Gov’t dumps former PM’s roading project that was mired in accusations of nepotism

The Hu’akavameiliku government has dumped the former government’s controversial multi -million pa’anga roading project, Kaniva News has learned.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku

Reliable sources told Kaniva the Hu’akavameiliku government has also scrapped the Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa government’s housing project, which included weaving, tapa making and evacuation community centres.

The projects attracted a lot of criticism from the public. Many people blasted the former government for what appeared to be favouritism and nepotism involved in the way the projects were distributed. The roading project was a three-year plan set to run from 2020 until 2023. The Tu’i’onetoa government was ousted in last year’s premiership election.

The Hu’akavameiliku government has initiated new rebuilding projects including the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano and tsunami rebuilding program.

Questions are now being asked about the millions of pa’anga spent by the former government on the project. Roads in Tongatapu and  Vava’u which had been repaired, renewed and constructed under the project have been badly damaged. Critics said the damage was the result of unprofessional work, lack of upkeep and lack of serious purpose.

Photos taken in Vava’u today seen by Kaniva News showed roads with large potholes and vehicles queuing on damaged roads with some having to cross to their opposite lanes in an attempt to avoid falling into the holes. Some of these roads were not constructed under the former government’s roading projects.

Neiafu Town Officer Vava Lapota previously told Kaniva News that the  main roads from the capital Neiafu to Taoa and Mataika were badly damaged.

Concerns about the merit of the project have recently emerged on social media with people, including foreign expatriates in Tonga, asking what happened to the millions of pa’anga spent in the project.

“I was horrified how massive potholes are in Vavau right now. What happened to roading project money that ran into the millions?” a businesswoman asked on an Expats and Locals Facebook group.

Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga)

Former Opposition Leader Sēmisi Sika accused the Tu’ionetoa government of creating the roading project to benefit his friends and those who helped him win the Prime Ministership, including former Cabinet Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu who is serving a jail term for fraud. Tu’i’onetoa had argued that the project was a public priority.

In 2020 Hon. Sika accused the Tu’i’onetoa government of designing the tendering  process for its roading project so that contracts were given to three of its friends.

He made the accusation in Parliament after the Minister for Finance said the government would guarantee loans from the Tonga Development Bank to three private companies which won the bid of outsourcing road work from the government.

Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa eventually conceded that contracts for the roading project had gone to companies with strong links to the government.

The contractors were Island Dredging Limited, City Engineering and Construction Limited and Inter-Pacific Limited.

The then Minister of Police, Lord Nuku, was a former Director of Island Dredging.

Lord Nuku’s son, Faka’osifono Valevale, was the Director of Island Dredging when the contracts were issued.

Tongan People’s Party Deputy Chairman Etuate Lavulavu was made a Director of Inter-Pacific Limited in February 2016, but was later replaced  by ‘Inoke Finau Vala.

Opposition MPs claimed that other contractors involved in the bid for the contract were cheaper than the government’s favoured contractors.

Kaniva News reported in April 2020 that the government claimed it could not afford to pay the market price of between TOP$190 and TOP$220 for rocks for the project and so had lawfully cancelled the procurement process.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa then said the government had set the price at TOP$70 for each truck load.

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