Chair of the Paati Temokalati ‘Otumotu Anga’ofa (PTOA), ‘Akilisi Pohiva, has appealed to the Chinese government for political influence in a supposed business deal involving Tongan and Chinese satellite businesses.
Pohiva gave The Tonga Herald a copy of his letter to the Ambassador last Thursday, and said he had circulated a copy to other media. However he was specifically concerned that Radio/TV Tonga has not mentioned anything about it in their newscasts.
There is current political hoohah on the issue of satellite orbit positions, registered under Tonga at the ITU, and operated by the Friendly Islands Satellite Communications Limited (Tongasat).
A government inter-departmental correspondence was leaked to the media and the Representative, which stated “That Cabinet approves that the agreement for outright sale of the orbital slots 134˚ E and 138˚ E is approved in principle, subject to confirmation and final legal advice from the Attorney General’s office.”
In Pohiva’s letter to China’s Ambassador Huang, dated July 23rd, 2014, Pohiva writes: “…I strongly urge that you please influence the matter by putting a hold to negotiations to this sales agreement.”
“I am writing to bring an urgent and serious matter to your attention regarding the sale of two of Tonga’s orbital slots to a Chinese registered company.
“I have recently been informed of Tonga’s Cabinet decision that approved for the agreement of the outright sale of two of Tonga’s orbital slots 134 E and 138 E in May of this year.”
The Representative asks the Ambassador to disregard sovereign international restraints, and internal sovereign political decisions of the Tongan Government, and instead view Pohiva as the more legitimate representative of the national interests.
“As a representative of the people in Parliament, this has raised an immediate and grave concern over an absolute decision by Cabinet over what I firmly believe to be national assets belonging to the people of the Kingdom of Tonga.”
“This Cabinet decision is deemed unjust in the sense that it has outrightly and deliberately omitted the input of the people, by excluding the Parliament of Tonga, where we, the representatives of the people, can voice the views of the people (the rightful owners of these orbital properties). The complete absence of the voice of the people of Tonga in this matter is undemocratic and highly intolerable.”
“I realize that the ball is no longer in Cabinet’s court. In this regard, I strongly urge that you please influence the matter by putting a hold to negotiations to this sales agreement until it is raised and appropriately addressed in the Legislative Assembly. The Parliament’s decision should be final and more importantly, inclusive of the citizens of this country. Only until then will the matter be laid to rest until justice served for the people of Tonga.”
Pohiva’a ambitious gambit looks to escalate issues beyond the ambit of domestic ‘low politics’ into the realm of the bigger players of ‘high politics’.
The matter of the geo-stationary satellite slots, which is the jurisdiction of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is currently charging local political debate.
The interpretation of the slots being ‘property of the Tongan people’, and implying that the people are “the rightful owners of these orbital properties”, seems to show a lack of understanding over who “owns” the slots. The interpretation contradicts international law. They are in fact a global commons administered by the ITU which then gave Tonga limited rights to them for a certain period of time. ITU giveth and ITU can take away. This confusion over the ‘owners’ is further aggravating already skewed opinions of Government.
The Minister of Justice, William Clive Edwards, has denied the allegations of “outright sales”, saying the memo was mislabelled, and should not be misread.
A lack of understanding of the facts is unnecessarily polarising the community, especially regarding Tongasat, majority-owned by HRH Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita.
Even though Pohiva wants decisions regarding the slots to be done under Parliament, he did not indicate if Parliament will decide otherwise (or maintain) Cabinet’s current approach as these may have been done under contracts and the renegotiation of agreements.
Pohiva has lodged criminal and civil suits against Tongasat and the Tongan Government over payments the company received from its clients in China. Pohiva and Co. demand government should seize the funds because the payments were made through an ‘economic and technical cooperation’ regime between Tonga and China, and so should not be directed towards a private company but utilised for national development.
Whatever the response would be from the Ambassador, it will be sure add to the tenor of the political arsenal of the Representative.
Given the wide inaccuracy and insinuations of the letter, it is assumed that the letter isn’t exactly intended for the Ambassador and his influence. In fact, most countries in the world (democratic or not), shudder at the idea of Chinese — or any major power’s — interference in their internal matters. Rather, the letter seems to be aimed at shaping wider public perception.
It is also interesting that Mr. Pohiva asked China, and not some other government, to intervene in the negotiations, given that China itself wants to engage with Tongasat.
It is clear that the Tongan government has not invested in the acquisition of orbital slots — those costs were wholly shouldered by Tongasat — even though the Tongan government has received in excess of several tens of millions in US foreign earnings directly from the company’s marketing efforts.
An exclusive agency agreement, where Tongasat monopolised operation of the slots, was ended in 2009 and the industry was opened up for other investors from Tonga. So far, there’s been no indication of any company capable or willing to operate in the new space arena.