Minister Lavulavu criticised over tourism board reinstatement; ‘imprudent’ spending of $1.5 million budget as borders stay shut

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo heni ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

Tourism minister, Akosita Lavulavu, has come under fire for the reinstatement of Tonga Tourism Authority board last week with critics saying the decision was unnecessary and irrelevant after it appears that international travel will not resume anytime soon.

(L-R) Sēmisi Sika, Akosita Lavulavu and Saia Moehau

Tonga Tourism Authority Board (TTAB) is the government’s tourism marketing and advising panel. It was terminated in 2017 after the then minister, Semisi Sika, believed the board did not have any positive influence on tourism growth in Tonga.

Critics believe the Ministry’s Chief Executive Officer and their staff not only can do what was needed of the board of directors but it saved the Ministry money.

Sika, who is now the Opposition Leader, and Tonga Tourism Association (TTA) claimed more than 30 percent of the new board’s budget of $1.5 million would go to the board of directors pay and other fees. Sika has described this spending as imprudent (“fakavalevale”).

“How do we justify spending a $1.5m budget to market a locked border destination in the middle of a global pandemic?” Sika told Kaniva News.

Sika, who dismissed the 2016 tourism board before the Supreme Court quashed it the following year, also slammed the appointment of the directors saying they were people who have no experience in tourism industry.

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Sika and the president of TTA, Saia Moehau, believed the budget should have been used to boost local tourist businesses which have been crippled by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New board announcement

On Thursday April 8 the Minster announced in a press release her new board members which included Ms. Mishka Tu’ifua (Chairperson and  Tongatapu member), Mr. Simana Kami (Tongatapu member), Ms. Petunia Tupou (Tongatapu member), Mr. Simana Kami (Tongatapu member), ‘Aisea Ta’ofi (Niuafo’ou & Niuatoputapu) Mr. Alwyn Moa (Vava’u member),  Mr. Finau Walter (Ha’apai member) and Ms. Temalisi Maile (‘Eua member).

Lavulavu, who was penalised and ordered by a Supreme Court decision last year to pay the plaintiffs’ costs after she wrongly denied their whale watching and swimming licenses, said the new board members replaced the previous board members whose contracts ended in June 2017.

The Minister also said: “The role of the Board is to implement the objectives in the TTA Act 2016. This will be achieved based on their policy advice to the Government, through the Minister, for the marketing, development, administration, promotion and investment in the Tourism sector to ensure sustainable growth”.

TTA concerns 

In a letter dated March 24 from Moehau to the Minister, seen by Kaniva News, the president questioned the “relevancy” of the decision “especially at this very time of a very serious pandemic, Covid19, that shuts down our border and borders all over the World”.

“Sad to admit that since the implementation of TTAB, we, the tourism operators, never found any result of positive contributions from TTAB to our tourism growth”.

Moehau told  Lavulavu this was why the former Tourism Minister made a decision to end the tourism board.

He said his association was aware that Lavulavu has “rescinded this cabinet decision as the result of your new TTAB today”.

Tourism operators need more assistance

Moehau told Lavulavu the association was grateful for the financial payouts to tourism operators throughout Tonga, but “these operators need more financial lifelines to keep them afloat and able to stay above water during this pandemic”.

“There would be some operators whom will survive after these tough times, but many will struggle to come back. But in order to maintain our tourism growth and tourism receipts above $100 Million Pa’anga per annum, we need everyone to stay afloat.

“As we all aware that the annual budget for TTAB is $1.5Million. With that, we are estimating there would be around a minimum of $150,000.00 Pa’anga per quarter out of that budget will go directly to TTAB’s directors’ fees, meeting fees, and local only travel expenses considering the structure of the new TTAB.

“That’s a minimum of $450,000.00 of that budget goes and spent on only members of the new TTAB per annum. This does not include salaries for TTAB’s new General Manager and their new Staff plus office expenses”.

The association has also recommended to the Minister to put “survival of all Tourism Operators” as priority and “delay or cancel the activation of TTAB until the border is opened”.

CEO and staff can do the board’s work

“Your CEO and Staff at our Ministry of Tourism is sufficed for now to work with all Tourism Operators to cooperate in all necessary working plans during these hard times,” Moehau wrote.

“We believe TTAB will overlap the Ministry’s current working plans”.

Moehau also suggested that the Minister diverts the TTAB budget of $1.5million Pa’anga to help struggling tourism operators in Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai, and ‘Eua.

“We need as much financial help as we can get to allow all our tourism products to remain ready and operatable once borders are opened in order to maintain positive and healthy tourism growth”.

TTA members included Vava’u Tourism Association, Tonga Hotels Association, Tonga Tourist Association, Tonga Travels & Tours Association, Whale Watching & Water Activities, Tonga Bars & Restaurant Association, Tonga Airlines Association and Heilala Festival.

FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA

‘Oku lolotonga faingata’a’ia ‘a e takimamata ‘a Tonga’ koe’uhi ko hono loka ‘o e kau’āfonua’ ‘o ‘ikai lava ai ha kau folau tua mei tu’apule’anga ke omi ki he fonua’ ke langa hake ngaahi pisinisi takimamata’. ‘Oku toe fiema’u tokoni fakapa’anga ‘aupito ‘a e ngaahi pisinisi takimamata fakalotofonua’ mei he pule’anga’ he ko ‘enau tō lalo ko ‘eni he ngāue ‘a e Koviti-19 ka ko kinautolu talu mei he kamata’anga ne nau tokonia lahi ‘a e ‘ekonōmika ‘a e fonua’. ‘Oku fiema’u leva ke potongi e pa’anga ‘a e fonua’ ‘o ‘oua ‘e ‘asi mai ‘oku fai’aki ha tolo veka. Kuo fakaanga’i lahi ai ‘e he taki ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ Sēmisi Sika fakataha mo e hoha’a lahi mei he ‘asosieisini ‘a e ngaahi kautaha taki mamata ‘a Tonga ‘oku ‘iloa ko e Tonga Tourism Association ‘a e fo’i nga’unu ko ‘eni ‘a e Minisitā Takimamata’ Akosita Lavulavu ke toe fakaake mai ‘a e Poate Takimamata’ pea ‘oange mo ‘enau patiseti $1.5 miliona ke nau tu’uaki mo fakamāketi’i’aki ‘a e taki mamata’. Pehē ‘e Sika mo e palesiteni ‘o e TTA ‘e laka hake he pēseti ia ‘e 30  ‘o e patiseti ko eni ko e fo’i vahe ‘ata’atā pe ia mo hono totongi ‘o e kau talēkita ‘o e poate’ ni. Ka ko e hā ‘enau me’a leva ‘e fai ke langa hake takimamata’ ‘oku ‘ikai lava omi ha kau tua ia mei tu’apule’anga’. Na’e ta’ofi fakataimi ha toe fokotu’u poate he 2017 ko e tui ‘a e minisitā ‘aho ko ia’ ‘oku ‘ikai ha tokoni ia ‘a e poate ki he tupu ‘a e takimamata he fonua’. Ko e fatongia ‘o e poate’ ‘oku ‘osi lava lelei pe ia ‘e he CEO mo ‘ene kau ngāue’ ‘o fakahoko ‘a e ngāue ko ia pea malu ai e patiseti ‘a e Potungāue’. ‘Ikai ko ia pe ka kuo pehē ‘e Sika ko e kau talēkita poate fo’ou ko eni ‘a Lavulavu’ ko e kakai lelei pe ia ka ‘oku hala ha’anau taukei ‘e taha mo e takimamata. ‘Oku totonu ke ‘ave pa’anga $1.5 miliona ko ‘eni’ ‘o tokonia’aki ‘a e ngaahi pisinisi takimamata taautaha’.

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