Tonga Development Bank CEO allegedly steps down amid dispute with company over loan for prior project: Reports

‘Emeline Tuita has allegedly stepped down as chief executive of Tonga Development Bank (TDB), according to reports.

‘Emeline Tuita

Several local online news outlets and social media sources ran the news citing various sources.

RTTI Livestream news programme, citing unidentified TDB sources and BroadCom FM87.5 Broadcasting , reported a decision by TDB top authorities to stand down Tuita along with its Chairman.

A report by Tonga Independent, citing reliable sources, claimed Tuita and TDB board Chairman Peni Vea had been stood down.

Kaniva News contacted Tuita for comment.

In 2013, Tonga Rugby Union (TRU) reportedly terminated Tuita’s  probation period with the union and to be effective immediately.

TRU in its resolution to cease Tuita’s probationary term said her recruitment did not follow the proper procedure.

In 2018, Tuita’s contract with the Ministry of Tourism as chief executive was terminated amid allegations of misconduct, abuse of power and disobedience in the Ministry.

As Kaniva News reported at the time, strife between the Minister Sēmisi Sika and Tuita during the hosting of the Mate Ma’a Tonga team while they visited Tonga after the 2017 World Cup was also revealed.

Tuita was also accused of using her ministerial position to benefit her own private business.

We contacted Tuita at the time for comment.


The latest allegation comes in the wake of speculation and controversy surrounding a proposal to construct a luxury centre on royal land  in Tonga.

Latest twist

It has been claimed that a proposal was first raised last year by the Low Company, which sought funding from the TDB.  However, the owners of the Cost Low supermarket are in now dispute with the TDB since the project at the king’s estate in Tufumāhina, has apparently stalled.

Now the TDB has announced the construction of a luxury resort on royal land at Polata’ane. It did not say who was going to construct the project, but the TDB appears to be claiming credit for the project.

According to a report by the Tongan Independent the Cost Low Company has filed an application for an Injunction on a Mortgage Notice issued by TDB.

The dispute appears to date from a meeting in March last year between TBC CEO Emeline Tuita and the head of Royco Group, owners of Cost Low, Charlotte Cocker Tu’i’ile’ila. Cost Low had secured a government construction contract in Tufumāhina. It is understood Cocker wanted to refinance Cost Low, requiring financial support from TDB.

The Independent reported that the proposal involved merging the Royco Group’s debts into a new entity for the project with the bank owning 80% and Cost Low owning 20% to clear Costlow’s debts. The Independent said the decision was officially confirmed in a letter from TDB’s CEO to Royco Group’s directors on March 20.

On March 26, TDB invested $2.184 million into Cost Low. However, on March 27, an unexpected delay occurred when Mrs. Cocker’s accountant came to execute share transfer documents for the new SPV. There was still no progress by April.

Cocker claimed there had been a serious breach of confidentiality related to Cost Low’s banking affairs. She claimed a third party has been making enquiries regarding the contract held by Cost Low.

Cost Low’s legal representative sent letters to the Reserve Bank on April 12, alerting them to the confidentiality breach.

The independent claimed there had been no official response, but on August 8 the Development Bank issued a Mortgage Notice, alleging defaults on securities and saying it intended to take possession of Cost Low’s property.

An internal National Reserve Bank of Tonga document  seen by Kaniva News appears to show it was concerned at the amount of the TDB’s exposure to debt totalling $TP6.6 million through the Cost Low loan.

It said the TDB’s liquidity rate had fallen for, among other reasons, the acquisition of Cost Low assets and development rights at the Tufumāhina property.

The NRBT report said decisions around the Cost Low loan had been taken “without due diligence to protect TDB’s interests.”

According to the former editor of Kele’a newspaper, Mateni Tapueluelu, Cost Low has taken legal action against TDB’s CEO Emeline Tuita. Cost Low has accused the bank and CEO Tuita of failing  to perform their duties under an agreement to process a loan to fund the Special Project Vehicle (SPV) to consolidate the Cost Low and Royco businesses.

Tapueluelu named the first plaintiff is Cost Low director Charlotte Jane Cocker Tu’i’ile’ila, and the second plaintiffs are Cost Low Company Limited, Tuapasio Nufahu Tu’i’ile’ila and Royco Developments Limited.

Tapueluelu said that according to the statement of claim, Cocker submitted her business plan to the TDB and told the bank the royal estate agent had approved in principle the company’s application to lease lands at the king’s estate at Matatoa for 70 years. The lease value was $TP6 million and this was part of the company’s loan.

It was alleged that the bank had paid the TOP$6 million lease to the king from the bank and not from Cost Low, which had applied for the loan. Tapueluelu said the kings’ agent said the payment should have come from Cost Low, not the bank.

It also showed CEO Tuita of the bank insisted the payment was still from Cost Low but since the bank would have shares of 80 percent in the SPV the bank could issue the payment directly to the king.

However, lawyer Edwards for the plaintiffs argued that the Cost Low loan was no longer being processed.  He said the plaintiffs had told the bank the project would be in three phases including three two – storey buildings and, in another phase, a convention centre and other accommodations to be leased out to the government.

However, the TDB’s lawyer, Teimumu Tapueluelu, said the deal had not been approved and the bank has a legal obligation to seize any securities or properties to cover overdue debts.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer has argued the agreements and mutual understanding between the bank and the plaintiffs caused the plaintiffs to begin working on the project and that should be regarded as a mutual agreement.

This month the Tongan Development Bank announced plans to build a luxury centre at Polata’ane, in the royal estate.

The bank said the project would include a conference centre, a restaurant, two luxury villas with 23 apartments and a swimming pool and bar. 

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news