New Zealand and Australia finally release aid funding for private high schools in Tonga

The Australian and New Zealand funding for non-government secondary schools has been released by Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training (MET).

The money was held back for two years after an audit revealed some of it had been misapplied.

A spokesperson from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said MFAT approved the release of the funds to MET in December last year and they were paid out by MET in February.

The money was part of a joint Australian-New Zealand programme to supplement the pay of  high school teachers at non-government schools so their wages were comparable with those of government teachers.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has contributed TP$30,554,487 (Aus$18.5 million) since 2009 and MFAT has provided TP$12 million (NZ$9 million) to cover the period 2013 to 2016.

Kaniva News raised the issue in January after it received information the money was being withheld and that the Free Wesleyan Church schools in Tonga had complained about funding being held back since 2014.

MFAT told us in January the funds were held back after it was discovered some of the grants had not been used according to its purpose by schools in Tonga.

“In late 2014, it came to the attention of MET and MFAT that some of the grants were being diverted into school operational budgets, which is not their intended purpose,” an MFAT spokesperson said.

“MFAT and DFAT asked MET to clarify with non-government secondary schools how the school grants should be spent. As a result, MET put secondary school grant distribution on hold for the programme until an agreement between the Government and the schools was reached.”

Editor’s Note:

We received an updated statement from MFAT and MET yesterday regarding our story published on March 7 under the headline ‘NZ and Aust high school funding for Tonga withheld after funds misspent.’

It said the information used in our story was out-of-date and asked us to update it

Kaniva News is always happy to bring our readers the latest news, but it would have saved a lot of time and energy if the authorities involved had responded in time and made their responses crystal clear.

We e-mailed the Tonga Ministry of Education and Training on February 24 and 26 asking them to tell us whether or not the money had been released to the schools in Tonga. The e-mails were sent to Prime Minster ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who is also the Minister of Education, the Acting CEO and a senior official at MET and copied to the kingdom’s Chief Secretary.

We received no response from them before publishing the story, based on the most up-to-date information available to us, on March 7.

Had MET responded to us in February, they would not have had to ask us to update the story.

Unfortunately, journalists are used to the Tongan authorities not being transparent and reluctant to respond to media.

Sadly, the other governments involved have not been completely helpful either. As detailed in our story of March 7, the director of the Free Wesleyan Schools in Tonga said she had written to the New Zealand and Australian authorities asking them, unsuccessfully, to release the money.

Kaniva News e-mailed MFAT in January and the money was released in February without the Ministry updating us, even though they knew we were working on the story.  

In that exchange of e-mails, we asked MFAT to tell us the reasons the money was withheld and how long it had been held back.

In response, MFAT said: “In late 2014, it came to the attention of MET and MFAT that some of the grants were being diverted into school operational budgets, which is not their intended purpose. MFAT and DFAT asked MET to clarify with non-government secondary schools how the school grants should be spent. As a result, MET put secondary school grant distribution on hold for the programme until an agreement between the Government and the schools was reached.”

Kalino Latu, Editor Kaniva News.

The main points

  • The Australian and New Zealand funding for non-government secondary schools has been released by Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training (MET).
  • The money was held back for two years after an audit revealed some of it had been misapplied.
  • A spokesperson from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said MFAT approved the release of the funds to MET in December last year and they were paid out by MET in February.
  • They money was part of a joint Australian-New Zealand programme to supplement the pay of  high school teachers at non-government schools so their wages were comparable with those of government teachers.

For more information

NZ and Aust high school funding for Tonga withheld after funds misspent’ (Kaniva News) 

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