The Supreme Court has ordered the Tonga Communications Corporation to pay former CEO Rizvi Jurangpathy TOP$165,000 compensation for wrongful dismissal.
Lord Chief Justice Whitten said Jurangpathy had established that the TCC was liable for its behaviour in removing him from his position.
The judgement followed years of legal wrangling over accusations that Jurangpathy had provided inaccurate figures for the 2014-15 financial year which caused the TCC to pay a larger dividend than was warranted.
These figures related to a contract with telecommunications company Huawei.
The TCC board eventually accused him of gross misconduct and at various stages threatened him with allegations of a range of other complaints.
His contract was terminated in 2017. He had been CEO since 2008.
Jurangpathy argued that the TCC’s conduct of an investigation into and reporting on complaints against the plaintiff, failed to accord the plaintiff natural justice, failed to give him a fair hearing.
In evidence presented to the court Jurangpathy said his problems with the TCC followed an incident in 2015 after he terminated the employment of Mr Tonga Fifita with the company.
Soon after, he received a visit from Mr ‘Ofa Vatikani of Kele’a newspaper asking about the dismissal and about other allegations. Later that day, he received a telephone call from MP Māteni Tapueluelu, questioning him again about certain matters and Mr Fifita’s dismissal.
On 19 June 2015, he received a letter from Hon Tapueluelu which referred to the “Unfair Dismissal of Mr Tonga Fifita” and contained damaging allegations. In his letter Tapueluelu said:
“I will now take all possible means to have your decision fully investigated and if warranted, push for the TCC Board to be replaced and your contract terminated.”
On June 29, 2015 Kele’a published material from Tapueluelu’s letter.
Jurangpathy said it was no coincidence that the publisher of the newspaper was Hon Tapueluelu’s wife.
As a result of the newspaper article, the then Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, wrote to Jurangpathy and recommended he resign.
The TCC formed a subcommittee chaired by ‘Ahongalu Fusimālohi to investigate allegations against Jurangpathy.
Lord Chief Justice Whitten said a record of the interview between the sub-committee and Jurangpathy, showed Fusimālohi variously saying that he did not want to hear, or, did not care, what the former CEO had to say.
At times during the interview, there were heated exchanges between the Chair and Jurangpathy, which culminated in the Chair and another subcommittee member threatening him with violence.
In his summing up of the case, Lord Chief Justice Whitten said that in conducting the investigation in the manner it did, and by purporting to rely on inaccurate and inadequate information in determining the Plaintiff’s employment for gross misconduct, the TCC breached its obligations to the plaintiff of trust, confidence and good faith, and failed to act fairly or reasonably.
“The TCC did not have reasonable grounds for forming the belief that the Plaintiff was guilty of gross misconduct,” the judge said.
“At the stage it formed that belief, the TCC failed to carry out as much investigation into the matter as was reasonable in all the circumstances.
“Thereby the Defendant wrongfully dismissed the Plaintiff from his employment.”
The judge ordered that Jurangpathy be paid compensation of TOP$25,000 for loss of salary; TOP$20,000 for relocation expenses and TOP$120,000 for reputational harm.