Tonga’s Minister of Finance says Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva knew in advance he would pay for an interview with Forbes magazine.
And he confirmed that the Cabinet approved a payment of nearly a quarter of a million pa’anga for the interview and a double page spread in the prestigious American business publication.
Kaniva News has obtained a copy of the contract between the Tongan government and the magazine.
We sent it to the government’s Chief Secretary for confirmation. In response, Dr Palenitina Langa’oi said she copied our e-mail to Finance Ministry’s Secretary.
We are still waiting for a response.
Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke denied reports that he was the one who organised the agreement with Forbes representatives before contacting the Prime Minister.
Dr Eke was responding to an article in Taimi-‘O-Tonga newspaper by editor Kalafi Moala which accused the minister of arranging the interview without letting Hon. Pohiva know about it first and later defending the payment.
Dr Eke said Moala’s accusation against him brought into question his appropriateness as an advisor to the Prime Minister as he should have talked to the former secretary to cabinet and the Prime Minister to get his facts right before publishing a story.
In a statement released today in Tongan by the Ministry of Finance and National planning, Dr Eke said he did not know about the interview as the whole set up was done by the Prime Minister’s Office and he was only contacted by two Forbes representatives after they interviewed the Prime Minister.
The Finance Minister said when he met with the magazine’s representatives he was asked to check on the cost of paying the magazine for the interview.
Dr Eke said that was the first time when he knew about the payment. He said he was initially told it would cost US$150,000, but he told them it was too expensive and the price was reduced to US$130,000.
Dr Eke claimed former Secretary to Cabinet ‘Aholotu Palu made the deal with Forbes, which was endorsed by the Prime Minister.
He said after the interview was approved the Prime Minister’s Office processed the visa applications for the magazine’s staff to come to Tonga.
Dr Eke said Moala accused him of defending the payment by saying it was a good marketing approach because Forbes had millions of readers.
However, Dr Eke said it was the Prime Minister who first informed the House about the benefits Tonga would receive from the interview. The Finance Ministry later released the details of the payment and a statement about its benefits for the nation.
The Minister also hit out at the newspaper editor’s question about how the Minister of Finance arranged the interview and paid for it from the Tourism vote without the minister of Tourism’s knowledge.
The Finance Minister said the Tourism Minister was a member of Cabinet which passed a resolution to pay for the interview from Tourism’s vote.
Dr Eke claimed Taimi-‘O-Tonga’s publisher had misrepresented his involvement in the Forbes interview and raised questions about his fitness to be a media advisor for the Prime Minister‘s Office.
The minister said Moala’s action had breached the government’s pledge to live by one of the core principles of the mechanism of good governance, which was to tell the truth.
The minister revealed the total amount of money eventually paid to Forbes was T$233,044.04 (US$109,612.26 or NZ$167,486.31) after a deduction of a 15 percent withholding tax.
In February the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying Hon Pohiva had been interviewed by the magazine on February 11.
It said the magazine picked Tonga because of the appointment of Hon. Pohiva as Prime Minister and the upcoming coronation of His Majesty King Tupou VI.
The press statement claimed the interview would also appear in the Chinese edition of Forbes because of China’s investment in the kingdom.
There was no mention of any payment for the interview.
The government signed a contract with Forbes two days after Hon. Pohiva was interviewed.
The contract was made between the Minister of Finance and Forbes on February 13. It said: “The cooperation undertakes to include an advertisement on report on Kingdom of Tonga which is to be published in Forbes magazine, with the following characteristics: Double page spread.”
A payment of US$130,000 was also noted to be paid by the Tongan government, in which 50 percent must be paid before March 13 and the remaining 50 percent to be paid on publication.
According to cabinet decision 444, the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet Dr. Palenitina Langaʻoi told the Ministry of Finance the recommendation for the payment was approved by Cabinet on April 27. She confirmed that the payment had to be paid from the Tonga Tourism Authority vote.
The Prime Minister said at the time he was unaware that the interview would cost so much amount of money.
He defended the payment by saying the government spent a lot of money on tourist promotions each year and that the interview with Forbes was worth it because of its target audience.
The main points
- Tonga’s Minister of Finance says Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva knew in advance he would pay for an interview with Forbes
- And he confirmed that the Cabinet approved a payment of nearly a quarter of a million pa’anga for the interview and a double page spread in the prestigious American business publication.
- Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke denied reports that he was the one who organised the agreement with Forbes representatives before contacting the Prime Minister.
- Dr Eke was responding to an article in Taimi-‘O-Tonga newspaper by editor Kalafi Moala which accused the minister of arranging the interview without letting Hon. Pohiva know about it first and later defending the payment.
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