PM accuses Kaniva News of spin, but does not deny gov’t relationship with contractors

Ko e fo’i lea ko e conflict of interest oku’ikai ha lea fakaTonga patonu ki ai. Pea ‘oku lahi hono faka’uhinga’i kehekehe. Ka ‘i Nu’u Sila ni mo e ngaahi fonua ‘oku taki mu’a he fakalakalaka ‘o e ako’ mo e tau’ataina fakapolitikale ‘a e kakai’, ‘oku ‘uhinga ‘eni ki ha kumi faingamalie kuo fakahoko ka kuo ngāue’aki ai ‘e taha ia hano tu’unga pe lakanga ke ne ma’u 'e ia e faingamalie pe tu’utu’uni ko ia' koe’uhi ko e mafai ‘oku’ ne ma’u’. ‘O tatau pe pe na’e kaunga hangatonu ki he kautaha ko ia’ pe ko ha’ane kaunga ne ‘ikai fakahangatonu’. Kuo fa’u 'e Nu'u Sila mo e ngaahi fonua lahi ‘a e lao mo e tu’utu’uni ‘o mātu’aki tapui pe ke foaki ha faingamalie ia ma’a ha kakai ‘oku matamata te nau maumau’i ‘a e conflict of interest ‘i ha kumi faingamalie ngāue. ‘Oku a’u ki he ngaahi tu’uaki ‘oku ‘omi ‘e he pule’anga Nu’u Sila ke lele he Kaniva’ ‘oku mu’aki ‘eke ia ke fakapapau’i ‘oku ‘ikai ha conflict of interest. Ka ‘ilo ‘oku ‘i ai ha conflict of interest ko ‘ene mole ia ‘a e tu’uaki. ‘Oku ‘ikai ko ha me’a ia ‘oku to’o ma’ama’a ‘i Nu’u Sila ni tautatefito ki he taimi ‘oku kumi ai ha kau ngaue pe kautaha ke nau fai ha ngaue ma’a e pule’anga’ pe kautaha taautaha (procurement), ‘o hangē ko e fa’ahinga faka’uhinga ‘oku ‘omi mei Tonga’. ‘Oku fonu ‘i he lekooti ‘o e fonua’ ni ‘a e ni’ihi ko e kau minisitā, kau ‘akauniteni, kau loea hono tautea’i koe’uhi ko ‘enau maumau’i e ma’u monū ‘i ha fa’ahinga ngāue tu’unga he me’a ko eni ko e conflict of interest. Pea ‘oku ‘ikai ko Nu’u Sila ni pe. Ko e fakatātā mahino taha’ ko e fakafisi ‘a e palēmia ‘o Tunisia he māhina Siulai tu’unga hono ‘ilo ta ne ma’u ‘inasi ia ‘i ha kautaha ne nau ma’u ha konituleki ‘a e pule’anga fe'unga hono mahu’inga mo e tola Nu’u Sila’ 'e $20 miliona tupu. Ko e fonua ‘Afilika ‘eni pea kei lahi e ngaahi me’a ‘oku te’eki ke nau a’usia ‘i he maama ‘o e sivilaise ‘a ē kuo a’usia ia ‘e Tonga’. Ka ‘oku ‘asi mai ‘oku fu’u mā’olunga ange ‘enau ‘ilo ‘a kinautolu ki he me’a ko e conflict of interest. ‘Oku loto mamahi ‘a e Palemia Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa he ongoongo ‘a e Kaniva’ hono fakahā ‘oku ‘i ai e fetu’utaki fakatoto famili pe fehokotaki ‘a e ni’ihi he kau ma’u konituleki ko ‘eni ki he’ene tanuhala laui miliona mo ha ni’ihi he loto’i pule’anga’ pe ko e Paati ‘a e Palemia oku ui ko e Paati ‘a e Kakai’. Kuo ne pehe ko e me’a maumau taimi ia. Ko e lipooti ‘a e Kaniva ko hono ‘oatu pe me’a ne ‘osi lea ‘aki ‘e he kau fakafofonga ‘o e kakai mo e kakai ‘o pehe kuo ‘i ai ‘a e conflict of interest. Na’e ‘ikai ko ha lau ia ‘a e Kaniva’. Ka kuo feinga e ‘Ofisi ‘o e Palemia ia he’ene press release ‘aneafi ‘o tāketi’i pe ongoongo ‘a e Kaniva’ ke mio’i ene fakamatala ke hangē ne mau ‘ave ki he kakai ha ongoongo taki hala mo ta’ekakato’. ‘Osi ko ia ‘ikai ke nau lava tuhu’i mai ko fe ha’amau ongoongo ne ta’ekakato mo takihala. Ko e Kaniva’ ‘oku peisi ia ‘i Nu’u Sila ko e fonua ia ‘oku kehe sio ia ‘ene kau faiongoongo’ ki he me’a ko e conflict of interest hono me’angāue’aki ‘e ha kau ma’u mafai ke nau ma’u faingamalie ai ‘o mole ai e fakakaukau ‘o e tufa mo vahevahe taau ‘a e faingamālie’. ‘Oku lahi e me’a mahuinga fau ange ia ke tokanga ki ai ‘Ofisi ‘o e Palēmia he keisi ko ‘eni ke fakama’ala’ala ka e lava kei falala'ia 'e he kakai kakai totongi tukuhau’ ha’anau toe fakamatala ‘oku fai mai. ‘I ‘Epeleli ne fakahalaki mai ‘e he Palēmia mo hono ‘ofisi ‘oku loi pea takihala ‘a e pehe kuo kau ‘a e City Engineering and Construction Ltd ‘i he ma’u konituleki ki he tanuhala. Māhina pe ‘eni ‘e 4 nai mei ai kuo me’a mai e palēmia ‘o tala mai kuo kau e City Engineering and Construction Ltd he ma’u konituleki ki he tanuhala’. ‘I he vakai ‘a e Kaniva’ kuo loto e tokolahi ‘o e fonua’ ia ke fai ‘a e tanuhala pea 'oku poupoua. Ka ko e founga mo e kakai ‘oku ‘i ai ‘enau felāve’i tonu mo e ngaahi kautaha ko ‘eni kuo fili’ ‘oku ‘i ai honau lekooti ‘i he fakamaau’anga' te ne ala fakatonua ke hoha’a ‘a e kakai’. Ko e fakamatala fakaTonga nounou pe ‘eni ke tokoni atu ki he kau laukonga fakaTonga’ ka mou toki laulau atu he ongoongo he lea ‘Ingilisi’. Toki hoko atu.

Commentary: Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has accused Kaniva News of spin over the government’s quarry contract agreement.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa did not deny the relationship between the government and the contractors we reported. He also spun his statement to make his readers think  Kaniva had released misleading and incomplete information.

Editor of Kaniva Tonga News Kalino Lātū, Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa.

“I wish to clarify the government’s decision was not based on blood relationship ground and closed working ties as what the news was trying to put a spin on “na’e hehema ki ai e fakamatala ko eni”,” the Prime Minister said in a press statement in Tongan.

“The government wishes to say it’s important to release news which is truthful and fair for the people of the country and to stop releasing news that was incomplete and misleading.”

The Prime Minister should think twice before completely rejecting criticisms from the public about what they see as a conflict of interest in the way his government offered  the quarry contract agreements to companies which have strong family connections.

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He should be aware that in New Zealand, Australia and the USA conflict of interest is a big issue when it comes to government or private company procurements.

This means conflict of interest is a matter of interest  for Tongans who are now living in New Zealand, Australia and the United States where the Tongan population is bigger than in the kingdom.

These people have criticised Hon. Tu’i’onetoa’s road project on social media. They have the right to do so because these are the people who send millions of pa’anga in remittances to Tonga every year and upon which the country’s economy relies.

In these countries, conflict of interest is not treated lightly, unlike the situation in Tonga where a clear conflict of interest is being treated as if it is unimportant.

Whenever a contract for advertising to run on Kaniva News from the New Zealand government is being prepared, the government agency wants to know whether there is any conflict of interest. A maintenance supply form was sent to Kaniva News  asking whether the supplier was  aware of any conflict of interest  that may exist between the supplier and the government agency in relation to existing or future transactions?

In his attempts to justify the family and government connection with the quarry contractors, the Prime Minister  said no law had been breached.

He gave two examples to justify his actions. He said he was a Professional Auditor (Chartered Accountant) who worked as Auditor General for so many years. He said the code of ethics for Chartered Accountants allowed the accounting firm to perform the auditing work and  provide the accounting services for the same business and that was conflict of interest in which in his own interpretation it was legal in Tonga.

In most countries high standards are expected of public servants, government ministers, MPs and professionals.

In New Zealand there have been cases of lawyers and accountant companies being fined for breaching conflict of interest. “A Wanaka accountant has been ordered to pay more than $26,000 after he was appointed receiver of a failed winemaker despite an obvious conflict of interest.”

The New Zealand Public Service says: “The strength of any government system lies in the extent to which it  earns  and  holds  the  respect  of  its  citizens.  That  respect  comes  from  the  confidence  which  people  have  in  the  integrity  of  government  and  the  services  it  provides.

“New  Zealanders  are  entitled  to  the  high  expectations  they  have  of  the  staff in government agencies.  They expect that we are honest, fair, and  loyal.  These  are  absolute  standards.

“New  Zealanders  expect  departments  to  comply  with  both  the  letter and the spirit of the law.  They expect official decisions to be made fairly and impartially.  They expect that public money will be  spent  wisely  and  public  assets  will  be  used  and  cared  for  responsibly.

“Any abuse  of  trust,  abuse  of  resources,  abuse  of  information,  or  personal  opportunism  corrodes  the  entitlement  of  all  New  Zealanders.”

The Australian Public service says: “The public is entitled to have confidence in the integrity of their public officials, and to know that an employee’s personal interests do not conflict with his or her public duties.”

Government officials, whether elected or appointed, are held to very high standards in many countries. In South Australia, for instance, government  ministers are expected to not only follow a ministerial code of conduct, but to ensure that they always appear to be doing so. In this way there can be no suspicion of ministers behaving improperly.

In some countries members of the government, whether elected or appointed, are expected to resign where conflicts of interest are serious enough. President Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 in the face of the Watergate investigation.

In July this year Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned amid suspicions of conflict of interest because of his stake in a waste processing company that won government contracts worth €15 million (NZ$26 million.)

Nobody is suggesting that Hon. Tu’i’onetoa should resign, but he should stop trying so hard to downplay people’s concerns. There is no doubt most Tongans want the road project and see it as a priority. However, they are deeply concerned about the background of the people who have strong links with government and these contractors.

There have also been concerns about the independence of the Procurement Committee because it was a government committee.

The government must listen to these concerns.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Kuo osi mahinoi lelei pe e Pohiva Tuionetoa ae conflict of interest ka kou puli mea kotoa he manumanu,faihala,loi
    Heiilo pe koe ha mea oku kei Palemia ai osi taimi ke fakafisi fuu lahi ene fai mea koe loi

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