken from students who attended training programmes at the Ministry of Infrastructure, Lavulavu’s former portfolio.

    The TVET payments had been made based on claims made by the Institute.

    The Auditor General’s report said the Institute claimed to have lent students TP$670 for their fees, when these were only TP$100. It also claimed to have offered places in exchange for food and labour, but no proper records were kept and the report concluded these claims led to a significant overpayment of TVET funds.

    It said the government should ensure that the Institute and its courses were properly approved before any further payments were made.

    The report said a total of 915 students supposedly attending the school, and for which the Institute as receiving funding, could not be identified.

    Of these:

    • 38 said they had no idea how their names came to be on the school lists
    • 234 were found to have either not paid fees or attended the school
    • 643 names appearing the Institute records, but could not be located. Residential addresses were wrong or non-existent, some had migrated and some were Mormon missionaries.

    Lavulavu told Kaniva News he rejected the report and threatened to take legal action against the Auditor General.

    Lavulavu said he was “disappointed” the Auditor General’s office did not give him and his school a chance to discuss the report.

    The current director of the school is his wife, Akosita Lavulavu, who was elected as MP for  Vava’u No. 16 seat after he lost his seat.

    In 2003 Matangi Tonga reported that the Institute would offer Form 5 level English graduates the opportunity to either study Foundation Level, Form 7, or to take a technical course at the Institute.

    In September this year the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute finally complied with a court order to  move out of the Tonga National Cultural Centre from which it had been operating for several years.

    Head of the Cultural and Youth Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Pulupaki Ika, told the Tonga Broadcasting Corporation the ministry was trying to recover pictures and artefacts that had been removed from the former museum.

    In 2009 Lavulavu signed an agreement for the privatization of the Centre and began running the Institute out of it, along with several tourism businesses.

    The Government eventually ordered the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga to vacate the centre, but had to resort to legal action.

    As Kaniva News reported in February, Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted him of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign.

    The conviction cost him his Parliamentary seat for Vava’u No. 16.

    In his summary of the case, Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said Lavulavu was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.

    The main points

    • The Auditor General’s office has recommended that the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute be referred to the police after massive discrepancies were found in its accounts.
    • The Institute, which began operations in 2004, was set up by disgraced former politician and Minister for Infrastructure, Etuate Lavulavu.
    • The Auditor General’s office said hundreds of students supposedly attending the private school could not be identified and that the Institute should repay TP$553,800 to the Technical Vocational Education and Training fund.
    • Lavulavu told Kaniva News he rejected the report and was “disappointed” the Auditor General’s office did not give him and his school a chance to discuss the report.

    For more information                                                                        

    Supreme Court finds Lavulavu guilty of bribery and calls his evidence ‘untruthful’ 

    New opportunities for Tonga’s school leavers (Matangi Tonga)

    Tonga National Cultural Centre returned to Government (TBC)

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