Pacific News Minute: “Tongasat” Scandal Escalates

Sep 26, 2018

Tonga's Parliament
Credit Pilgrim81 / Wikimedia Commons

“Tongasat” may never gain the renown of “Watergate” or “Iran-Contra,” but the scandal in the tiny Pacific kingdom involves 50 million dollars in Chinese funds, a princess and now the government wants to sue two former prime ministers.

Back in 2006, China placed a satellite in geo-synchronous orbit at 130 degrees east. Not a major story anywhere except 22,236 miles directly below in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Nations that lie along the equator do not get special rights to the orbits above, but Tonga has always been an active player in space.

After some legal wrangling, China agreed to pay just under 50 million dollars, and sent the checks to Tongasat – a privately owned company that manages the Kingdom’s extraterrestrial activities.

80 percent of Tongasat is held by Princess Salote Pilolevu, the rest by its founder, American Matt Nilson.

Five years ago, an opposition parliamentarian and Tonga’s Public Service Association filed suit, arguing that the funds should have gone to the government instead. Last month, Tonga’s Supreme Court agreed.

Akilisi Pohiva
Credit ITU Pictures / Flickr

The opposition MP who filed the suit, Akilisi Pohiva, is now prime minister of Tonga. Last week, according to the website Matangi Tonga, Prime Minister Pohiva discovered an Auditor General’s report from 2012 that reached the same conclusion, and declared that every member of parliament ought to go to jail for ignoring its findings – himself included.

He suggested that MPs take turns serving time on weekends and mornings. Then, this week, the prime minister set off an uproar in parliament, when he proposed to sue two former prime ministers for misappropriation of the Tongasat funds.