Sunday, July 3, 2011

[pima.nius] Row over money for rebuilding Nukualofa

11:23 AM |

Row over money for rebuilding Nukualofa

Updated July 1, 2011 16:58:19

Allegations about missing millions, unprofessional conduct, and possible corruption are being made in Tonga over a report about how money for the redevelopment of the capital has been spent.

In 2006, rioting broke out at a pro-democracy rally, leaving most of central Nukualofa burned down.

Donors have provided millions of dollars in aid to a redevelopment fund for the capital, money which the incoming government of Lord Tuivakano said they wanted to check on.

They asked a prominent New Zealand Tonga leader, Melino Maka, to head up a two person team to look into the funding.

But their report has been rejected, and they've been dismissed. Mr Maka says that's because they didn't come up with the answers the government was looking for.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speakers: Melino Maka, prominent Tongan leader in New Zealand; Ahongalu Fusimalohi, Tongan prime minister's spokesman

MAKA: They wanted us to have a look at governance, management and also there would appear to be money missing from the Nukualofa Development Corporation.

HILL: How much money did they think was missing?

MAKA: Initially the first briefing there was ten million dollars pa'anga, but when we arrived in Tonga, the amount went up by 28 million.

HILL: So they were alleging that 28 million Tonga pa'anga was actually missing from the Nukualofa Redevelopment Fund?

MAKA: Quite.

HILL: Did they say that they had any ideas of where this money might have gone?

MAKA: They were talking about that it was linked to the previous prime minister.

HILL: Who said it might have been the former prime minister?

MAKA: The prime minister's foreign affairs advisor.

HILL: So you and your partner conducted this investigation and what did you find?

MAKA: We found absolutely nothing. One of the things that concerned me that it sort of directed us of where to look and what to write, the degree of allegations and we were instructed just to give a three page report/

HILL: So you're saying that you were actually more or less told to say that the former prime minister had illegally gotten his hand on millions of dollars?

MAKA: Oh, that was the way we received the information, but we decided that we'd just ignore that. We go and start from the beginning.

HILL: Did your report find out where this missing money went or in what way did the money go missing?

MAKA: Oh, yes in our report, we clearly said there was no money missing and everything in regard to the Nukualofa Development Corporation was running on time and to be completed at the finishing date is the 31st of March, 2012.

HILL: So why do you think you and your partner who had written this report were sacked?

MAKA: Because we didn't find what they allege was happening with China loan.

HILL: But Melino Maka's allegations have been firmly rejected by the Tongan government. The prime minister's spokesman, Ahongalu Fusimalohi, says the report the government commissioned was aimed at making sure the money for Nukualofa's rebuilding was being handled correctly, and was definitely not a witch hunt for allegedly missing millions.

FUSIMAHOLI: No, that's not correct. He was never told that. But I need to point out that because of the new government, when the prime minister first walked in, the first instance here it's his intention to be more accountable and transparent and one of the biggest questions in town is the use of how the loan was being used, because of our lack of information. It was the intention of the prime minister to make sure that we are able to reply to the queries sent to us by the people, because no doubt the people need to know how the 180 million loan from China was being spent.

HILL: Well Melino Maka specifically says that they were given a brief to go looking for missing money and specifically they were told that it was suspected that the former prime minister, Dr Fred Sevele had been involved in some of the money going missing and he suggests that when they gave the report saying that there was no money missing that was when they were basically dismissed?

FUSIMAHOLI: Eh, no that's not correct. The report which they got us unfortunately did not cover any of the five or six areas which we asked them to determine for us and because they did not provide the information.

HILL: So does the government still obviously have some concerns about the way the money for redeveloping Nukualofa is being administered?

FUSIMAHOLI: Well, I wouldn't say that the government has any concern about how the money has been spent, because we don't know whether or not there is any foul play. There is absolutely no intention of government to say or to speculate that there is missing money. I can assure you that the government has no grudge on how the money was spent. What we need to do is to determine that the money was spent and also to provide reasons for why the money was being spent.

HILL: So these allegations of it being a political witch hunt may well have been to cover up for the fact that they didn't stick to their brief?

FUSIMAHOLI: Well, I would say that. What was so unprofessional about the whole thing is because the report was supposed to be tabled in government, because they were signed by government before they decided to give it to the media. Yet they gave it to the media Monday last week and cabinet did not meet until Friday last week. We would have expected some form of professionalism in our work. As consultants they would at least allow the government to first deliberate on the full report.

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pacific islands media association
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aotearoa, new zealand
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