Tonga’s Auditor General Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said yesterday the passport scandal was one of the two biggest he had come across in the past three years.
The Auditor General made his comments after Tonga’s Minister of Justice, Clive Edwards, told Radio and Television Tonga he suspected the Auditor General of leaking information about the passport scandal to Kaniva News and the New Zealand media.
Edwards told the state broadcaster that 22 passports had been issued to a Chinese millionaire Sien Lee.
Dr Tu’i’onetoa compared the revelation of passport irregularities with the disappearance of millions of dollars of aid money from Australia and New Zealand.
The money was given to Tonga in 2010 to fund the kingdom’s political reforms.
He said millions of dollar disappeared without evidence to show whether it was legally spent or on what.
The money was under the care of the former Prime Minister’s office at the time.
The Prime Minister’s Office appeared to have been involved in both scandals, he said.
When the Auditor’s office urged the Attorney General to charge the people involved, his office said they could not do anything because there was no law that could be used to launch a prosecution.
Dr Tu’i’onetoa said a dozen ordinary and diplomatic passports had been issued to 12 foreigners. They were not Tongans, had not been born in Tonga and did not hold any naturalisation certificates like Chinese-Tongans.
He told Kaniva News that when his office recommended the Attorney General to prosecute those involved, they were told the accused could not be prosecuted because the law that covered such crimes was no longer valid.
Dr Tu’i’onetoa asked whether the lack of prosecution in these cases meant that people were free to do whatever they wanted.
“Does this mean the faults in the law will remain unfixed?” he asked.
The Auditor General said he was concerned that the Prime Minister’s office appeared to have been involved in both cases.
He said it was important to maintain good governance in Tonga to facilitate economic and social development.
Justice Minister Clive Edwards said allegations that about 20 passport had been given to Sien Lee were true.
“That is true and I think there were more than that,” he told Television Tonga.
Edwards said the passports had been issued legally as Lee had been naturalized in 1993.
Dr Tu’i’onetoa said his office was permitted to release information about its investigations.
“The thing is I did not give you (Kaniva News) the leaked information,” he said
“The minister should cool down. He was quick to get furious.”
The Attorney General said his “principles are not for sale”.
He said someone had to do something to save Tonga from the situation it was in.
The main points
- The Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, has described the Tongan passport scandal as one of the biggest he had come across in the past three years.
- He said the Prime Minister’s office appeared to be involved in this and an earlier case in which millions of dollar of aid money from Australia and New Zealand had disappeared.
- The Attorney General’s office had declined to prosecute anybody in either case.
- Dr Tu’i’onetoa asked whether the lack of prosecution in these cases meant that people were free to do whatever they wanted in Tonga.