PM releases details of controversial TP$22,000 spent on opening ceremony

The opening of new St George Palace early this month cost Tongan taxpayers money which included TP$10,000 donated as gift for his Majesty King Tupou VI.

The money was part of a controversial TP$22,000 paʻanga which treasury had released after the Prime Minister and his cabinet signed a letter rejecting a request by sacked Finance Minister Tēvita Lavemaau for its release.

Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva said TP$3000 was taken from the money to buy a fala uongokumi (decorative mat) and TP$1,000 pa’anga was spent as a gift for a tauʻolunga (solo dance) which was performed by Mikaela Tuʻivakanō during the ceremony.

He said TP$8000 from the money was also used but he did not say how that money was spent.

The Prime Minister made the revelation during a press conference last week in Nuku’alofa.

Read more: Inquiries after sacked Finance Minister disobeyed cabinet decision on TP$80,000 spending

As Kaniva News reported, Lavemaau disobeyed the cabinet decision rejecting his proposal to release the money and he paid it to the organising committee, which was chaired by the sacked deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni.

Lavemaau said the release of the money was legal and appropriate.

Hon. Pohiva said he thought it did not make sense for the government to spend taxpayers’ money on such gifts.

He said he still respected the king but there were other ways of presenting gift to His Majesty on such occasion rather than using taxpayers’ money.

“The cabinet ministers could have donated money for it from their own pockets”, Hon. Pohiva said.

The Minister of Justice Vuna Fāʻotusia said the TP$10,000 gift for the king was too small.

He said it may have been better if the normal cultural presentation of Tongan gifts was used rather than donating money.

Hon. Fāʻotusia said Lord Maʻafu who had been serving former cabinets and governments said the TP$10,000 gift presented as gift for the king was something new to him.

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