A solar engineering programme that has been brought to Tonga in May 2012 from India to provide energy source for lighting has been thoroughly assessed recently.
This resulted in a replacement of the former project's community facilitator, Mr. Sione Tupouniua.
Meagan Carnahan Fallone from the Barefoot College in India was cautious and denied claim that the restructure of the group reportedly stemmed from an investigation into mismanagement and malpractices.
Instead she told Kaniva News the change in the management followed procedures as the Tonga project must be assessed to make sure it operates effectively.
“For this project to succeed, it must be understood by all of the project beneficiaries that the equipment belongs to Barefoot College and the community. The individual families with solar systems have not "bought" the equipment.
The project now is being handled by a group known as GERM – Grassroots Energy Road Map led by Sione Halauafu.
Through the project, two Tongan grandmothers Siutiti Halatoa (51) and Siale Leohau (47) attended India's Barefoot College in 2011, to be trained in how to install the new solar panels.
They returned in 2012 and began implementing their new skills after Barefoot College launched the project on May 2012.
The two women installed solar light panels in up to 80 homes that dependent on candles for lighting and without electricity in Sopu, Hala 'o Vave and 'Isileli areas.
Fallone said, “Halauafu’s team are currently taking steps to institutionalize the project within the Kolomotu'a community and to create an operational committee that will oversee and guide this project over the coming years.
Most of the equipment has already been installed throughout the Tongatapu island group. Some of the systems are in need of repairs, and all of the systems will need maintenance, she said.
Fallone added that the programme was not intended to make profit out of the materials and equipment for the projects.
She said, “Each customer will need to sign an updated contract expressing their willingness to pay a very manageable monthly fee (probably in the area of $8 to $10 USD, to be determined by the committee) in exchange for the solar energy.
“This monthly fee will be collected and deposited in a secure, communal bank account that was recently created by Sione Halauafu and the transition committee.
“These funds will pay a small salary for the people doing frequent maintenance of the panels and will eventually help pay for the replacement battery.
“Without these monthly payments and the corresponding maintenance, the equipment will fail after just 5-6 years of use.
With these payments and with community ownership, this project (and the equipment) can last for decades,” she said.
Kaniva News could not be able to obtain comments from Sione Tupouniua.
Featured image: Taimi Online