News Briefs: Watermelon update; Catholic Education owes $500,000; ‘Eua funds; ‘Atu Finau named CEO

Ngaahi ongoongo kehekehe mei Tonga




By Kalafi Moala


Temporary Export Pathway opened for watermelon shipments to New Zealand

The Tonga Watermelons Export Pathway is now declared temporary opened by the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) after more than two months of shipments being banned from entry into New Zealand.

Crates of returned watermelons from New Zealand

The ban was due to the discovery of three larvae of fruit fly on one of the shipments in early October. It was due to fumigation treatment that was not done right on the Tonga side, and fruit fly larvae was discovered by New Zealand at the border.

However, after waiting patiently for weeks on end, watermelon growers and exporters are again happy with the temporary lifting of the ban. Paula Mosa’ati, National Coordinator – Tonga of PHAMA Plus Program sent out a communique that “ten trial shipments are allowed immediately.”

Despite this tremendous news just three weeks before Christmas, there still has not been any financial help or assistance from the Government to the tremendous loss suffered by the growers and exporters up to this point.


Catholic education will have to pay back $500,000

Director of Catholic Education, Soane Vahe

At least $500,000 will be required to be paid back by Catholic Education as audited reports on subsidy funds from Government to non-government schools have determined misuse. Funds given as subsidy to help supplement teacher salaries have been spent on other things, not allowed by the subsidy rules.

This program of Government assistance started in 1987 with $20 per student head, but raised to $700 per head now, with TVET institutions at $1200 per head.
This is apparently a problem that will involve other education programs like the Free Wesleyan Church schools, that are currently undergoing auditing.

Most of education in Tonga at the intermediate and high school level is provided by non-Government schools, run mostly by mainline churches.

However, there has not been any response from Catholic Education as to what happened, and how they are going to repay the huge amount misused. It is understood that the Ministry of Education is holding back the release of any further funding until the misuse of school subsidies be rectified.

Contact made with Director of Catholic Education, Mr. Soane Vahe, has gone without any response. Mr. Vahe heads the Board that oversees the running of Catholic schools, including the handling of finances for the schools.

‘Eua: When is all the money to be distributed?

Money to be spent on Community Police for ‘Eua 11 is said to be only $1000 per village for the financial year 2020/2021. With quite a number of villages on ‘Eua, the amount is obviously not going to be enough as there are still 15 townships altogether, meaning there will be $15,000 expenditure for all the villages.

Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau and wife, Mele Lavemaau
photo credit: Eua Kosilio

But ‘Eua residents are still awaiting $35,000 funds yet to be distributed as part of the funds that come through the People’s Representative. In the meantime, the company belonging to the wife of the Minister of Finance, Tevita Lavemaau, is purchasing an excavator for cutting trees.
Guess who will get the contracts for cutting of trees in ‘Eua? And guess who is getting the contract for maintenance of roadsides all over ‘Eua?


Vava’u: the Prayer and Fasting Tour goes to Vava’u

The Government’s Prayer and Fasting Tour of the islands is scheduled for Vava’u next week. This is the third of five tours planned for the country, in a controversial Government program that uses religion as a cover for political campaigning, and a leisure tour for Ministers that include their wives.

The Prime Minister also confirms in a public statement that there is a $95 per diem per day for any wife of a Minister that travels with the group.

The Prime Minister encourages his Ministers and officials to take their wives on the trip, as this shows how important it is for leaders to be close to their women. He has also hit out at critics of his Fasting Tours calling them “wife beaters.” In the meantime, the Peoples Party of which he is the Chairman, have issued a statement through the Deputy Chair, ‘Etuate Lavulavu, attacking the work of the Women’s Crisis Center, saying it has no value in Tonga, and that they are only in it for the funding.
After Vava’u, the remaining Fasting Tours are Tongatapu and Niua.


Tongan appointed at CEO of Air Vanuatu

One of the biggest airlines owned by a Pacific nation has named a Tongan as its CEO. ‘Atu Finau, 56, who is also a resident of New Zealand has worked for Air Vanuatu for more than 25 years as a licensed engineer.

‘Atu Finau

He is credited with the technical knowledge of the airline’s fleet ranging from ATR 72-500 to Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

The appointment, was effective on 26 October 2020, six years after Mr. Finau left the airline in 2014 as general manager.

Mr. Finau is one of those who attempted to start Fly Niu airlines in Tonga, but was not successful, and had to leave the kingdom.

But he told Kaniva News in New Zealand that he hopes his new appointment would create an opportunity for a destination link between Tonga and Vanuatu.

This concludes our news briefs from the Kingdom with the latest news and updates.


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