TRU chaos looms as it faces arbitration over claims that AGM was unconstitutional

Tonga Rugby Union’s former interim CEO Fuka Kitekeiʻaho told Kaniva News yesterday he was considering taking the TRU to court to force it to arbitration.

He said the TRU’s current board was dragging its feet to try to avoid the process.

The latest drama to involve the TRU began three months ago when representatives from Vava’u, Haʻapai and ‘Eua helped elect  Feʻao Vunipola as interim chair of TRU at its annual general meeting.

Kitekeiʻaho claimed the attendance of the outer island representatives was unconstitutional because their local unions had not run local rugby tournaments within the past four years.

He said the outer island unions should not be members of the TRU board or have a vote at the AGM.

If the arbitration ruled in his favour  the current board’s arrangements and decisions would be declared void, Kitekeiʻaho said.

He told Kaniva News  it had been two months since he sought the arbitration process. Legal documents have been distributed to TRU members and the representatives from Vavaʻu, ‘Eua and Haʻapai.

He said he believed Vunipola and the current board had dragged out the process and he intended to seek a court order to start it soon as it was taking too long now.

“They cannot avoid it forever,” Kitekeiʻaho said.

Arbitration was part of the board’s constitution to resolve cases like this, he said.

Kitekei’aho said he was told the TRU was seeking a lawyer in preparation for the arbitration.

“The World Rugby is waiting for the result”, Kitekeiʻaho said.

Tongan rugby union’s organising body has faced several crises in the past year, with accusations of poor leadership and questions over finances.

The TRU’s interim chair, Vunipola, said the arbitration process only added to the difficulties he and the union faced as they tried to resolve the board’s financial struggles.

The TRU owes about TP$700,0000/NZ$470,000 to a number of businesses who complained to the IRB  after the courts ruled against the TRU.

 Pointing fingers

According to a statement posted by Vunipola on Facebook, the IRB froze funding for Tonga because the TRU owes Carinat Sport Marketing TP$300,000/NZ$201,000, Mt Smart Stadium in New Zealand NZ$44,000/TP$65,000 and Finau Maka  €250,000.00/TP$620,000/NZ$416,000.

It is understood the debt to Carinat arose after the TRU borrowed rugby kits from the company, but did not pay for them.

Vunipola did not respond to our request for comment.

He claimed some of the debts arose from deals made by former TRU Chair ʻEpeli Taione without going through the board meeting.

Taione did not respond to our request for comment.

Vunipola  claimed that Kitekeiʻaho had told TRU members part of the debt had been paid off, but they had found no proof of any payments.

He said that according to board minutes from 2013 the TRU asked Taione and Kitekeiʻaho to tell them how much debts TRU still owed and they replied that the remaining debt was “50-60,000 sovereigns.”

(Editor’s note: A sovereign was a British gold coin. They are still made for special occasions, but are not normal circulating currency.)

Vunipola claimed he was told that when board members asked Kitekeiʻaho and Taione about the debts they became furious and told members to go and look for money to pay for the debts.

However Kitekeiʻaho said Vunipola should not point his finger and take the issue up with media.  He should put forwards a plan to pay the debts, he said.

“I wish to make it clear to the new TRU board members that when you come in to the board it is you who make the decisions and if there is debt there or profit you start with it. If there is financial debts try to pay it,” Kitekei’aho said.

“Making noise will not help pay if off.”

Kitekeiʻaho claimed he made a deal with lawyers for Carinat and Mt Smart Stadium  in an attempt to settle the debts.

He said an arrangement had been made to pay US$1000/TP$2199/NZ$1477 to Carinat and NZ$1000/TP$1488 to Mt Smart Stadium every month since November 2015 until the end of March 2016.

It had been intended that after this point  the TRU and its creditors would discuss how to settle the balance.

However, Kitekeiʻaho claimed that after Vunipola took over he stopped the arrangement.

Concerns

Vunipola said he was concerned that in the past the IRB and World Rugby had continued to help Tongan rugby financially despite the fact it was in deep financial difficulties in 2007 and 2012.

The IRB was withholding funding until reforms are made within the TRU.

It is understood a team from World Rugby will arrive in Tonga shortly to look at the problems faced by the Tongan union.

Vunipola said it was a pity that the staff at the TRU office had not been paid since the third week of January.

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