The Legislative Assembly has been asked to intervene in Tonga’s effort to host the 2019 Pacific Games.
This was conveyed in a Motion for an Order on 2019 Sports tabled by ‘Eua Noble Representative and Ha’apai 12 Vili Hingano on Monday.
Parliament was specifically asked to instruct Government to host the upcoming South Pacific Games.
This follows the PM’s confirmation in Parliament of his Cabinet’s decision and Tonga’s withdrawal its hosting rights due to financial difficulties. He added this is Cabinet’s best in tackling the sports issue.
At the same time Parliament was informed of the Cabinet’s approval to repeal the Pacific Games Act 2013.
The PM was optimistic that Tonga will be in financial trouble if the country will host the 2019 South Pacific Games.
Hon. Pohiva said he has met with the President of the Pacific Games Council twice and freely expressed to him the Government’s stance on sports.
He said he was signing a letter formalizing Tonga’s withdrawal its hosting rights on Monday with anticipation that TASANOC and the Pacific Games will act likewise. However, he was convinced should the other two parties act otherwise Government will stand its ground on the sports issue.
In the current form of Appropriation Bill received by the Legislative Assembly on Monday the Estimates, Budget and the Budget Statement includes allocation of funding to build facilities and infrastructure for the development of sports.
The Hon. Prime Minister said building of sports facilities and infrastructure will continue for the development of sports in Tonga but the hosting the Pacific Games will be somewhere else.
Therefore he was adamant adjustments is needed to the proposed budget 2017/2018 following Papua New Guinea’s withdrawal its pledge of TOP$33 million assistance to Tonga.
This prompted a seven paged Motion for a Resolution which is calling for Parliament to instruct the Cabinet to continue with its effort to host the 2019 Pacific Games. Clearly, it also stated should Cabinet maintain its stance on sport, then the proposed Budget be modified.
Tonga’s bid to host South Pacific Games was successful in 2012. Since then, the Cabinet has been working tirelessly in formulating legislation and government policy aims to generate the much needed revenue for the event.
The motion for a Resolution maintains with Tonga hosting the sports, it will further develop our economy and benefit the financial sectors.
It also maintained that in the 2016/2017 Budget TOP$10 million was allocated for the Pacific Games and further TOP$25 million allocation in 2017/2018 financial year. This is financed through the collection of levy on foreign exchange and special tax incentives like departure tax to provide support for funding the Games.
Other financial support from donor countries such as China, New Zealand and Australia is included in the budget support.
The motion for a Resolution also pointed out that Tonga’s official foreign reserve level is in a significant higher growth rate compared to previous years. In the 2015/2016 financial year Tonga recorded a 53.4 million of foreign reserves with further prediction of around $70 million in the current financial year that ends on June 30.
According to the motion for a Resolution this foreign reserve level will help to fund the Pacific Games and can also cater for any Government events in the future.
Breaching the hosting right agreement is another issue of concern raised in the Motion for a Resolution. The Government has signed a contract for hosting of the Games between the Pacific Games Council, the Tonga Games Council and the Tongan Government.
Tonga has paid more than TOP$1 million for the hosting right covering the 2016 and 2017 years.
According to the contract, the host Government undertakes to support, facilitate and fully underwrite the financing, staging and organization of the Games. However, with the cancellation its hosting right, Tonga will not be able to refund millions of payments to the Pacific Games Council.
Also, there are legal fees to also consider in breaching the Pacific Games Sports contract.
When the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Tu’ivakano questioned the PM whether he is aware of the legal implications and consequences of Tonga’s withdrawal its hosting rights, Hon. Pohiva replied he was aware of it.
At the same time the Government has wasted over TOP$3million on the Organising Committee since 2014. According to the Motion for a Resolution on sports, the expenses incurred will also increase as well to cover additional 3 million for the renovation of Teufaiva Stadium.
Other operating costs involved a TOP$1 million for the building of new golf course at Popua and other related costs involved including the renovation of the ‘Atele Indoor Stadium. Payments will also be made to companies that Government has subcontracted for implementation of the sports project.
Another issue of concern is the reputation of Tonga. The motion for a Resolution also mentioned the cancellation of sports will tarnish the country’s good name and also impact Tonga’s negotiation on sports in the future.
The PM was given a right to reply to the sport issues raised in the Motion for a Resolution. He was advised by the Speaker to respond to the issues raised when the House sat earlier this week. When he replied to the sports issue, he made reference to an English document that was circulated in the Chamber.
The Deputy Speaker Lord Tu’i’afitu told Parliament the PM has breached for the second time the Clause 21 of the House Rules. That is tabling a document in the Chamber without following the proper procedure.
This is after Vava’u Number 2 Noble Representative, Lord Tu’ilakepa raised the same issue. Apparently, the PM’s reply which was in English was circulated by Hon. Pohiva in the Chamber without following the proper process. Lord Tu’ilakepa said the proper channel involves the submission of the document to the Clerk for registration, then screened by the Privilege Committee before it’s tabled in Parliament.
‘Eua Noble Representative Lord Nuku questioned the rationale behind the Cabinet’s submission of an English documented paper to Parliament yet Tongan is its official language used.
In response the Hon. Minister of Police Mateni Tapueluelu said English is the official language used in Government but in Parliament Tongan is the official language. He proposed for the postponement of discussion on the matter since the debate on PM’s reply was getting nowhere.
Hon. Tapueluelu also called for a translation of the PM’s document into Tongan to comply with the House Rules. While at the same, the PM was also asked to respond accordingly to 23 points raised in the Motion for a Resolution.
The Minister of Health, Hon. Saia Piukala also argued that Cabinet was only given 2 hours from 12pm-2pm to respond to the Motion for a Resolution. Hence, it was insufficient time to provide a quality and thorough response to the House.
Meanwhile the Legislative Assembly of Tonga resumes sitting today to consider the Tongan version of the PM’s reply.