TTA denies interference with Tourism Minister; Cabinet has ‘ultimate power’ to either fund, employ Tourism Board directors or not, Sika claims

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

Tonga Tourism Association (TTA) said the organisation has never questioned Tourism Minister Akosita  Lavulavu’s decision to reinstate Tonga Tourism Authority Board (TTAB) and its $1.5 million budget allocation, a letter from TTA to Kaniva News says.

Tonga Tourism. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga).

TTA was responding after Lavulavu warned the organisation and told it not to try to push her into doing something that would breach tourism rules.

Opposition Party Leader Sēmisi Sika said he was afraid the Minister’s insistence on reinstating TTAB saying she has no power to defer the reinstatement appears to show Lavulavu did not understand the Cabinet’s “ultimate power and normal practice” procedures.

In a letter to Kaniva, TTA said: “Ko homau fatongiaa koe kole moe fokotu’u fakakaukau atu pe ki he ‘Eiki Minista”.

In English, this means:

“Our responsibility is to ask and suggest ideas to the Minister”.

TTA’s response comes after its president Saia Moehau asked Lavulavu to delay reinstating TTAB because of the impact of coronavirus pandemic on Tonga’s tourism businesses.

As Kaniva News reported previously, the president also asked the Minister to divert the TTAB budget of $1.5million Pa’anga to help struggling tourism operators.

“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”.

The independent body for tourism business operators in Tonga said it has received the Minister’s response and it agreed.

TTA’s response came after Vava’u Whale Watching operators criticised the Minister’s denial of their requests to defer their licencing payment of $3,500 until borders open saying she was “out of touch with reality”.

The Minister’s response

Lavulavu told TTA there was no way under the law she can defer reinstating TTAB with its allocation of $1.5 million budget, a copy of the Minister’s letter seen by Kaniva News says.

The Minister said there were unlawful decisions made by the Ministry before and she did not want that happened again.

Lavulavu accused TTA and said: “The Association is now urging a Minister to make the same unlawful decision again which has caused the earlier court case. The court case has settled. The AGO gave the green light, and I have moved to reconstitute the Board”.

“You will understand that we must all comply with the law regardless of our own view”.

The Minister said she was aware of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic but that cannot change her decision.

“Yet that is no reason for us to put the law aside”, the Minister said.

“Our own personal interest and wants will not justify violating our laws”.

She said she could not do anything concerning the TTA’s requests until the law was amended.

Opposition disagrees with Lavulavu

Opposition Leader Sika has taken on the Minister’s response.

The Former Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism claimed Cabinet ministers have ultimate power (“mafai aofangatuku”) when it comes to situation like the TTAB controversies.

He said if Lavulavu was being urged to reinstate the TTAB because of the law, but she was willing to defer it, she has power to stop hiring new employees or creating new positions to be filled.

Sika said this was known in Cabinet as “hiring freeze”

“It is normal practice for Cabinet Ministers to do that. Ministers also have power to freeze votes or budgets but must be justified”, he said.

Sika said Lavulavu has a good justification to freeze the $1.5 million budget for TTAB because of the impact of the COVID-19 and how it crippled Tonga’s tourism industry.

Sika also said the Minister has power to “reallocate” the budget.

“The government is now doing that reallocation by taking money from other votes to help fund the Prime Minister’s new roading project”.

“That power has been vested in Cabinet Ministers”.

Sika said Lavulavu’s letter replying to requests from TTA showed she was evasive “fakaloea” about the fact her decision could be seen as thoughtless.

“She should use her intelligence and wait while the country is being disabled” by the pandemic from making profits through tourism businesses.

As Kaniva News reported last week, it took the Minister about a year before she reinstated the TTAB last month, something her critics believed it should have set a precedent for her to keep on deferring the reinstatement until borders open.

FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA

Na’e taukave’i ‘e he Ministā Takimamata’ Akosita Lavulavu ‘ene tauhi ki he lao’ ‘o tupu ai ‘ene toe fokotu’u ‘a e Poate Takimamata fo’ou ‘o fakapa’anga ‘aki ‘a e $1.5 miliona ‘i he uhouhonga ‘o e poliō ‘a e ngaahi pisinisi takimamata’ ‘i Tonga tupu mei he Koviti 19. Na’a’ ne pehē koe’uhi ko e lao’ kuopau ke ta’ele’eia leva ‘ene fokotu’u ‘a e poate takimamata’  pea ko ia ai  ‘oku ‘ikai ke ne tali ‘a e fokotu’u ange ke toe toloi atu’  tatau ai pe a’u ki he Koviti 19. Ka kuo pehē ‘e he taki Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ‘oku’ ne manavasi’i pe ‘oku mahino ko ā ki he MInisitaa’ ni ‘a e founga ngāue ‘a e Kapineti’. Pehē ‘e Semisi Sika’ ‘oku mo’oni e lao’ ia ka ‘oku ‘i he Kapineti ‘a e mafai aofangatuku ki he ngaahi tu’utu’uni  hange ko ‘eni ko e fetukuaki ‘i hono ‘ave fu’u patiseti $1.5 miliona ki he Poate Takimamata lolotonga ‘oku mate ngūngū ‘a e pisinisi ko ia’. Na’e pehē ‘e Sika ‘oku ‘i ai ‘a e me’a ko e Hiring Freeze ‘oku ngāue angamaheni ‘aki pe ia ‘e he Kapineti pea ‘oku mafai ki ai ‘a e kau minisitaa’. ‘A ia ko hono ta’ofi hano toe fakangāue’i ha kau ngāue fo’ou pe ko hano toe fokotu’u ha ngaahi lakanga fo’ou. Ua ki ai ‘oku mafai aofangatuku pe ‘a e kau minisitaa’ ki hono to’o ha patiseti mei he vouti ‘e taha ‘o ‘ave ia ki ha vouti ‘e taha pe ‘oku ngāue’aki ‘i he Kapineti ‘a e lea reallocation pe ko e fakamahamaha ‘o ha patiseti pe vouti. ‘A ia kapau ‘e ‘ai ‘a e fakakaukau ko ‘eni ki he patiseti  mo e kau talēkita fo’ou ‘a e poate takimamata’ ‘e peheni – ‘ oku mafai ‘a  Akosita k ene  tu’utu’uni ke ‘oua na’a toe fokotu’u ha ngaahi lakanga fo’ou pe fakahu mai ha kau ngāue’aki fo’ou hange ko e kau talekita poate fo’ou’. ‘Oku ne toe mafai foki ke ne tu’utu’uni ke  fakatatafe ‘a e patiseti  $1.5 miliona ki he poate ‘aki ‘a e ‘uhinga lelei he ‘oku lolotonga faingatāmaki ‘a e sekitoa taki mamata he loka ‘a e kau‘āfonua’. Pehē ‘e Sika ‘oku mahu’inga ‘a e ngaahi founga ngāue ‘a e Kapineti ko ‘eni’ koe’uhi  he ‘oku’ ne ‘oange ai ‘a e faingamālie ki he kau minisitaa’ ke nau ngāue’aki honau ‘atamai lelei mo fakapotopoto ‘i he taimi ‘o e faingata’a’.

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