Details of the Lavulavu’s fraud continue to emerge, with revelations that they used a joint account belonging to convicted Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu and her father to transfer money from ‘Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute’s bank accounts.
News of the involvement of the Minister’s father emerged during the trial at which the Minister and her husband, disgraced former MP Etuate Lavulavu, were found guilty of defrauding the government of TP$558,600.
Armed with a search warrant Police found another two bank accounts belonging to the ‘Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute under Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu’s names.
The 126 page report on the trial and judgement said there were cross transfers between all the accounts.
The conviction included three counts of knowingly dealing with forged documents to defraud the government’s school grant scheme.
They are set to be sentenced on July 2.
Police also seized a letter applying for a loan from the Tonga Development Bank at the Lavulavu couple’s residential address.
They found two UTRI bank accounts, 2000911715 and 2000778155, which allowed them to compare receipts with deposits.
The judgement said both accounts were the name of both defendants, who signed for both of them. The opening of this account signed for by both ‘Etuate and Akosita.
The other account, 2000638284 BSP, was in the name of Akosita and her father.
In kind or barter school fees
The Lavulavus claimed students did not pay fees in 2013 and 2014 and said they were given the option of making handicrafts or working for the Institute.
“They were able to work in services in buffet dinner services,” Etuate said.
“They were also able to work in tour guiding services. Also do some cleaning up of rubbish at school”
These types of payments were described in court during the trial as barter or payment-in- kind.
Auditor General Vs Former Finance Minister
Auditor General Sēfita Tangi told the court Cabinet had made no decision to allow these kinds of payments.
“Auditor General made the point that UTRI did not have a record system to prove ‘ in kind’ payment system”.
“Cabinet decision only allows school fees; the reciprocated monetary receipt. Which means pay in cash,” Tangi said.
“This has been procedure probably more than a century for schools in Tonga.
Payment-in kind or barter had never been accepted. “Only money was accepted. “
Dr ‘Aisake Eke’s claims
As Kaniva News reported yesterday, Dr ‘Aisake Eke claimed that bartering services or labour for school fees was used world wide.
Under cross-examination by the prosecutor the former Minister of Finance claimed it was perfectly legitimate for the Institute to record a monetary value for the barter in the receipt book.
He said one student had brought a pig as part payment and the value of the pig had been recorded despite it contradicting the pro-forma words on the receipt.
Dr Eke also claimed he “knew of under payments and over payments” but “do not know any institutions that were prosecuted for overpayments.”
He said 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.
He said enrolment figures were manipulated when there were differences between first and second semester.
He said there had been an assumption that audits were being held annually and that money was only released to the Institute after an audit had been made.
However, government officials were very busy and there was a lack of co-ordination, despite calls for improvements in the process in 2016. Staff conducting audits were told to follow earlier Cabinet decisions.
Not telling the truth
As we reported yesterday, Justice Cooper said Dr. Eke provided no proof for his claims and that all his credibility was gone.
“It was obvious he was not desirous of telling the truth.”