Costs and details of MPs’ flight to rugby match still unclear as Speaker responds to our story

Tu'utu'uni e Palēmia ki he kapineti ke nau taki taha fua 'ene fakamole ka 'oku nau fie ō 'o mamata he Mate Ma'a Tonga. Vakai ki he fakamatala faka-Tonga' i lalo'

The Speaker of the House has still not revealed how much it will cost for the Parliamentary delegation which plans to travel to Auckland and watch the Mate Ma’a Tonga match test against the Kangaroos on Saturday.

In a statement this afternoon, Lord Fakafanua said only six MPs and Parliamentary staff would attend the test match on Saturday.

Kaniva news earlier reported that 14 would go.

“Other parliamentarians who are currently on official parliamentary business overseas will join the delegation at Mt Smart Stadium, upon returning through Auckland from official duties,” Lord Fakafanua said.

He did not say how many MPs fell into this category and did not deny our report that 14 would attend.

The Speaker’s response came after Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva made a decision in Cabinet that all Ministers who wanted to attend the match must pay for their own expenses.

Unconfirmed cost

Later this evening, the Speaker’s Chief Clerk told local media it would cost Parliament around TP$45,000 to send the six people delegation, including the Speaker Lord Fakafanua.

However she said the final figure had yet to be finalised because MPs who were currently overseas had yet to confirm if they would join the delegation in Auckland.

“Parliament accepted an invitation from Tonga Rugby League for a delegation to join the thousands of Tongans in New Zealand in witnessing the historic game and to show Parliament’s support to the Mate Ma’a Tonga team,” the Speaker said in the statement.

“The invitation was adopted through circulation, by collective resolution of Parliament.”

Lord Fakafanua will lead the delegation, along with noble Lord Vaha’i and people’s MP Hon. Vātau Hui.

The Chief Clerk and two supporting staff will travel with them “to show Parliament’s unwavering support for Mate Ma’a Tonga.”

Travel costs

The Speaker released his statement about a week after Kaniva news asked him in an e-mail to his Chief Clerk whether it was true a Parliamentary delegation would be paid from taxpayers’ money to attend the match.

As we reported, the Prime Minister’s son, Siaosi Pōhiva, also wrote to the Speaker on October 10 and asked that he reconsider the decision.

Siaosi, the editor and publisher of Kele’a newspaper, blasted the move and described it in Tongan as extravagant and unloving.

Kaniva news reported that a reliable source had claimed the MPs approved TP$80,000 for the travel while Siaosi claimed it was initially proposed to be $200,000.

In response the Lord Speaker said: “The travel cost for the delegation is nowhere near TP$80,000, let alone TP$200,000.”

PM Pohiva ordered cabinet to travel at own expenses

Our reliable source claimed the initial proposal for the costs of the travel was set at $200,000 after it was initially planned for a 26-member delegation to travel.

The cost was then reduced to $80,000 after PM Pōhiva ordered his cabinet ministers to pay their own expenses if they wanted to attend the match.

After Kaniva news leaked the delegation’s expenses to the public, Parliament said yesterday only six were confirmed with more MPs to be confirmed later as they were overseas.

The Minister of Finance Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa who is currently in Vanuatu in a meeting confirmed to us in an e-mail this evening that PM Pōhiva had made the cabinet decision about the match.

In Tongan Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said: “Kimu’a ke u folau mai na’e ‘osi tala pe ‘e he PM kia kimautolu kau Minister, kapau te mau ‘alu ‘o sio he MMT pea mau takitaha totongi pe ‘ene tikite folau mo ene ticket sio tau. Ko homau tu’utu’uni ia.”

This translates into English as: “ Before I travel here the Prime Minister told us Ministers that if we wanted to attend the MMT we have to pay for our own travel and entry tickets. That’s what we were told to do.”

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said he could not comment on the costs of the Parliamentary delegation’s travel because he was out of the country.

Corporate box

The Speaker did not deny reports by Kaniva news that a corporate box had also been paid for.

Corporate suites at Mt Smart stadium are $2700 for 12 people (GST exclusive),  $3600 for 16 people and $4995 for 26 people for one match.

As we reported yesterday,  Tongan taxpayers have also paid for the MPs’ travelling allowances and accommodation in New Zealand. The Speaker did not deny this.

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