Leaked emails appeared to show Public Service Association (PSA) General Secretary Mele ‘Amanaki feared that an unpaid debt to a local lawyer could affect a court case involving Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva in Nuku’alofa.
Hon Pōhiva and the PSA are plaintiffs in a court battle against Princess Pilolevu’s Tongasat company which began in Nuku’alofa today.
As Kaniva News reported last night, the court case stemmed from a dispute over a payment of US$25,450,000 made by a former Tongan government to Princess Pilolevu Tuita and her Tongasat Satellite company.
The defendants were Tongasat and the government of Tonga.
The plaintiffs were being represented by New Zealand lawyer Dr Rodney Harrison.
Hon Pōhiva and the PSA argued that the payment to or for Tongasat was unlawful within the meaning of the Public Finance Management Act.
The plaintiffs owed TP$7,025.55 to lawyer Laki Niu as legal fees.
‘Amanaki claimed they could not pay Niu’s fees and that funding they raised from the public in 2014 to help pay the legal fees had been exhausted.
There had been a call for ‘Amanaki to provide an audited financial statement of the money which was understood to have been deposited under the National Solitary Fund trust.
The fund, which was believed to be more than TP$20,000 was raised by Kōmiti Ma‘a e Kakai and was led by ‘Amanaki and Hon Pōhiva.
‘Amanaki has apologised to Lawyer Niu for what she had described as their “shortfall”, according to an e-mail seen by Kaniva News.
‘Amanaki was contacted for comment.
‘Amanaki has asked Hon Pōhiva’s daughter Teisa to ask Hon Pōhiva to discuss the matter with Dr Harrison when he arrived in Tonga last week.
“Please kindly let Ákilisi know of the following regarding Lakí Niu’s legal fees of $7,025.55 to be paid as per attached invoice,” ‘Amanaki told Teisa in an email
She said Ófa Pouono was Dr Harrison’s local agent for their legal case CV48 (PSA & Ákilisi) and also CV68 (Keleá, Mateni, Lautala & Staff and PSA – this is when Mateni published a letter from the Ministry of Revenue on Tonga’s tax arrears.
“Ófa advised in early 2015 that he was migrating overseas, so Mateni requested the services of Laki Niu and Rodney was advised of the changes of the local agent.
“Around October 2015 the Chief Justice had ruled that there is a case for CV48 (which the hearing will start next Monday) and for Gov’t & Tongasat pay for our legal fees (for CV48).
“Subsequently, Tongasat withdrew its charges against CV68 (Keleá & PSA).” ‘Amanaki said.
“I had requested to Rodney to include Laki Niu’s fees in his negotiations with Tongasat & Government for CV48. I had also had requested to Rodney as per understanding with Ákilisi & Mateni to ask Rodney to also include our local expenses paid from the National Solidarity Fund in his negotiations to be reimbursed.
“Somehow during the course of Rodney’s negotiations something had gone wrong. i.e. he had meant in his submissions and agreement with Gov’t & Tongasat’s counsels that his fee was $23,000+ each for Gov’t & Tongasat = $46,000. Unfortunately, the Chief Justice minutes read that the total fee was only $23,000+ instead of $46,000. This negotiation took place in 2016 and was paid only around May 2017. The amount was paid to PSA account and we had transferred the funds to Rodney accordingly.
“Before transferring the legal fees fund to Rodney, I had asked him Laki Niu’s fees and the reimbursement of our local expenses. Rodney said that he did not negotiate for either and Laki Niu’s fee is our responsibility and the fact that Laki had only sent his invoice to Rodney around August 2017.
“For CV68, Rodney has negotiated and agreed with Tongasat (Govt is not part of this case) as per Chief Justice minute in 2016 that the legal fees if I recall correctly is around $46,000. Tongasat has not paid this to date to PSA’s account nor directly to Rodney.
“Rodney cannot include Laki’s fees when he had not received his invoice.”
In response, Teisa, who is also a lawyer, told ‘Amanaki she would convey her e-mail to Hon Pōhiva, including her assertion that Laki’s fees of $7,025.55 were not included in claims to be paid by Tongasat because Laki was late in submitting his fees to Harrison.
She would also tell Hon Pōhiva the National Solidarity Fund was empty.
“Just to help things out and for ease of references and discussions, I would recommend a thorough and detailed financial report of the National Solidarity Fund (if not already done) so that when PM raises the issues with Harrison and all relevant parties, there are written financial statements to refer to,” Teisa told ‘Amanaki
‘Amanaki told Teisa and other e-mails recipients that trying to pay Niu’s fee would be difficult.
“Now our problem is how are we going to pay for Laki Niu’s fees of $7,025.55,” ‘Amanaki wrote.
“PSA does not have the funds for this payment.
“Our National Solidarity Fund from the fund raised in 2014 is finished.
She then made some recommendations including:
“We ask Rodney to take Laki’s fees from Tongasat’s fees for CV46 which is $46,000;
“We write a letter to Tongasat to settle this long overdue legal fee as soon as possible (“asap”).
She also asked Hon Pōhiva’s son Po’oi and Teisa: “Please let Ákilisi know of this so he can discuss it with Rodney.”
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