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Minister accuses media of threatening him over questions arising from road contract scandal

Efforts to re-build Tonga’s roads are again the centre of scandal with the Minister for Infrastructure reacting furiously to questions from a local news service about the awarding of new contracts for the project.

Minister of Infrastructure Sevenitini Toumo’ua. Photo/Fale Alea ‘o Tonga

Rather than denying the allegations through Parliamentary or government channels, Infrastructure Minister Sevenitini Toumo’ua’s took to Facebook to attack the news service.

Editor of VPON Media and Broadcasting Sylvester Tonga wrote to Hon Sevenitini Toumo’ua this week asking whether he was guilty of nepotism for awarding new roading contracts to Luna’eva and two other companies for prices far above the previous contracts.

The contracts had been awarded by the previous government of Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa to City Engineering and Construction Ltd, Island Dredging Ltd and Inter-Pacific Ltd to supply the rocks at a cost of TP$70 per truck. Tonga said the new contractors were charging TP$300 for a truck load of rocks equal to 3.8 cubic metres.

He said the Minister was open to accusations of misusing his powers by agreeing to the deal with the companies without going through the government’s procurement committee. He alleged that hundreds of thousands of pa’anga had been paid based on the higher price.


It had been widely reported in the Tongan media that the court had ruled that the three original contractors had recently won a court case against the Hu’akavameiliku government for revoking their contracts.

However, it appears that despite the recent court decision, the Minister of Infrastructure apparently stood by his decision to award new contracts.

Tonga claimed the government might have to pay millions of pa’anga in compensation to the previous contractors.

“Why didn’t you return the supply of coral fill to the previous three companies?” he asked in his letter to the Minister.

“Why did you give the contracts to companies which cost the government an amount about four times bigger than the previous three companies?

“Are there grounds for you to resign?”

In his response to the questions from the VPON Media and Broadcasting editor, Hon. Toumo’ua said: “This news organisation is trying to steal justice from the country. And it looks like it is trying to threaten me. Don’t worry the truth cannot be hidden.”

Road scandal

As Kaniva News has previously reported, former Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa’s multi-million pa’anga road project was mired in controversy from the start.

The Prime Minister was accused of practising nepotisms and breaching the Cabinet Manual’s conflict of interest rules. Hon. Tu’i’onetoa was accused of offering the contracts to companies which appeared to have been set up by friends and relatives of his Cabinet Ministers just to benefit from contracts.

Critics said none of them had provided roading services before.

Other companies, including Luna’eva and Five Star, had operated for years serving the country with roading project but the Tu’i’onetoa disregarded them, saying their costs were too expensive.

Much of the work was heavily criticised. Roads in Tongatapu and  Vava’u which were repaired, renewed and constructed under the project were badly damaged. Critics said the damage was the result of unprofessional work, lack of upkeep and lack of serious purpose.

Last year Hon. Hu’akavameiliku was asked in Parliament to explain the repayment of the $18 million loan to fund what appeared to be a failed government roading project.


Back in 2020 we had this to say about Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa’s handling of the road contracts scandal: “Government is all about perception. That is a vital lesson that this government  needs to learn. All of the guidance to MPs and public servants around the world that we have seen says that governments must be seen to be above reproach.”

It was a lesson that Hon. Tu’i’onetoa never seemed to learn, whether in his handling of the road scandal, the Lavulavus or his grand tour to promote fasting.

Now it appears that it is a lesson that Hon. Toumo’ua will have to learn for himself.