By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – Four top staff members of the Tonga Power Limited (TPL) who were suspended in a highly controversial episode have finally been reinstated with no conditions imposed. There was information leaked out from the public enterprise earlier this month that the suspended four have been allowed by the Board to return to work but under certain conditions.
It was not revealed what the conditions were, but it is understood that the suspended four refused to be reinstated under the conditions imposed on them.
After 21/2 months of being suspended from their jobs, the Board has now agreed to reinstate them with no conditions imposed. A letter of reinstatement from the CEO, Seti Chen, indicated that the four staff members may commence work on Monday 14 December, 2020.
This is a great moral and administrative victory for the four staff members, who have always insisted on their innocence concerning what they called drummed-up charges against them. They were also very concerned for the welfare of TPL, and that the services would be at premium level helping the people of Tonga.
The suspended staff are former Acting CEO, Steven ‘Esau; Financial Controller, Ma’ata Mone ‘Aho; Procurement Manager/Project Accountant ‘Ahota’e’iloa ‘Elisiva; and Tupou Kolokihakaufisi of Human Resources.
Fangongo Media Watch has followed the story of the TPL saga from the beginning, simply because of alleged mishandling of justice by the Board of Directors in relation to a number of issues that unfolded at TPL.
A mother of four, Sosefina Maileseni was witnessed by co-workers, and caught having sex with someone not her husband on top of one of the “koila” at TPL. She and her sex partner were alleged to have been under the influence of alcohol. She did not deny the sexual activity but went ballistic in making all kinds of wild accusations of misconduct against other staff members, including the suspended four.
Sosefina was at the center of the controversy that broiled over and deeply affected the public enterprise. The previous Board dismissed her but then the new Board re-employed her. She is still an employee of TPL, and in a sense was one of the main “investigators” trying to find things that would implicate the four staff members.
Obviously, the new Board under the chairmanship of Dr. ‘Aisake Eke believed her stories, and in an alleged co-ordinated attack with Board members ‘Ipolito Lasalo, Deputy Chair, and lawyer Senimili Tu’i’onetoa Fonua, the four staff members were suspended. They were accused without any proof that they had planned a strike among the workers of TPL, and also planned to shut down the power supply.
A letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Public Enterprises, Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, signed by TPL staff members, was alleged to be written by the suspended four. The letter simply expressed discontent among the staff about certain issues at TPL, including the re-employment of Sosefina, and what was alleged as biased participation of ‘Ipolito and Senimili in certain TPL operations.
‘Ipolito and Senimili headed up the committee assigned by the Board to investigate the four who were suspended. Questions were raised however, that these two Board members were also the two who were named in the letter to the PM. How fair can the investigation be if the ones accused of the infringement become the persons investigating the charges?
After 28 days of investigation without any findings that would justify the suspension or eventual dismissal of the four staff members, a new independent committee was set up. They were “to investigate and review the facts of the case and submit their findings to the Board.”
The new independent committee consisted of lawyer Posesi Bloomfield, accountant Aloma Johansson, and private investigator Ian Tu’ihalangingie.
Again, it is without doubt that because nothing can be found to justify any of the charges against the suspended four, they were initially ordered by the Board to be reinstated but with conditions. After they refused the conditions of reinstatement whatever they were, the suspended four are now reinstated without conditions.
It may be added that the suspended four had gotten a lawyer, and were ready to take legal action for what they have believed and experienced as unjust actions by the Board imposed on them. It is not known yet if they would still take legal action, now that they are reinstated without conditions. They were also suspended without pay. However, there are definitely issues of libel and defamation they could have suffered as a result of the decisions against them by the Board. The emotional and otherwise sufferings experienced by their families are also things that need to be taken into account.
It is also leaked out from within the Board that ‘Ipolito had threatened to resign from the Board because of his opposition to the reinstatement of the four staff. At one time he walked out, but then it is understood he came back and is still part of the Board.
The outcome for this lengthy TPL episode has been a good one for the suspended four staff members, even though they still have the right to demand compensation for the suffering they went through with their families for months.
The question still lingers how the Chairman, Dr. Aisake Eke, a man of repute and capable leadership, could allow such an expensive mess to occur and be prolonged at one of Tonga’s most lucrative companies?