The president of the Mate Ma’a Tonga rugby league, Deputy Prime Minister Sēmisi Sika, will not stand for re-election.
He told the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Nuku’alofa his re-election to the presidential role in April was his last term.
He said he was happy the sport had reached some milestones including the Mate Ma’a Tonga’s outstanding achievement in the Rugby League World Cup 2017 in New Zealand in which Tonga reached semi-finals.
Hon Sika believed his leadership skills had positively influenced the game and brought into the kingdom’s Rugby League more sponsors and strongly inspired Tongan rugby league internationals including Jason Taumālolo and Andrew Fifita.
Hon Sika claimed he had spent hundreds of thousands of pa’anga of his own and from his family’s Five Star business to help revive the sport in Tonga by paying for overseas airfares when any Rugby League teams travelled and other expenses.
He said the Tonga Rugby League was at a low point when he stepped in.
Hon Sika said when he was first elected in 2010 and became aware of the situation the sport was in he decided to contribute more to rebuild it.
As Kaniva News reported in 2016, a court decision said the TNRL had been dysfunctional for years and there was little to suggest the situation was getting any better.
That case was brought by three former members of the TNRL’s board of directors, Siliveinusi Taumoepeau, Tavake Fangupo and Taufa Fukofuka with chairman Stan Moheloa and Hon Sika, who was elected president in 2010, as defendants.
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.”
Hon Sika said the TNRL which had a Chairperson, a Secretary General and Board members was responsible for the operations of the sport in Tonga.
His role as president was to chair the AGM.
When he was first elected to the presidency he took it as a special call for him to revive the international sport in Tonga and helped the youths.
He said in 2010 only about eight rugby league teams had been registered. In 2013, 10 rugby league clubs were registered. In 2017 more than 20 rugby league clubs were registered and this year about 40 rugby league clubs had been registered.
“I wish the increase in the number of teams being registered will continue to climb,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.
However, his role in the game has been repeatedly challenged by former members of the Rugby League Board who took him and Moheloa to court in 2016.
Hon Sika was responding to recent reports in the local and online media claiming a court order had been issued to seize his possessions and salaries because he failed to pay a lawyer fee after the 2016 court case against him and the rugby league.
The fees which were $30,000 in total was owed by the plaintiffs to Lawyer Clive Edwards and $10,000 to Lawyer Sifa Tu’utafaiva who represented Hon Sika and Moheloa.
Hon Sika told Kaniva News in an exclusive interview he was aware of an application by lawyer Clive Edwards to get a court order to confiscate his possession and salaries if he failed to pay his lawyer fees but the court had rejected it.
Hon Sika said Edwards applied to the court to remove Moheloa from any involvement in paying his lawyer’s fees as he had retired.
Hon Sika said that left him and the Rugby League to pay the lawyers’ fees, including Moheloa’s costs.
AGM 2018 postponed
He said Lawyer Clive Edwards, Silivenusi Taumoepeau and Pita Ha’angana had sought a court order to cancel the AGM on April 6 but it had gone ahead.
Hon Sika said the court had ruled that they had to return to the league and call an AGM.
He said after the agendas were discussed he postponed the meeting after he found out the financial statement had not been audited.
He said the TNRL Board was responsible for the financial statements and should ensure they were audited according to the TNRL rules.
He said he postponed this year’s AGM until the financial statement were properly audited.
Despite being involved in several court cases because of his role as president, Hon Sika said he had been re-elected by the majority of the TNRL members as president every year since 2010.
His position as a Member of Parliament helped him secure some government financial assistances which was vital for Mate Ma’a Tonga’s involvements in Rugby League World Cups.
In 2012 he asked Parliament to help with Tonga’s involvements in the Ohana Cup in Honolulu which cost TP$50,000. The government paid $25,000 and he and Five Star paid $25,000.
He said he paid personally $50,000 for other expenses while the team was in Fiji.
This did not include tens of thousands of pa’anga he paid for other local teams expenses.
During the 2013 World Cup in UK TNRL could not afford to cover all costs for the Mate Ma’a Tonga players including their hotel and accommodations in New Zealand.
Hon Sika claimed he paid for these including the team’s air cargoes and gears.
He said he has asked the Board to consider paying back his financial assistance after 2017’s World Cup.
They only paid back $3,000, Sika said.
He said he has records of all the funds and donations from sponsors and donors he had raised, but could not find the names of his critics among them.