UPDATED: Democratic Leader Semisi Sika has asked CEO Viola Ulakai of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission and Television Tonga for a chance to give his side of her interview in which Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa accused him against the government’s road repair work contracts.
Sika has criticised the interview as “misleading the country and untrue”.
He claimed it was typical of the broadcaster to release such false information without seeking those being accused in their story for a response.
Sika said it has been too much and it kept on coming from time to time but he has no time to correct them.
“I just leave them to the public to judge,” Sika said in an email this morning to Uluaki and other local news media including Kaniva.
Sika said since some journalists and members of the public kept on asking him for his side of the TBC interview with Tu’i’onetoa he thought it was time for him to do something about it.
“I ask Viola and the TBC to give me an opportunity to respond to the PM’s accusations which were untrue,” Sika’s email read in Tongan.
“I deeply feel the hatred and bad feeling in this interview.”
Ulakai has yet to respond to Sika through this morning’s recipients email network.
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Prime Minister’s interview
Sika’s concerns come after the Prime Minister claimed in the interview that Sika negotiated and signed contract agreements with five private companies to repair roads in Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai and ‘Eua from May 2018 until May 2021.
As Kaniva News reported last week, Tu’i’onetoa told the interview his government could not do anything to repair and fill potholes recently developing on roads in Tongatapu because of the agreements signed by Sika, who was the former Minister of Infrastructure in 2018.
Responding to the Prime Minister’s comments during the interview Ulakai claimed: “I thank you Mr Prime Minister for sharing the truth so that we understand it. Many people here in Tonga thought the government and the Ministry of Infrastructure had been careless and had left the potholes unrepaired. Now it became clear that that responsibility has been assigned to these contractors for three years until May 2021”.
Ulakai didn’t ask Tui’onetoa whether these companies have breached their contract agreements or whether the government has contacted them to discuss the issue.
She also did not seek the companies or Sika’s sides of the story.
Sika denied the Prime Minister’s accusations as untrue.
He told us he didn’t sign the agreements as the law stipulated all government contract agreements must be processed through its Procurement Committee. He said this Committee has the authority to scrutinise companies which bid for its contract works before they offered the jobs to successful bidders.
Sika said the five companies the Prime Minister referred to, namely BB Contractor, Five Star – a company belongs to Sika’s parents, To’a Contractor, Petani Quarry and Veisiale Construction, were waiting for the government to tell them what works to do and which roads to repair.
He said although the contract agreements had been signed, these contractors can only do road works when the Ministry of Infrastructure assigned them their tasks to do.
“If these companies repair a road without seeking permission from the government first the Ministry of Finance would not pay their invoices,” Sika said.
He said he wished the Prime Minister did his job for the country in good spirit.
He said Tu’i’onetoa’s statements to media in which he mentioned him and the PTOA Party appear to show he was holding a grudge against them.
Ulakai and TBC
The state broadcaster has been accused for many years of a general bias and partiality when it comes to late democratic veteran ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the democrats.
Ulakai who is now the new CEO of the TBC and Television Tonga was suspended by the TBC board in 2016.
Her suspension followed a recommendation after late Prime Minister Pōhiva questioned her integrity by saying he was “disappointed” to learn that Ulakai had falsely claimed that a request for a press conference to answer questions regarding his son were made on behalf of the Tongan Media Council.
At the time the president of the Tonga Media Council Luseane Vaea released a press release denying Ulakai’s request.
“I was not aware of Mrs. Viola Ulakai using the Tonga Media Council name for any reason. I was not engaged nor were my employers (FM 87.5) involved in any communication in her request for interviews for media coverage,” the press release read.
At the time Pōhiva said he suspected Ulakai of acting as a mouthpiece for his political opponents.
Ulakai was contacted for comment at the time.
Former General Manager
Ulakai was not alone in this TBC longstanding saga.
Other former TBC senior staff had been accused by the democrats of being royalists and using the broadcaster as a platform to attack them in their unbalanced and partial stories.
In 2017 Kaniva News ran a story headlined – Former TBC boss defends claim interview was example of “highly unfair and partial” news
In that story, former TBC General Manager Nanisē Fifita was accused of conducting a one-sided interview with former Prime Minister Lord Sevele ‘O Vailahi and that she failed to seek responses from those who were being attacked during the interview she hosted.
She didn’t deny the accusation, instead she invited Kaniva News to “look at the one-sided coverage on the same (and other issues) by other media.”
“Are you looking into that as well or just picking on TBC?” she asked.
Fifita was responding after her interview of Lord Sevele in 2014 became a point of heated debate and discussion among social media users at the time, with many criticising it for what they saw as its partiality and imbalance.
In the 42-minute Youtube clip Fifita interviewed Lord Sevele regarding a Parliamentary report on how the TP$119 million loan from China was spent.
The report grew out of inquiry by the Parliamentary committee led by Pōhiva while he was leader of the Opposition and Dr Sitīveni Halapua.
During the interview Lord Sevele attacked Pōhiva and Dr. Halapua and also strongly criticised the Parliamentary committee.
“’Akilisi and Sitīveni, where did you get this lie from”, Lord Sevele asked during the interview.
Fifita didn’t bring Pōhiva, Dr Halapua or somebody else from the Parliamentary Committee to join the interview.
‘Ahongalu Fusimālohi, the former chair of the TBC board, told Kaniva at the time if he had been chairman at the time of the interview the piece would not have been aired without the other side being given the opportunity to respond.
“It is a bad example of what I would call fair and impartial reporting. It is highly unfair and partial”.
Former senior broadcaster Laumanu Petelō
In 2017, the former TBC senior broadcaster Laumanu Patelō clashed with Late Prime Minister Pōhiva during a press conference in Nuku’alofa.
Petelō accused the Prime Minister saying he did not want the TBC to report anything bad about him.
She reminded Pōhiva that he previously accused her of being malevolent.
“Nobody knows, but I can easily tell from your face and the way you presented your questions there was anger. That’s how I looked at it. I may be wrong,” Pohiva told Petelō
“Radio A3Z’s (TBC) history as it came to me personally was not good,” he told the conference.
FAKAMATALA FAKA-TONGA NOUNOU
Kuo kole ‘a Sēmisi Sika kia Viola Ulakai ko e CEO ia ‘o e TBC ke ‘oange hano faingamalie ke ‘oatu ha’ane tali ki he’ena faka’eke’eke mo e palēmia’. Pehē ‘e Sika’, ko e faka’eke’eke ‘eni ‘oku ne takihala’i e kakai ‘o e fonua’ ‘i he ngaahi fakamatala mo e ngaahi tukuaki’i ‘o ia ‘a ia ‘oku ta’e mo’oni
“ ‘Oku ou ongo’i lahi ‘a e taufehi’a moe loto ‘oku ‘ikai ke lelei mei he faka’eke’eke ko ‘eni .”
Na’a’ ne pehē ‘oku anga maheni pe foki e fakahoko mai a e ngaahi fakamatala ta’emo’oni ko ‘eni pea ikai fai hano fakatonutonu he ‘oku lahi pea ta’emotu ‘a ‘ene ha’u pea te ne to’o e konga lahi hono taimi ‘o ka nofo hifo ke fakatonutonu.
“’Oku ou tuku pe ki he kakai ke nau sio mo fai fakamaau he ‘oku ‘ikai puli ha me’a ‘e taha ki he vakai ‘a e kakai,” ko e lau ia ‘a Sika he pongipongi ‘i ha’ane ‘imeili kia Viola mo e ngaahi mitia Tonga.
“Ko e ‘uhi ko e kei ‘eke mai ‘e he ni’ihi ‘o e kau faiongoongo pea moe tokolahi ‘o e kakai ‘oku ou faka’amu peau kole heni ke fai ange mu’a ha’aku fakama’ala’ala mo ‘oatu ha’aku tali ki he ngaahi tukuaki’i ta’e mo’oni ko ‘eni .
“’Oku ou kole atu kia Viola pea moe TBC ke tuku mai mu’a ha’aku faingamalie ke ‘oatu ha’aku tali ki he ngaahi tukuaki’i ‘a e PM ‘oku fakahoko”