OPINION – PM are you serious about hosting the 2019 Pacific Games?
By ILIESA TORA
NUKU’ALOFA-June 14: 8.40pm (Nuku’alofa Times): It has now become clear that the Government of Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva does not really care whether Tonga gets to host the 2019 Pacific Games or not.
Comments made by at least two staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, including the Chief Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Secretary to Cabinet, to the media (Radio New Zealand International) in the past week confirms that the top notch of Government’s attempt has been to derail the work done by the previous Government of Lord Tu’ivakano.
It is now obvious that the statements made by PM Pohiva after the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea, where he stated that his Government is keen to see the Games hosted here, has been just lip-service, especially since just a few days earlier he had also slammed the plan to have the Games held here.
The continuing attempts made by the Prime Minister to displace Lord Sevele from his position as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the 2019 Pacific Games Organizing Committee confirms the fact that he has some political issues with the former Prime Minister he (PM Pohiva) had opposed during his days on the Opposition Bench.
Games Master Plan
Lord Tu’ivakano’s Government had supported the Tonga Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee’s bid to get the Games here.
That bid also received the Palace’s approval and the Tongan Delegation succeeded when they were given the right to host the Games.
Not wasting any time, the Government then put in place legislations that allowed the setting up of the necessary systems to cater for the preparatory phase, with the setting up of the Organizing Committee and the subsequent appointment of staff done.
Government then worked with the Organizing Committee to draw up a Games Masterplan, which was endorsed by the Pacific Games Council, using the theme “The Walking Games”.
But that Master Plan took almost 12 months sitting with Government before it was changed and then approved.
The President of the Pacific Games Council, Mr Vidhya Lakhan of Fiji, told the media last year that they were happy with the Master Plan because it encompassed the theme that Tonga had proposed when they presented their bid.
“The Walking Games” meant that majority of the sporting venues would be in the vicinity of the Athletes’ Village plus accessible to members of the public, who can just walk to watch the different sports events during the Games.
With the exception of the Golf Course and the Indoor Stadium at ‘Atele, majority of the other sports facilities were planned around the greater Nuku’alofa area – including the current Te’ufaiva Stadium complex, the Queen Salote Memorial Hall and the marked Tonga Side School ground.
Lord Sevele was appointed Chairman of the Organizing Committee Board, which included Lord Tupou, businessman Ross Chapman and former rugby international Fakahau Valu, amongst others.
The former TASANOC Secretary General and President was also appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Organizing Committee, a move that was endorsed and approved by the Lord Tu’ivakano Government, TASANOC and the Pacific Games Council.
Since the Lord Tu’ivakano Government was busy with finishing off their political term and ensuring that the country was ready for the 2014 General Elections, the Lord Sevele-led Committee were also tasked with organizing the initial stages of the Games Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, apart from their delegated job of administering the organization.
The recruitment of a number of personnel to help out with the facilitation of tasks started in earnest, to ensure that the systems and procedures were in place.
The Organizing Committee started to show their concerns with the delay in Government’s endorsement of the Master Plan, which eventually was done late last year.
As part of their work plan, the Organizing Committee started looking for funds to help the initial operation.
That enabled the Committee to start functioning and doing some of the initial work that was needed to be done.
Prime Minister Pohiva is on record for questioning the Games’ successful hosting here and Tonga’s ability to host the major sporting event in the Pacific during a number of media interviews last year.
He changed his tune just after the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby.
But since then he has tried four times to remove Lord Sevele and his committee – with various excuses – the latest being the fact that the committee’s job has now been reduced.
That call has been made by the Games Audit & Governance Authority (AGA).
Their statement on the issue said that the Authority has approved that the position of PG2019 OG CEO/Chairman is to be vacated by the incumbent Lord Sevele-‘o-Vailahi with effect from 4.30pm, Friday 27 May 2016.
“The AGA has further approved that the Solicitor General shall be appointed Interim CEO/Chairman of the OC until further notice,” the statement said.
“This decision is based on the significant downgrade of the role of the OC CEO/Chairman since 5 February 2016. This occurred when the Government Facilities Committee (GFC) took over the majority of the OC’s role and having inherited over 60 percent of the responsibilities of the OC CEO/Chairman. The position is currently being re-evaluated by the Remuneration Authority before it will be re-advertised in due course.
“The decision is in line with Tonga as a sovereign state, Tonga’s Public Financial Management Act for frugal and prudent utilization of its public funds, and the Pacific Games Organization Act 2013 aimed for the successful implementation of the PG2019 in Tonga.
“The PG2019 belongs to the Pacific Games Council (PGC) but its successful implementation depends to a larger extent in the hosting country – the recipient of their product.
“The Government of Tonga, as a sovereign state, is not to submit to the PGC to decide for Tonga on who to employ to facilitate the PG2019.”
Games Council response
The Pacific Games Council sent a response to the statement and stated they do not recognize the Authority’s decision.
That threw the future of the Pacific Games in Tonga into the open, with the possibility of the Games eventually being pulled away from the Kingdom.
“The Pacific Games Council (PGC) does not recognise the actions taken last week to remove the CEO/Chairman of the Tonga 2019 Pacific Games Organising Committee (TPGOC),” Games Council President Lakhan said in the statement.
“In accordance with the PGC Constitution ( Protocol 2), the 2019 Games Host Contract (Clause 1.6), signed by the Tongan Government on 19th October, 2012 (when TASANOC won the right to host the 2019 Pacific Games) and Tonga’s own Pacific Games Organisation Act 2013 (Section 9 ) (which was approved by the Tongan Parliament), the powers of hiring and removing members of the TPGOC resides with the TPGOC, the PGC’s member association in TONGA, which is TASANOC, and the PGC itself. Such powers are not the remit of the Audit & Governance Authority or any other party.
“Article 4 of the Pacific Games Council Constitution states that the “Responsibility for the direction and control of the Pacific Games is vested in the Council. The Council is the supreme and decisive authority in all matters concerning the Pacific Games. Any person or organisation belonging or having any relationship with, in any capacity whatsoever to the Council shall be bound by the provision of the Council Charter, and shall abide by the decisions of the Council”.
“In relation to this matter Article 4 has been invoked and the move to vacate the TPGOC CEO/Chairman’s position is thus null and void.
“TASANOC will be holding fresh elections on 16th June, and we will work closely with the incoming Executive Committee of TASANOC to ensure all stakeholders fully understand their individual roles and responsibilities and more importantly deliver on their commitments in a timely manner to ensure a successful 2019 Tonga Pacific Games,” Lakhan added.
So where to from here?
Lord Sevele has remained in office with his staff and have not buckled under the pressure.
Meanwhile, the Games Council has started seeking legal advise on the matter.
The utterances by both the CEO in the Prime Minister’s Office and a senior staff via Radio New Zealand International confirms the notion that maybe the PM and his team do not really care whether the Games is going to be held here or not.
Time will tell what the next phase will be!
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