PM waits for advice from department heads after Lord Sevele refuses to resign from Olympic body

Tongan Prime Minister’Akilisi Pohiva is waiting for advice from government department heads after Lord Sevele ‘O Vailahi refused to resign as head of the kingdom’s Olympic committee.

The Prime Minister demanded Lord Sevele’s resignation and that of several committee members over alleged failings and delays in preparation for the 2019 South Pacific Games.

Lord Sevele has denied Hon. Pohiva’s accusations, accusing the government of not acting fast enough to support the planning and wanting to change the way preparations were carried out.

Questions have also been raised about the way a NZ$2 million grant from the New Zealand government has been spent.

Kaniva News was told this morning that the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet, Tonga’s Solicitor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs CEO are looking at how the Prime Minister should respond after Lord Sevele and some of the committee members in the Tonga South Pacific Games 2019 Committee (SPGC) refused the PM’s demand for their resignation.

The Prime Minister wrote to Lord Sevele, the Chair of SPGC 2019, the Secretary General Takitoa Taumoepeau, Committee Member Sakopo Lolohea and Newly Appointed Consultant Ringo Fa’oliu on December 15 last year and told them to voluntarily resign by December 18.

They were not warned of any consequences if they did not resign.

“I have been directed to provide the following response: The Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister are waiting for work conducted by these three bodies – Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet, Government’s Solicitor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs CEO,” ‘Olita Tupou of the Prime Minister’s Office told Kaniva News.

Lord Sevele wrote to Hon. Pohiva on December 17, 2015, saying that according to his contract with the SPGC, the Prime Minister had no power to force him and General Secretary Taumoepeau to resign.

Lord Sevele, who is a former Prime Minister, said he and those committee members Hon. Pohiva had told to resign, would not step down.

Lord Sevele denied Hon. Pohiva’s claim that preparations for the South Pacific Games in 2019 were late.

He also disagreed with Hon. Pohiva’s claim that the committee members’ salaries were “excessive” and “extravagant.”

Lord Sevele justified their salaries on the grounds that they were the right people with the right experiences and skills to run the committee.

Hon. Pohiva’s letter to Lord Sevele was headed : “Displeasure and Concerns of the Hon. Prime Minister and Cabinet over the Performance and Involvement of the Chairman and Staff of the Organizing Committee for the South Pacific Games 2019.””

In the letter the Prime Minister expressed his disappointment at the progress “of the work that has been carried out by the previous Government and the Committee to secure funds and resources that includes land, manpower and progressive planning.”

The Prime Minister reminded Lord Sevele it was the responsibility of his government to make sure the 2019 Games were a success.

Hon. Pohiva told Lord Sevele it was unfortunate the committee has failed to acquire funding in time.

Hon. Pohiva said salaries for the committee and its staff members were excessive compared to their various roles and what they had been achieved so far.

“The South Pacific Games Committee is excessively paying its leadership and staff with extravagant monies rewarding themselves for non to minimum performance towards the preparation for the 2019 South Pacific Games,” Hon. Pohiva said in his letter.

Hon. Pohiva accused Lord Sevele of failing to do his job, saying, there was no “positive progress in the preparations for the Games since the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer and under his governance.”

The Prime Minister also raised his concerns about a NZ$2 million commitment to the Teufaiva Stadium upgrade by the New Zealand government.

Hon. Pohiha held Lord Sevele accountable for the problem after New Zealand stopped the release of the balance of the grant after NZ$102,000 was used for the Stadium Upgrade Design and Games Venue Master Plan.

A total of NZ$98,304.16 has yet to be paid to contractor BECA for work on the Games Venue Master Plan.

The Prime Minister said the New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner in Tonga wrote to the Chief Executive Officer for Internal Affairs and said the Grant Funding Arrangement for the Games Venue Master Plan and the Stadium Upgrade Design had now expired.

Hon. Pohiva also expressed his concerns at the salaries of the executive committee, which he described as “excessive” and “extravagant”.  This including Lord Sevele’s basic annual salary of $180,000. Secretary General Takitoa Taumoepeau is paid an annual salary of  $40,000 for working part time and committee member Sakopo Lolohea is paid an annual salary of $45,000 for working part time basis.

Lord Sevele’s response

In his letter to Hon. Pohiva on December 17, Lord Sevele denied the Prime Minister’s accusations.

“We disagree with your concern on the slow progress of the work,” Lord Sevele said.

“We are largely on target and indeed reasonably ahead of schedule as far as the Teufaiva Stadium Upgrade is concerned.

“Our target completion date here is 31 March 2017, more than two years before the Games.”

The Former General Secretary to Tonga’s National Sports body claimed the work they did at the committee may have been ahead of time if Hon. Pohiva’s government had done its bit to get the requisite funds.

In his letter, Lord Sevele reminded Hon. Pohiva about the advice Lord Tevita Tupou gave him at a meeting on December 3, 2015 that the Committee, its Chairman and staff had already done a lot of work.

“Your assertion that we have failed in our duty in not getting the funds for the construction of the buildings and other sporting amenities is not correct,” Lord Sevele said.

“The provisions of the Pacific Games Organization Act 2013 -Sections d) and e) give us the power- but – in cooperation with the Government Facilities Committee.”

Lord Sevele told Hon. Pohiva that issues surrounding the golf course was a matter for the government to handle.

He said Hon. Pohiva wanted to change that norm while he wanted confirmation from government if they wanted the change.

“If you want to change the existing arrangement, discuss it with your Ministers concerned and then put that in writing so that everyone is aware of your directive,” Lord Sevele wrote.

In regard to the money for the New Zealand government, Lord Sevele said: “At our meeting you asked pe ‘oku puli ki fe ‘a e silini koia. Neu tala atu ‘oku ‘ikai ha silini ia ‘e puli pe ‘ave ‘e ha taha – because it should be all in the Ministry of Finance to which it had been sent.”

“If you carefully read the letter from the NZ Deputy High Commissioner to which you refer in your letter to me, the relevant sentences are:

“Of New Zealand’s overall NZD$2 million commitment to the Teufaiva Stadium upgrade, NZD$1.898 million remains. This is the balance after a deduction of NZD$102,000 that we have provided in full to the Ministry of Finance and National Planning for the Stadium Upgrade Design and Games Venue Master Plan.”

Excessively large salary  

Lord Sevele said he was approached by the Organising Committee around mid-April 2014, to see if he would accept the appointment to the post of CEO and Chairman of the Organizing Committee under the Pacific Games Organization Act 2013.

“The salary you consider excessive is what they thought would compensate me sufficiently to consider taking up the post, given the other avenues of earning income that I would have to give up,” Lord Sevele said in his letter.

He said it was an amount agreed in a committee meeting.

He said the Acting Solicitor General, an ex-officio Member, consulted with the Remuneration Authority on behalf of the Committee.

“Your claim that the initial contract of employment for the CEO of the Committee was for $60,000 per annum is another puzzle to me,” he said. Neither I nor any of our staff or Committee Members had seen or raised anything concerning such a contract as you raised.”

The main points

  • Tongan Prime Minister’Akilisi Pohiva is waiting for advice from government department heads after Lord Sevele ‘O Vailahi refused to resign as head of the kingdom’s Olympic committee.
  • The Prime Minister demanded Lord Sevele’s resignation and that of several committee members over alleged failings and delays in preparation for the Games.
  • Lord Sevele has denied Hon. Pohiva’s accusations, accusing the government of not acting fast enough to support the planning and wanting to change the way preparations were carried out.
  • Questions have also been raised about the way a NZ$2 million grant from the New Zealand government has been spent.

For more information

Tonga’s PM casts doubt on country’s ability to host 2019 Pacific Games (ABC)

Tonga up for challenge to host Pacific Games despite criticism (Fiji Times)

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news