In a series of startling comments this morning Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa compared the serious defrauding of the government grant scheme by convicted Cabinet Minster Akosita Lavulavu and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu to alleged overpayments made to church schools.
Speaking on radio, Tu’i’onetoa claimed more money had been paid to church schools than the institution plundered by the Lavulavus.
He said prosecuting the Lavulavus without taking any legal actions against the church schools baffled him.
He claimed the church schools used the money to pay for things which were not in accordance with the laws and regulations.
Tu’i’onetoa said the law was breached and the government made a decision to deduct those monies from the following year’s payments from the grant to those particular schools.
Tu’i’onetoa then referred to the Lavulavu case and said: “This is the only case which was taken to the court.
“And I do not know what was the intention behind it.
“Why were other schools not included?
He then paused and appeared to have attempted to compose himself before he began cursing and warning the Lavulavu’s critics.
The Prime Miniser was visibly emotional and tearful while defending the Lavulavus this morning on Radio Broadcomm FM87.5 livestream.
“If you are a Christian and made a serious judgement on this case do it and remember it was a judgement made by a sinner against his brother or sister who was also a sinner.
“Do not look down on your brother or sister as that was not Christian like.
“Do not shout out crucify as you may be the one next.”
The Prime Minister reconfirmed his stance on using Clause 23 of the constitution to defend his refusal to take immediate action against Akosita.
He never mentioned anything about clause 51 of the constitution which gives him an exclusive power to sack his ministers at his pleasure. it was the same clause Late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva used to force Akosita to resign in 2018 when she was charged by Police. At the time Akosita did not use clause 23 to challenge her dismissal. She was reappointed by Tu’i’onetoa in 2019.
The Lavulavus’ serious case which was described by the judge as “an example of the worst sort of dishonesty” has plunged the kingdom and its international community into a crisis of confusion.
In a small community like Tonga where there is lack of professional news media and the influence of the government on local news outlets became normal, it is important for authoritative figures like the PM to show professionalism, civility and respect.
The Prime Minister must stop responding to the media in a way that makes it look as if he is trying to spin the Lavulavu story to support his opinion and disregard the facts.
Tu’ionetoa has made the same claims that former Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke made in court in support of the Lavulavus. However, the Supreme Court did not believe Dr Eke when he said he “knew of under payments and over payments” but did “not know any institutions prosecuted for overpayments.”
The Prime Minister’s comparison of the church schools’ alleged overpayments to the Lavulavus’ fraud case could be interpreted as telling the public the church schools had defrauded the government school grant scheme in exactly the same way as the Lavulavus.
Questions could arise from Tu’i’onetoa’s comment, including asking whether the church schools used hundreds of fake student names to claim money from the government as the Lavulavus did.
Did those schools really plunder funds and use nothing for the school or the teachers as the Lavulavus did?
If the Prime Minister was so concerned about the alleged misuse of funds by the church schools, why did he not consult the Auditor General and the Office of the Crown Law about the issue?
Church schools payments
We previously reported that Australian and New Zealand funds for non-government high schools in Tonga had been withheld by the Tongan Ministry of Education and Training.
We were told by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) the money was misspent.
MFAT said the grants were being diverted into school operational budgets, which was not their intended purpose.
MFAT told Kaniva News in March 2016 the money had been cleared and it was released after two years.
We reported in April this year that some church schools funds had been withheld after the auditor found the schools had used them to pay for expenses not covered by their contract agreements.
The Free Wesleyan Church and Catholic Schools have told the media no one defrauded the grant, but they used the money to pay for school activities for which they did not have funds.
It is understood the government auditors became involved, but there were no reports that the church schools defrauded the grant scheme or dishonestly applied for it.
FAKAMATALA NOUNOU FAKATONGA
Ne māfana mo tangi ‘a e ‘Eiki Palēmia’ lolotonga ‘ene polokalama mai he feinga holo ke ‘aofi ‘a e ongo Lavulavu ‘aki ‘a e mafai ‘o e fakamaau’anga ‘i he kupu 23 hala ha’ane lave ‘e taha ki hono mafai tonu mo aoniu ‘oku foaki ‘e he kupu 51 ke ne tuli ha minisitā ‘i ha fa’ahinga taimi pe. Na’e ‘osi tuli ‘a Akosita he 2018’ lolotonga pe ‘oku laumālie ‘a e kupu 23 hā na’e ‘ikai ngāue’aki ai ia he taimi ko ia? Ka ne toki ngāue’aki ia ‘e ia? ‘Ikai ne ‘ilo e Akosita ‘oku mafai lahi pe PM ia he kupu 51 ki hono tuku ia ki tu’a? Kaekehe kuo ‘alu ‘eni e palēmia’ ia ki hono talatuki’i e kau fakaanga ‘o e ongo Lavulavu’ mo fakatokanga ‘oua te nau kaila kalusefai’ na’a ko kinautolu ia ‘e hoko’. Kuo ne toe toho mai ‘eni mo e totongi hulu hono fakamoleki ‘ o e pa’anga ‘a e ngaahi ako siasi ia ki he ‘ū me’a kehe pe ia ma’a e ngaahi ako’ ni ke ne fakatatau’aki ‘a e fu’u mātu’aki kākā fakalilifu mo ta’efaitotonu ‘a Sita mo ‘Etu. Na’e ‘osi fai ‘e Dr ‘Aisake Eke ‘a e fo’i fakamatala tatau ‘i fale hopo ke malu’i’aki ‘a e ongo Lavulavu ka ne ‘ikai tali ia ‘e he fakamaau’anga’. Toe kehe ange hono fakalahi’i ‘e he palēmia he ‘oku ne ‘eke’i pe ko e ha ‘oku faka’ilo ai pe ongo Lavulavu’ kae hā ‘a e ngaahi ako siasi? Ko e fehu’i ‘eni ke tokoni mai e palēmia ‘o fakamahino? ‘A ia ko ho’o ‘uhinga’ na’e kākaa’i ‘i he ‘ilo’ilopau ‘e he ngaahi ako siasi’ ‘a e pa’anga tokoni ‘a e pule’anga’ ki he ngaahi ako’ ‘aki ‘enau fakafonu loi’i e ngaahi hingoa ‘e lau ngeau tupu’ ‘o ma’u mai ‘aki ‘enau pa’anga hangē ko e ongo Lavulavu? ‘A ia na’e ngāue’aki tavale pe ‘e he kau pule ‘o e ngaahi ako siasi’ ‘i he founga hala ‘a e pa’anga tokoni’ hala ke nau faka’aonga’i ki he kau faiako’ mo e ngaahi ako’anga’ hangē ko e ongo Lavulavu? Ne ‘osi tala mai ‘e he fakamaau’anga ne ‘ikai pe ha momo’i seniti ‘e taha ne ‘ave ‘e he ongo Lavulavu ki hona ‘apiako’ na ngāue’aki pe naua ki he’ena fiema’u pe ‘a kinaua. Pea na’e ‘osi fakahā ne ‘i ai e tōnounou he ngaahi pa’anga tokoni ki he ngaahi ako siasi’ ka ko e lea ne ngāue’aki ko e misspent pe overpayment pe fakaTonga ko hono fakamoleki ki he me’a ne ‘ikai fai ha alea pe ‘ai ki ai pe totongi hulu. Na’e ‘ikai ko hano kaiha’asi hangē ko e lea ne ngaue’aki ‘e he fakamaau’anga ko e plunder pe ma’u ‘i ha founga mātu’aki kākaa’i hangē ko e ongo Lavulavu. ‘A ia ko me’a ne hoko’ ko hono ‘ave ‘e he ngaahi ako siasi’ e silini’ ki he’enau operational budget, pe patiseti ngāue ‘o fua ‘aki pe ia ngaahi fakamole ki he ako’ koeuhi ko e ‘ikai ha’anau pa’anga ki ai’ kae me’apango’ ne ‘ikai kau ia he’enau aleapau mo e pule’anga’. Ko e fakamatala ia kuo ‘osi fai mei he ako’anga siasi’ tautefito ki he Katolika’ mo e Uēsiliana’. ”Oku ‘ikai mama’o mei he feinga taki hala’ leva ‘a hono fakatatau ‘e he palēmia’ ‘a e natula e fehalaaki ‘o hono ngāue’aki ‘e he ngaahi ako siasi’ ‘a e pa’anga’ mei he fu’u mātu’aki kākā tō ki tu’a ne fai ‘e ongo Lavulavu’.Ne ‘omi e fakamatala tonu ki he Kaniva’ mei he Potungāue ki Muli ‘a Nu’u Sila’ he taimi ne mau lipooti ai ‘a e keisi ko eni ‘a e ngaahi ako siasi’ pea ne iku puke tu’u ai ‘ e Nu’u Sila o ‘Aositelēlia ‘a ‘enau tokoni ‘o toki tuku ange he ta’u hoko ‘osi hono fakapapau’i kuo lava solova e palopalema ko ia’. Neongo ne te’eki tuku ange ai e pa’anga’ ia ki he ngaahi ako siasi ni’ihi tu’unga he palopalema ne hoko’. ‘Oku hangē kuo hange ‘e he palēmia’ ia ‘o lī ki lalo ‘a e ‘Atita Seniale’ mo e ‘Ofisi ‘o e Kalauni he ngali ‘i he’ene fakamatala tokua ‘oku na fakasiosio kehe pe kinaua mei he ngaahi ako siasi’. Pea ko e hā ‘oku ‘ikai ke ne fai ai ‘a e tu’utu’uni ki he ongo potungāue ko ‘eni ke fakatotolo’i mo faka’ilo e ngaahi ako siasi’ kapau ne nau ma’u e pa’anga’ he founga tatau mo e ongo Lavulavu’ he ko ia tonu ‘a e ‘ulu ‘o e ongo potungāue’ ni. Ka ne fai ‘a e fa’ahinga fakamatala anganga taki hala ki he ngaahi ako siasi’ ke fakatonua’aki ‘ene ta’efiefai ha me’a kia Akosita’. ‘Oku toe ‘asi mo e hangē ‘oku ‘ikai ke ne faka’apa’apa’i ‘a e tu’utu’uni ‘a e lao mo e ngeia ‘o e Fakamaau’anga Lahi’ kuo fai ki he ongo Lavulavu’.