Tongans in the dark over satellite slot deal

Kiliki heni ki he ongoongo ni 'i he lea faka-Tonga

A leaked Cabinet decision that started  a heated debate in Parliament and prompted calls to review Tonga’s constitution was “erroneous” and “confusing,” Tonga’s Minister for Justice, Hon Clive Edwards claims.   

Edwards has accused Democratic Party leader ‘Akihisi Pohiva of spreading ‘lies’ and ‘fabricated’ information. 

The accusation was made after Pohiva distributed copies of Cabinet Decision 365 of May 23 to Members of Parliament. He said this proved the government would sell Tonga’s right to orbital slots.

Pohiva maintained the orbital slots should stay with government.

The Tongan Government has distributed a copy of a Cabinet Decision made on June 13, 2014, which said it showed there was no sale of the orbital slots.

However, Pohiva said the document confirmed Cabinet Decision 365.

Edwards said the details of that Cabinet Decision could not be released because the agreement between Tongasat and the Government was confidential.

Pohiva said the government must reveal all information about the issue because it was a matter of public interest.

The Tongan Public Service Association’s secretary, Mele ‘Amanaki, has also called on the government to terminate the sale. She said she wanted the government to come clean on the matter.

“Unless the Minister produces another Cabinet Decision that rescinded their decision of  May 23 2014 then he has been misleading the whole country and King and should be put out of office immediately before he does more damage to the country,”  ‘Amanaki said.

‘Amanaki said the PSA has a copy of a Cabinet Decision signed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Samiu Vaipulu, in August 12, 2011, in which the proposed sale of the two orbital slots licensed under Tongasat was approved.

Cabinet Decision 365 says:

“ That cabinet approves final agreement for outright sale of satellite orbital slots 134ºE and /38ºE as approved in principle, subject to confirmation and final legal advice from the Attorney  General’s  Office.

  • That the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Finance and National Planning sign the said agreement in accordance with recommendation 1 above, noting that final ratification from the Government, as per the agreement will take place within 30 days after signing of the said agreement.
  • That the options for division of the sale proceeds between Tongasat and government of Tonga is noted.
  • That approval is granted for the Committee to continue with finalising option 4 of the said sale proceeds between Tongasat before they agree to the said division under option 4.
  • That approval is granted for the following Government delegation to travel to Auckland from May 27th – 31 May, 2014 to represent government at the Government Tongasat and APT negotiations:-
  1. Minister for Justice, Hon Clive Edwards, (Chair of the Orbital Satellite Negotiation Committee);
  2. Minister for Finance and National Planning Dr the Hon Eke, (Deputy Chair);
  3. CEO Justice, Susana Faletau, (Secretary to the Committee).
  • That all travel costs, per diems and expenses, in accordance with government policies for the Minister for the Justice, the Minister for Finance & National Planning and the CEO for Justice are deducted from the respective travel votes of each of the said ministries budgets.
  • That $4 million be assigned for Tongasat to pay as government share on the sales of the two slots, subject for further negotiation.”

Another Cabinet decision on June 13, 2014 confirmed that:

“1. That government grants final approval and endorsement for the agreements signed  on 31st May,  2014,  on the governments’  behalf by the Minister for Justice, Hon Clive Edwards and the Minister for Finance & National Planning , Dr Hon ‘Aisake Eke for Tonga’s rights to the frequency fillings of: 

  1. C&C+ and Ku Bands in 134 E (Assignment

And License Agreement 134 E); and

  1. C&C+ and Ku Bands in 138E (Assignment

And License Agreement 138 E);

2. That Cabinet approves all ratification processes and documents as per Section 2 (and its relevant clauses) of the aforementioned Assignment and License Agreements and that these are executed as soon as possible;

3. That Cabinet notes the “Acknowledgement” documents signed by the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Finance and National Planning respectively, as an official report of the share of the sale proceeds for the aforementioned rights of Tonga to C&C+ and Ku Bands 134E and 138E and the final negotiations which took place between Government and Tongasat on the aforesaid matter.”

However, Edwards has now said that the Cabinet Decision of  May 23, 2014 was not worded properly.

“The agreement which was negotiated and approved was for Tongasat to assign its interest back to Government and the license was between the Government and APT Satellite Company Limited,” the Minister said.

 “You will see in the Cabinet decision of May that it  established a Committee to negotiate the issue of orbital slots 134°E and 138°E.

“The negotiation we had did not result in any orbital sale.”

Orbital slots

Orbital slots are the areas allocated in space into which network satellites are launched under an international treaty governed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

ITU says Tonga does not own its orbital slots indefinitely, but can transfer its satellite network to another registered member.  

 “Mele ‘Amanaki and ‘Akilisi who are alleging this sale do not understand that China has the same rights to orbital slots 134°E and 138°E,” Edwards said.

“Why would China want to purchase the rights to use orbital slots 134°E and 138°E when they already have registered filings in respect of these two slots?”

In summary, Edwards said:

  • The orbital slots 134°E and 138°E were not and will not be sold.
  • The   APT Satellite Company Limited has an existing license in respect of  the slots with Tongasat.
  • Tongasat has assigned its rights back to the government
  • As a result, the government would get two transponders, US$26 million (TP$49 million) and US$450,000 (TP$843,000) each year.

“In the meantime, if we have commissioned the APT Satellite Company to lease the transponders and if this is concluded, the annual revenue will go up to US$1.2 million (TP$2 million) per year for 25 years,” the Minister said.

"There are other matters which are beneficial to Government which I am not able to disclose at this stage.”

The government did not have any rights to these slots and would not receive any revenue for them until 2038.

He said the renewal option available to Tongasat and APT Satellite Company Limited had been changed.

“The Cabinet decision of May 23 2014 was confusing and erroneous, where the words ‘outright sale’ appears in paragraphs 1 and 4 in respect of the sum of US$4 million (TP$7.5 million) that did not occur,” Edwards said.

“The agreement we signed with APT and Tongasat is a business agreement. It contains provisions as to confidentiality. The things I have referred to above relates to Government only and I am concerned with possible damages that the allegations made by Mele ‘Amanaki and ‘Akilisi Pohiva may cause.”

The main points

  • A leaked Cabinet decision that started  a heated debate in parliament and prompted calls to review Tonga’s constitution was “erroneous” and “confusing,” Tonga’s Minister for Justice, Hon Clive Edwards claims.   
  • Edwards has accused Democratic Party leader ‘Akihisi Poviva spreading ‘lies’ and ‘fabricated’ information. 
  • The accusation was made after Pohiva distributed copies of Cabinet Decision 365 on May 23 to members of Parliament. He said this proved the government would sell Tonga’s right to orbital slots.
  • The Public Service Association’s secretary, Mele ‘Amanaki, has also called on the government to come clean on the matter.

For more information

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

International agency says Tonga cannot sell orbital slots (Radio New Zealand)

Tonga government denies sale of orbital slots (Radio New Zealand)

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