A New Zealand-based Tongan company is considering suing the Tu’i’onetoa government after it allegedly refused to pay cargo freight fees.
Tripac International Ltd which is also known as Friendly Islands Freight Ltd claims the government owes it more than TP$100,000 after it shipped heavy machinery from New Zealand to Tonga.
The equipment belongs to owner New Zealand-based Tongan Sione Foaki Fifita and his company Pacific Works and Civil Contractor.
Tripac held the equipment at its facility at the Queen Salote wharf when it arrived in Tonga because Mr Fifita wouldn’t pay for the freight.
It has been claimed the Minister of Finance contacted Tripac and asked the company to release the equipment with a guarantee the government would pay it afterward.
Tripac director Angina Finau told Kaniva News yesterday the government had not paid the money.
However, he declined to make further comment, saying he did not want the issue to be reported in media.
He said he was surprised when he heard the dispute had reached media.
Minister of Finance Tevita Lavemaau and Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa have been contacted for comment. Mr Fifita could not be reached for comment.
The move by Tripac came after critics and the government clashed in March after a letter purporting to offer government projects in Ha’apai’s main island of Lifuka to Mr Fifita surfaced.
The letter, which appeared to use the government coat of arm and the signature of the Minister of Finance Lavemaau, was dated March 12 2020.
Mr Fifita shared the letter online. Critics quickly re-posted it and accused the government of supporting Mr Fifita for the job while the tender process appeared to be still in progress.
Critics accused the Prime Minister of offering the bid to Mr Fifita, who lived in New Zealand, while there was a Tongan contractor in Tonga which could do the work.
They also blamed the Prime Minister for giving the bid to Mr Fifita because they came from the same village of Talafo’ou in Tongatapu.
“This is unfair to those businesses who are established in Tonga and have proven themselves capable to the job,” a critic said on Facebook.
The government denied the accusation at the time, saying it had not awarded the tender to Mr Fifita. It said Fifita had asked for the letter to facilitate his attempts in New Zealand to buy equipment and machinery if he won the bid for the Ha’apai projects.
The government said the same letter was given to other bidders for the same reasons.
The letter to Mr Fifita said: “I wish to inform you herein that the projects in the Ha’apai Island District are in the pipelines for completion of documentation to award to your company the total costs of which is Tongan pa’anga of $4.7 million.” The letter said the project was to upgrade the Foa causeway and Holopeka Road Connection and upgrade the wharf and seawall foreshore at the palace.
A statement apparently issued by the Minister of Finance at the time said all the bids for the projects had to be processed through the government’s legal procurement process.
The government accused Mr Fifita at the time of sharing the letter to Facebook.