Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa apologised to Kele’a Voice Chief Editor, Teisa Pōhiva Cokanasiga, after he lost his temper with her while being asked to give a financial statement of the government’s Covid response budget.
Tu’i’onetoa grew angry at Cokanasiga after she asked him whether the government could afford it if a TP$50 million budget was required to respond to the pandemic.
“Where did you get your $50 million from?” the Prime Minister answered Cokanasiga back.
“That’s why I told you to stop making assumption”.
He said he was not satisfied to be repeatedly asked to give the financial statement.
He went on to make conflicting and confusing response to the question including saying the government had to draw up the budget before presenting it to the auditors.
He said it was imprudent to make a specific plan.
He said there was no such money.
Later on while he was responding he told Cokanasiga that there was money and that’s enough to answer her question.
By the tone of his voice, the Prime Minister appeared to have been trying hard to compose himself.
“If I will give it to you, you will keep on insisting to give what you want”, the Prime Minister said in Tongan during the livestreamed conference from Nuku’alofa on Friday.
He also said it would take up to 12 months until the government could collect the money.
He also let down the media by saying he would not release any figure because they would “spin” it.
Health Ministry CEO Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola told Cokanasiga the Ministry was fine with the Covid response and the government provided anything they asked for.
The Minister of MEIDECC Poasi Tei said the TP$50 million estimate used by Cokanasiga was too much because the government had been covering some costs required for the response since last year.
He said this had been budgeted for the previous year and a lot of payments were made to cover expenses, including compensation payments.
After Tei’s response the Prime Minister appeared to have regained his composure and he asked to speak again.
He said the government paid for MIQs and the Makeke MIQ upgrades.
Tu’i’onetoa, who holds a Doctorate of Christian Ministry, said he just wanted to clarify that the TP$50 million figure posed by the journalist should have a basis in fact.
“But I apologise to you,” he said in Tongan to Cokanasiga .
The Prime Minister’s irritation came after a former Chief Reporter at Tonga Broadcasting Commission, Salamo Fulivai, claimed Tu’i’onetoa harassed, abused and bullied her on the internet several times when she tried to question him about stories she was working on.
Fulivai sent a number of questions to the Prime Minister last year in her capacity as a reporter for the Kele’a Newspaper.
She claimed that instead of focusing on the issues being raised, the Prime Minister belittled and ridiculed her.
An e-mail from Hon. Tu’i’onetoa to Fulivai seen by Kaniva News said: “Stop being nonsense and making questions that were meaningless, your questions showed you were a repeated class six failer. It wasted my time to answer such meaningless questions.”