Hon Lavulavu denies he told mechanical supervisor to fake TP$1 million valuation, threatens legal action

Tonga’s Former Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu, has denied claims by the Ministry’s Senior Mechanical Supervisor, Maile Niulala,  that he ordered him to falsify a valuation of heavy machinery.

In a letter to the Tongan media, Niulala said Lavulavu demanded that he alter his original valuation of heavy machinery the government intended to purchase from TP$100,000 to TP$1 million.

The strife between Lavulavu and the MOI’s  mechanical supervisor is the latest in a series of hurdles faced by the former Minister of Infrastructure, including an impeachment attempt, the loss of his ministerial position and accusations of corruption.

Hon. Lavulavu claimed he had never talked to Niulala about a report to be submitted to him as Minister and never discussed anything about Tomifa Paea’s eight heavy pieces of machinery.

The former minister demanded Niulala retract his letter to the media and apologise within five days or face legal action.

In a letter to the Minister of Finance Hon. ‘Aisake Eke dated November 19, 2015 Niulala told the minister he was “instructed” by Hon Lavulavu to assess the financial value of the machinery.

He said when he found out only one of the machines was still working, he calculated their value as less than TP$100,000.

Niulala claimed he reported his finding to Hon. Lavulavu, but was then told by the Minister to do another assessment and increase the total value to TP$1 million pa’anga.

“I obeyed and did the valuation again and made a new submission to a value of TP$1,007,000,” Niulala said in his letter.

Niulala told Hon. Eke he was not satisfied with what had happened as he was later blamed by the Tongan media.

Hon Lavulavu’s response

Hon. Lavulavu denied that he told Niulala to revalue the machinery and increase their financial value from TP$100,000 to TP$1 million.

In a letter sent to Kaniva News this morning (Sunday, January 10) Hon. Lavulavu, who is now Minister of Tourism, demanded that Niulala immediately stop “defaming” him.

He said Niulala has publicly discredited his family and the Tongan government.

Hon. Lavulavu demanded Niulala correct what he had written to the Finance Minister within five days. If not, he would take legal action against him.

“I would like to inform you that what you have written to the Hon. Minister of Finance claiming I demanded you alter the financial valuation of the Vava’u Construction’s heavy machinery from TP$100,000 to TP$1 million is lying and misleading against  the Ministry of Infrastructure, Government of Tonga and the people of the nation,” Hon. Lavulavu wrote in Tongan.

In his letter Lavulavu claimed that on August 4, 2015 Niulala  wrote an Internal Memo to the Ministry’s CEO informing him he had assessed all eight heavy machines as having a total valuation was TP$1,007,000.

Hon. Lavulavu told Niulala that in the last paragraph of his memo to the CEO he recommended the machinery and said he had assessed them and they were all in good conditions.

Hon. Lavulavua said the Ministry approved Niulala’s recommendation on August 6, 2015 and was prepared to be processed through the procurement committee.

Hon. Lavulavu claimed that Niulala also wrote to the owner of Vava’u Construction and told him about his valuation of the machinery on August 10 and said he would submit his report to the CEO.

A year of strife

Hon. Lavulavu has been involved in a series of legal and political struggles in the past 12  months.

He escaped a Parliamentary impeachment last year after he was accused of wrongly using his power to approve works in Vava’u without going through the government’s procurement committee.

He continued for a time as Minister of Infrastructure and Minister for Tourism in Hon Pohiva’s government. However, Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva stripped him of the Infrastructure portfolio and imposed a financial penalty on him.

Towards the end of 2015 the Vava’u 16 MP was taken to court by failed parliamentary candidate Dr Viliami Uasike Latu.

Dr Latu accused Lavulavu of corruption and illegal campaigning in Tonga’s 2014 General Election.

The Vava’u Supreme Court will deliver its judgement on the case next month.

The main points

  • Tonga’s former Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu, has denied claims by the Ministry’s Senior Mechanical Supervisor, Maile Niulala, that he ordered him to falsify a valuation of heavy machinery.
  • In a letter to the Tongan media, Niulala said Lavulavu demanded that he alter his original valuation of heavy machinery the government intended to purchase from TP$100,000 to TP$1 million.
  • The strife between Lavulavu and the MOI’s mechanical supervisor is the latest in a series of hurdles faced by the former Minister of Infrastructure, including an impeachment attempt, the loss of his ministerial position and accusations of corruption.
  • Lavulavu has demanded Niulala correct what he had written to the Finance Minister within five days. If not, he would take legal action against him.

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