Former Minister of Finance and MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke failed to tell the truth in court when he gave evidence at the trial of the convicted Minister of Infrastructure Akosita Lavulavu and her convicted husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu, a Supreme Court judge said.
The couple, who swindled the government’s school grant out of more than $500,000 left the judge in no doubt that instead of using the funds to support their Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute (YTRI) and the teachers, the Lavulavu “used the monies freely for themselves”.
Dr Eke made claims in court in which the judge referred to them in his judgement as the former and the latter.
He said the “Cabinet Decision 1182 dated 22 December 2009 70 , effectively were the rules for processing of TVET grants for Tongan schools”.
Dr Eke claimed he “knew of under payments and over payments” but “do not know any institutions prosecuted for overpayments”.
“Heard from some service providers there was real financial hardship”.
“If the roll calls higher, then lower and deduct for the 2nd Semester.
“2016 came across Government document calling for the improvement of subsidies but this manual was not approved.
“No guidance manual approved in his time, just the Cabinet Decision 1182
“When the audit came annually, they should follow 1182. Audit is to check the reality, by talking with the other parties.
“Supposed to audit then release money, but they were very busy. An assumption they did it annually. Problem was lack of coordination”.
Dr Eke also claimed that non government schools were allowed to set their own fee system and that it was acceptable to write a cash receipt because of the value of the bartered item tendered.
When he was under cross-examination by the prosecutor, “he claimed that for example in a receipt book had a student brought a pig by way of payment then recording a sum of money received was a legitimate as it expressed its value, despite and contrary to the proforma words on the receipt. He could not recall if UTRI was one of those colleges facing hardship”.
Not desirous of telling the truth
Mr Cooper said: “Dr. Eke provided no proof as to the former claim and when he made the latter, all his credibility was gone, it then being so obvious he was not desirous of telling the truth”.
Parts of his claims were made after the court was told the grant was used to reimburse ‘Etuate.
The judge rejected this and said “the grant had clearly defined specific purposes and only those uses : 50% to supplement teachers’ salaries, the rest to improve teaching and minor renovations, never was it to be a reimbursement system”.
Mr Cooper described the Lavulavus’ conduct as “disgraceful” and “goes beyond just criminally reprehensible”
“ This is an example of the worst sort of dishonesty; people who should be working earnestly for constituents but use their position, connections and influence to steal from a fund for the education of children of this Kingdom and then in front of me in court, twist the evidence and lean on witnesses to try extricate themselves”.
The court case had been dubbed the trial of the century.
The fact that it involved two high profile political figures, ‘Etuate’s no stranger to controversy and court, and that the Prime Minister’s repeatedly demonstrated inclination to take no action against Akosita, the conviction has sparked public outrage.
Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa is being heavily criticized after he repeatedly refused to take immediate action against Akosita. He told Kaniva News last week Akosita will remain in office until an appeal leave is expected after July 2. It will take another 42 days to process that appeal application.
The prime minister has been urged to use his common sense and stop mixing religion and politics as an excuse to do nothing.
Tu’i’onetoa has been slammed as cynical and irresponsible after he appears to support Akosita and failing to show empathy and sensitivity to the taxpayers and overseas donors such as New Zealand and Australia which funded the school grants which have been defrauded by the Lavulavus.
The Prime Minister now is facing another backlash after it has been reported that Akosita was still receiving her full pay from the government since the first day she was in court facing her fraud charges.
Tu’i’onetoa maintained his decision was fair to allow Akosita to go through the court’s due process and if the appeal court upholds the Supreme Court’s decision than he will make his final decision.
But critics lashed out with many saying he was indecisive after previously defending Akosita by hiding behind the principle of innocent until found guilty. When Akosita was convicted he said the constitution clause 23 gave her another chance until her appeal is complete.