Globe trotting: Tonga Lands Minister holds meetings in NZ in wake of refusal to reveal travelling costs citing ‘confidentiality’ 

The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources is currently holding meetings in Christchurch despite Opposition arguing the purpose of his global trip could have been conducted online to save taxpayers money.

Lord Tu’i’āfitu, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources

Unlike the Australian trip, the New Zealand visit was not publicly announced on the Ministry’s social media prior to the first public meeting last night Monday 15, raising questions about transparency and communication regarding government activities.

Lord Tu’i’āfitu faced scrutiny after providing inconsistent explanations regarding the purpose of his global tour, which included visits to Australia, the United States, and New Zealand.

This week’s meetings came in the wake of the Opposition criticizing the Prime Minister of increasing government traveling budget with TOP$8 million to $21 million altogether. The Prime Minister told the House the hike was decided to facilitate Ministers travelling overseas to negotiate grants for the country.

Lord Tu’i’afitu had faced strong public criticism in December after it was revealed he and a delegation including his wife arrived in Australia to consult with Tongan community there on lands issues.

In Tonga, after their return from Australia early this year, the Opposition questioned the Minister in Parliament.

Lord Tu’i’afitu justified the necessity of the trip by highlighting the manual processes involved in handling land issues, such as administering oaths. He mentioned seeking advice on relevant laws including clause 86 of the Lands Acts from the Minister of Justice. He also cited a request from Princess Angelika Tuku’aho as reasons for the Australian trip.

He also praised the Ministry for making great effort in its attempt to reduce the number of land court cases involving the Ministry. He said this has been recorded in the Ministry of Justice’s annual report.

Costs detail confidentiality

Opposition MP Dr ‘Aisake Eke told the Minister the meetings with the international community should have been conducted online to avoid costs. He reminded the Minister that Tongans overseas were travelling to Tonga from time to time and can address their land needs when they were in the kingdom.


Dr Eke asked the Minister about the costs of the trip but Lord Tu’i’afitu was quick to defend it saying it was approved by the Cabinet and it was “confidential”.

“Ko e totongi e folau na’e tali pē he Kapineti pea ko u lave’i pē ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha me’a ia ke fakahā noa’ia ha pa’anga ‘oku fakataha’i confidential ‘i he tali pē ‘a Kapineti ki ha feitu’u ‘oku public mālō”, the Minister replied in Tongan according to Hansard February 15, 2024.

However, his response was disputed by Dr. Eke, who emphasized that since public money was involved, the spending details should be made public.

When the Ministry announced the Australian trip in December, it said that the meetings would address key areas of improvement, share updates, and provide important information about land. It included explaining how land processes work, addressing concerns and working closely with Tonga’s High Commission offices overseas, to make land-related transactions easier.

NZ trip not announced on Ministry’s social media

The meetings in New Zealand, as announced in a Tongan community social media in Christchurch yesterday, was aimed at engaging members of the Tongan community, explain the Ministry’s roles and policies, and clarify guidelines for land registration process in Tonga.

Kaniva News contacted the Minister for comment and asked why was the meetings not publicly announced on the Ministry’s Facebook account as the Ministry did before they travelled to Australia in December.

While we were waiting for a response, an announcement of the meetings was later posted to the Ministry’s Facebook this morning.

It says meetings would be held in Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston, North Hamilton and completed in Auckland with “one-on-one” appointment.

It also listed the delegation as the Minister including his wife Lady Tu’i’afitu, Deputy CEO, Surveying Services/Corporate Viliami Folau, Services Senior Urban Planner Makakaufaki Matekitonga ; Chief Draftsman Sione Leki ; Land Registration Officer Warwick Vea ; Land Registration Officer ‘Amipelela Tokelau , Quality Control and Assurance Officer Siuola Feinga Nai and the Minister’s Secretary ‘Ilaisaane Sefana

The Christchurch meetings were only made public yesterday on Tongan Society South Canterbury Facebook account.

It said the meetings would be held at the Fale Lotu Fakakoosipeli Methodist Church, 42 Sommerset Cres, Christchurch on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 at 9am to 5pm.

“This is an opportunity for the people in Christchurch to meet with the Minister Lord Tu‘i‘afitu and his staff”, the post read in Tongan.

As we reported previously, the Australian trip triggered a strong negative reaction since this same Ministry made a similar excursion in 2010s. Its report on people’s concerns was published, but no action seems to have been taken so far.

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