NZ and Aust high school funding for Tonga withheld after funds misspent

Australian and New Zealand funds for non-government high schools have been withheld by the Tongan Ministry of Education and Training.

The Ministry withheld the money after it was discovered that some of the grants had not been used according to the purpose of the funding programme.

New Zealand and Australia co-fund a multi-million dollar programme for secondary schools in the kingdom.

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

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

The money will continue to be withheld until an agreement is reached with Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training and the schools.

MFAT and DFAT asked the Ministry to make clear to non-government secondary schools in Tonga how the school grants should be spent.

The Ministry has put distribution of the moneys on hold until an agreement between the Government and the schools has been reached.

“MFAT understands the agreement is now awaiting final approval,” the MFAT spokesman said.

The programme provides school grants to non-government secondary schools to supplement teachers’ salaries so they compare with government secondary school pay.

A spokesperson for the Australian High Commission in Tonga told Kaniva News they were “aware MET has been working very closely with representatives from non-government schools to overcome programme issues and that positive progress has been made on this.”

It said Australia had committed $Aus13 million to the Tonga Education Support Programme, which is managed by the Tongan Ministry of Education.

It said all DFAT scheduled payments under this agreement were up to date as per the current agreement.

“While DFAT provides support to MET in accordance with our agreement, DFAT doesn’t fund schools directly and is not withholding school grant funding,” the spokesperson said.

He said Australia also supported Tonga’s post-secondary education sector through skills development that responded to labour market demand.

We sought comment from the Minister of Education, ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Education, but to no avail.

Free Wesleyan Church schools

The Free Wesleyan Church Schools’ Director of Education, Dr Mele’ana Puloka, told Radio FM 87.5 in January it had been two years since New Zealand and Australian funding was held back from the church’s schools.

She said she knew there were good reasons why the funding had been withheld, but the church could not only pay its teachers and disregard other staff working outside the classrooms.

In 2011 the grant paid TP$400 per head for each non-government school student, made up of TP$100 from Australia, TP$100 from New Zealand and TP$200 from the Tongan government.

The money was intended to top up non-government school teachers’ pay to match the equivalent of high salaries offered by the government to its teachers.

Kaniva News has seen a letter sent by former Ministry of Education Director Emily Pouvalu to Dr Puloka in December 2014 asking for details of how the grant awarded to the church’s schools were being used during 2011, 2012, and 2013.

“The information you will provide will allow MET to make available to the donors what they like to know on how the grant is assisting to reduce the disparity of the salaries received by teachers in the government schools and those of the non-government schools,” the letter read.

Dr Puloka reportedly said she had written to New Zealand and Australian authorities clarifying things she thought might satisfy them and allow them to release the funds, but they still withhold the money.

The main points

  • Australian and New Zealand funds for non-government high schools have been withheld by the Tongan Ministry of Education.
  • The Ministry withheld the money after it was discovered that some of the grants had not been used according to the purpose of the funding programme.
  • New Zealand and Australia co-fund a multi-million programme for secondary schools in the kingdom.
  • The money will continue to be withheld until an agreement is reached with Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training and the schools.

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