Tongan Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva this evening reaffirmed to a group led by church leaders in Auckland, New Zealand that he will not allow casinos to be built in Tonga.
Pōhiva said he made a public statement early this week that there was no room for a casino in Tonga and he still stood by it.
His statement was made to Kaniva News in Hastings on Monday night.
The peaceful meeting with the group was held in the Holiday Inn’s lobby in Mangere after the Tongan delegation tried to secure a room, but was told the hotel was full.
The group, which was led by Rev. Tevita Finau of the Methodist Church, community leader Salote Heleta Lilo and Rev. Tevita ʻIloa Tuʻineau of the Church of England petitioned the Prime Minister to not allow casinos to be built in Tonga.
Also in attendance were former Tongan solders Sione Tosi Kelekolio Tapueluelu, Tamale Faleafa and Melino Maka of the Tonga Advisory Council.
After they presented their petition, the Prime Minister said in Tongan: “I would like to make it short. I will never allow a casino to build in Tonga.” The group members nodded in approval.
Hon. Pōhiva told the petitioners he would take their letter back to Tonga for his cabinet to discuss.
He told the group his cabinet would make a formal reply to their petition.
Before the group arrived Kaniva News told the Prime Minister that after we released his statement on Tuesday quoting him as saying no to a casino in Tonga a reliable source sent us documents including a letter that appeared to contradict his stance on casino.
The letter has also been widely shared on social media.
The letter, which appeared to have been written by Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau on November 24, 2016 while he was then Minister of Custom and Revenues said the government has already approved the application by the Red Warrior company to build casinos in Tonga.
In that unconfirmed letter, the Minister wrote:
“I refer to His Majesty’s cabinet decision No. 1104 made on the 4th November 2016 whereby the proposal from the Tavake Tamafua Tourism Investment Project was approved and given full support by the Government of Tonga,” the letter said.
“I am pleased to inform you that the Government of Tonga will grant and guarantee an exclusivity right for a casino and gaming license to the Red Warrior Group LLC under the precondition that an appropriate infrastructure is being built in Tonga within the next two years.”
But the Prime Minister denied it and said his cabinet had never approved any application to build a casino in Tonga.
He said the first time he looked at the application from the Red Warrior and its Tongan stakeholder, the Tavake Tamafua the wording was vague and it appeared the applicants were trying to hide their intention to indirectly trick the government into approving the proposal to build a casino.
He said he told the Minister in charge to review the application to make sure anything they approved did not include a casino.
Kaniva News also talked to his Chief Secretary who joined the meeting shortly after it began and asked her about the Finance Minister’s letter.
Dr Palenitina said whether the letter was written by the Finance Minister or not, the only thing she could confirm was that there had been no cabinet decision to allow a casino.
We have asked Hon. Lavemaau to confirm whether or not he was the one who wrote and signed the controversial letter. He has yet to respond.
But Kulu ‘Anisi Bloomfield, his CEO at the Ministry of Customs and Revenue, at which Lavemaau was the former Minister, and a member of the Cabinet sub-committee screening the Red Warrior Entertainment’s application, said he was suspicious of the unconfirmed letter.
He said he was the one who supposed to write such a letter according to the Ministry’s procedure.
He also said the government seal in the letter head was not centred on the page, but was aligned to the left.
Dr Langaʻoi reiterated what Bloomfield told Kaniva News yesterday, that the cabinet only approved the Red Warrior Entertainmentʻs application to build a hotel and shopping mall “in principle.”
Bloomfield said before they could be approved the developers had to provide a map of the projects in compliance with the building code.
They were also required to deposit money required by the government for the project. When these were completed the government would consider the application.
“As far as I know the company has yet to complete any of these requirements,” Bloomfield said.
The main points
- Tongan Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva this evening reaffirmed to a group led by church leaders in Auckland, New Zealand that he will not allow casinos to be built in Tonga.
- Pōhiva said he made a public statement early this week that there was no room for a casino in Tonga and he still stood by it.
- His statement was made to Kaniva News in Hastings on Monday night.
- The group, which was led by Rev. Tevita Finau of the Methodist Church, community leader Salote Lilo and Rev. Tevita ʻIloa Tuʻineau of the Church of England petitioned the Prime Minister to not allow casinos to be built in Tonga.
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