Australian/New Zealand national trade union umbrellas fund political case in Tonga

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A Radiothon to fund a New Zealand barrister to bring civil prosecution against the Tongan government and private company, Tongasat, raised just under half of the target of TOP73,200 (NZ50,000), including over 10,000 from foreign donors.

The case is as much political as it is legal, as it is spearheaded by two high-profile politicians who are running in the November elections.

Chair of the PTOA, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, has partnered with Public Servants Association President Mele ‘Amanaki in seeking an injunction to return US$25 million alleged to have been illegally paid to Tongasat.

Both are hoping to gain political capital from the case against the Tongan Government, Tongan company Tongasat, and HRH Princess Pilolevu Tuita.

Pohiva told The Tonga Herald that more donations are on the way, and there may need to be another ‘walkathon’ fundraiser to reach the target if needed.

The concerned $25 million was paid by the Chinese government to the Tongan government, under an “Economic and Technical Cooperation” scheme. According to the Tongan Government, the payment was by the China Electronic Systems Engineering Corporation, earmarked for Tongasat, and conveyed through the Tongan government.

When the fundraiser opened, ‘Amanaki announced that the Australian Council of Trade Unions had pledged AUD5000, and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions pledged NZD5000 to the cause. The Elections Commission is yet to determine if this is considered ‘campaign financing.’

‘Amanaki also stated that contributions were pre-allocated: the Public Servants Association would shoulder half of the target, and the rest of the cost to be distributed evenly to the 17 constituencies of Tonga.

The PSA, and the constituencies put together, would then have to raise TOP36,600 each. This meant that each constituency had to cough up TOP2,150 each.

At the end of the fundraiser at 2pm, ‘Amanaki announced on BroadComm Radio that the PSA managed to raise TOP15,346.19, and other donations, plus donations from the constituencies, managed TOP17,376.39, bringing the total to TOP32,722.

In the claim against Government and Tongasat, plaintiffs Pohiva and ‘Amanaki also seek that the defendants bear the legal costs.

According to Pohiva, if they win the case, those funds received for legal fees would go towards establishing a permanent fund dedicated to prosecuting Government.

Pohiva says the suit is not an isolated attempt, but is part of a longer multi-decade battle against government. He links the initiative to other incidents in the past, spanning 30 years.

He also says that Harrison’s willingness to take on the case, is a sign that the case has real grounds for success. However, Harrison is not betting on the outcome and has demanded his fees not tied to the outcome of the case, hence the fundraising.

One way or another, the case will likely affect the elections approaching in November.

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