Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) has not paid the team which audited Tonga’s watermelon shipments after New Zealand suspended its export last year, it has been claimed.
A source told Kaniva News the auditors were told to go ahead and start the auditing last October while their payment was processed.
It is understood the auditors were told the government would pay them and that the Cabinet had allocated a budget for that.
It is understood MAFF Minister Lord Tu’ilakepa also confirmed the auditors they would be paid.
However, it appears a contract agreement between MAFF and the auditors was not signed before they took up the jobs.
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Lord Tu’ilakepa demanded the contract agreement be drafted and signed while the work was underway.
Kaniva News understands that some of the auditors sent their invoices to MAFF and demanded to be paid within two weeks or a late payment fee would be charged.
They claimed they were not paid because there was no money.
It has been reported that when contacted about their pay in December, MAFF Acting CEO Mana’ia Halafihi said the Ministry was working on the payments and would “inform you accordingly as it progressed.”
We have contacted Halafihi for comment.
As we reported previously, shipments of Tongan watermelons were suspended after live fruit fly larvae were detected at the New Zealand border last year.
In early December, New Zealand issued Tongan exporters a temporary approval permit, allowing them to send watermelons to the country under special conditions.
Documents leaked to Kaniva News showed that on December 22 last year Nacanieli Waqa, the Biosecurity Senior Advisor for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, e-mailed Metui Falesiva, the MAFF watermelon team-leader and reminded him that the pay for the auditors was confirmed.
“As discussed on Friday 18 December 2020, I would appreciate receiving confirmation from your office on the status of the above subject considering that it’s over 2 months now since they’ve been engaged,” the e-mail said.
“The first watermelon export consignment under the ‘Temporary approval’ arrangement has been effectively facilitated last week and the team was very instrumental in achieving the outcome and therefore they should be remunerated accordingly before further engagement of their time and expertise can be secured.
“As you’ve requested, I have provided an official confirmation letter from MPI on the appointment of the members of the Audit team to also facilitate the securing of funds from Tonga Government for payment of their engagement in line with the government’s financial policies.”
The following day, December 23 Halafihi responded, saying: “Regarding your query, please note that we are now working on it and will inform you accordingly as it progressed in due course.”
On the same day another member of the Audit team responded to the Acting CEO and said: “The Hon. Minister informed me . . . that there is a need for contract to be drawn up – normal requirement of the procurement unit. May I request that a contract – for me at least be drawn up. This is to cover the days worked. My daily rate is the same as . . . but have lesser days (as I took some days off on other national duties) – will submit number of days when needed.
“Since the audit will be on-going, please provide a clause for future engagements to be agreed upon by all parties involved.”