Air crafts deal – is it a grant from China or Tonga's purchase?

Prime Minister  Lord Tu’ivakano and his government must now come clean about its deal with the Chinese government to bring to Tonga two aircrafts to operate its domestic air services.

It was last week revealed by the media that Chatham Pacific Airline will pull out soon from Tonga and it was widely disseminated as the withdrawal was because of a Chinese – gift of a free aircrafts to Tonga intending to compete with Chatham.

The aircrafts being publicized as a gift rather than a purchase was apparently drawn from  a claim in the Parliament last year by the Minister for Finance, Hon Lisiate Akolo confirming that the aircrafts are a gift from China.

The minister’s confirmation came after the opposition PR ‘Aisake Eke  raised it with him in the House that he could not find in the government’s budget 2012/2013 any fund allocated  for the purchase of the aircrafts.

However the government’s Radio & Television Tonga, its sole funded radio broadcasting and Television Tonga, published in June last year that the two air crafts are purchased by the Tonga government. The news was also published by the Island Business magazine as follows:

“A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalising the purchase of two new planes from China was signed between Tongan Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano and a representative from China’s Civil Aviation. One of the planes is now being built in China by AVIC International and estimated at TOP$25 million (US$8.9 million). The agreement provide for three years of maintenance for the planes and training courses for Tongan crew members and pilots. A purchase agreement was also signed by the deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu, where China pays one third of the total cost of the plane. The Chinese government will also fund the establishment of a company to operate the plane.”

Critics now believe that the government deliberately misinformed the public about the purchase in fear of an outburst due to its disastrous aircraft ventures in the past.

They said that the move was politically motivated  without considering the vulnerable economy of the nation and this is just for some of the ministers to win popularity with outer island voters for the coming election.

Not the first time:

The government since its inception in 2010 is often criticized for its many underground actions made on government businesses without following the legal procedure.

In June 2012 Opposition PR Sione Taione confronted the government in the House  in relation to a payment of TOP$2 Million made to Lord Kalaniuvalu as an initial payment for the lease of the Lord’s estate  for further development of Fua’amotu International Airport.

PR Taione made it clear to the house at the time that he got evidence and documents that show the payment was illegally processed.

The Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Samiu Vaipulu insisted that the payment procedure for government leases before such payment made was fulfilled.

Hon Vaipulu’s claim was not substantiated when the minister of Land and Survey Hon Tuita during the debate admitted to the House that there were no documents signed yet and that they were still in the negotiation process.

It was ultimately summed up by Minister for Finance at the time Hon. Sunia Fili when he  declared that he was forced to make the  payment  to Lord Kalaniuvalu but as far as he knew there were no documents signed.

It was illegal:

Tonga Attorney General, Neil Adsett wrote to the Parliament immediately after  the debate on lease deal revealed warning them that the payment made by the government to Lord Kalaniuvalu for the lease was unconstitutional and that Land Act 9(1) was breached.

In his letter, Adsett reminded the government the clause 19 of the Constitution of Tonga:

19. (a) No money shall be paid out of the Treasury nor borrowed nor debts contracted by the Government but by the prior vote of the Legislative Assembly, except in the following case:

(i) Where an Act duly passed by the Legislative Assembly gives power to pay out money or borrow or contract debts, then money may be paid out, or borrowing carried out or debts contracted in terms of that Act; and

(ii) In cases of war or rebellion or dangerous epidemic or a similar emergency, then it may be done by the Treasurer with the consent of Cabinet, and the King shall at once convoke the Legislative Assembly and the Treasurer shall state the grounds for the expenditure and the amount.

(b) The Treasurer, with the approval of Privy Council, shall have power to increase or decrease the taxes and/or customs duties and shall have power to levy new taxes and/or customs duties, and all such increases or decreases or new taxes or customs duties shall be published in the Gazette and shall be placed before the next session of the Legislative Assembly and shall have full force and shall remain effective from the date of publication in the Gazette until rescinded by the Legislative Assembly or by the Treasurer with the approval of Privy Council. (Substituted by Act 14 of 1972.)

The MA-60 seat Xian MA60 turbo-prop aircraft from China would start flying on March 4 according to the government, immediately after Chathams Pacific cease service on March 2.

A second aircraft would arrive a few weeks afterward.

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