Finance Minister appears at odds with PM Pohiva over Games host cancellation

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Finance Ministter Hon Tevita Lavemaau (R) appears at odds with PM Akilisi Pohiva (L) over Games host cancellation. Photo/Kalino Latu

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s declaration that his government would not host the 2019 Pacific Games has put him at odds with Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau.

On Monday Hon. Pohiva told Kaniva News Tonga had cancelled the Games after he saw a 2013 World Bank report that Tonga could suffer economically in the long run if it hosted the Games.

Yesterday (May 19) Hon. Lavemaau lampooned the Prime Minister’s decision on Facebook.

“It’s so funny cos it’s not money related n we have done our dues to source out funds for this very important events for the country n youth”, he wrote on Facebook.

Hon. Lavemaau was responding to a post on Facebook by former Finance Minister Sunia Fili saying Tonga could still host the Games if it could have secured a loan.

Hon. Lavemaau’s comment is the latest twist in an often uncomfortable relationship with the Prime Minister.

During a press conference in Popua on May 11, Hon. Pohiva said his project of building a recreational centre in Popua had no working committee and he was the one managing the project.

He said he did not want the government to get involved because its procurement policy sometimes slowed down work.

However, Hon. Lavemaau gave the conference a different version and said the project was being funded through a Trust Account at the Treasury in which contributions from High Commissioners and others, including the Ministry of Public Enterprises, were being kept.

Hon. Lavemaau said contributions for the Prime Minister’s project from Public Enterprises were approved by their Boards of Directors.

In March Hon. Lavemaau was quoted by TBC Television service as saying the government had hired outgoing Finance Minister Dr Aisake Eke as a special consultant.

This prompted the Prime Minister to say the government could not hire Dr Eke because he was a Member of the Parliament and not, as policy required, somebody from outside government.

Confusing

Last week Hon. Pohiva caused confusion at the press conference when he introduced Hon. Lavemaau as Acting Minister of Finance and also Minister of Finance.

Earlier this year the government announced it had not approved a license by an American company to build casino facilities in Tonga.

Hon. Pohiva said he would not support a casino to be built in Tonga.

However Hon. Lavemaau told the TBC Tonga should have learned from Samoa in the way they operated their two casinos. He said Samoa only allowed foreigners to use the casinos and Tonga could attract world millionaires and investors if it allowed a casino in the kingdom.

His stance on the casino saga was inconsistent and blurry.

In an e-mail dated January 25 this year, which was seen by Kaniva News, Hon. Lavemaau assured the Chief Secretary that as the Minister responsible for foreign investment applications Tonga had not approved an application from the casino company.

But an unconfirmed letter distributed on internet last month appears to show cabinet gave approval in November 2016 for the casino to Tavake Tamafua and  Red Warrior Entertainment Group. The letter carries what purports to be Hon. Lavemaau’s signature.

The Minister did not reply to a request for a comment on the letter from Kaniva News.

Reaction

Hon. Lavemaau’s comment on Facebook regarding the decision to cancel the Games has been shared and discussed by hundreds of people on Facebook with Hon. Pohiva’s supporters questioning his loyalty to the Prime Minister.

Some of Hon. Lavemaau’s critics mentioned his comments on the casino saga and said he should step down if he did not support the Prime Minister’s leadership.

However, former Parliament Speaker Lord Lasike described the Finance Minister’s comment on Facebook as “tālanga mālie” (excellent discussion) and said he had learned from it.

The Prime Minister told Kaniva News only nine Ministers attended the Cabinet meeting on May12 at which it was decided to cancel the Games. Hon. Pohiva said the ministers agreed unanimously to cancel the Games.

He said Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni was out of the country and Kaniva News understands the Minister of Finance was in Beijing attending a summit for the Belt-and-Road Initiative. The Minister of Public Enterprises was also not at the cabinet when the decision was made.

The Cabinet decision came as a shock to the public and the international community because only the day before the Prime Minister assured a press conference at Popua the Games were still on.

Hon. Lavemaau said there was money to host the Games.

The next day Cabinet announced it had cancelled its commitment to hosting the Games for fear the country could suffer financially because of the need to maintain the sporting facilities.

The main points

  • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s declaration that his government would not host the 2019 Pacific Games has put him at odds with Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau.
  • Yesterday (May 19) Hon. Lavemaau lampooned the Prime Minister’s decision on Facebook.
  • “It’s so funny cos it’s not money related n we have done our dues to source out funds for this very important events for the country n youth”, he wrote on Facebook.
  • Lavemaau was responding to a post on Facebook by former Finance Minister Sunia Fili saying Tonga could still host the Games if it could secured a loan.

For more information

Decision to abandon Games was “bizarre” says Lord Vaea

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