Rows over Forbes scandal blows up as Moala and Dr Eke lash out at each other

The row between Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s media adviser Kalafi Moala and his Finance Minister over the Forbes scandal has blown up, with both men pointing the finger of blame at each other.

And now Moala claims he has proof of the Finance Minister’s involvement in a series of leaked e-mails.

Moala, who is editor of  Taimi-‘O-Tonga newspaper, has lashed out at Dr ‘Aisake Eke, saying he was not telling the truth, made an imprudent decision and of “falsely accusing” the Prime Minister when he said earlier this week that Hon. Pohiva knew the interview would be paid for before his Finance Ministry was made aware of it.

However, Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke has hit back and claimed Moala has wrongly accused him and breached his contract agreement with government to keep to ethics and professional standard of his performance.

The row stems from revelations that the Tongan government agreed to pay the prestigious American business magazine nearly a quarter of a million pa’anga for an interview and a two page spread on the kingdom. Two journalists from Forbes interviewed the Prime Minister earlier this year.

This kind of arrangement for paid editorial content for promotional purposes is not unusual. However, the leaked e-mails make it clear that for whatever reason, nobody in the government seems to have realised that any money would be involved, even though the people they were dealing with produced advertising supplements.

You can find a link to the Forbes article at the bottom of this story.

Dr Eke said he still fully supported the Prime Minister and was not making any accusations against him over the Forbes saga.

Dr Eke claimed Moala had a possible personal agenda to break up the government.

Moala made his statements about Dr Eke in response to comments Dr Eke made yesterday. The Minister said he was not an appropriate person to advise the Prime Minister and alleged he had misrepresented Dr Eke’s involvement with Forbes scandal.

The Finance Minister insisted that he was not aware that the interview would be paid for until the Prime Minister was interviewed.

Dr Eke said his statement, which was released yesterday, was mainly aimed at Moala. He said the newspaper publisher had scandalised the government by creating an “unnecessary problem” after disseminating misguided information about the government.

Dr Eke claimed Moala had abused his duty as a civil servant by releasing misinformation to demonise the government, even though he was paid by the government and from tax payers’ money.

Moala argued the Minister of Finance must take responsibility for his actions.

He said Dr Eke’s accusations were “reckless” and he was trying to shift the blame for the Forbes ordeal and he also demonstrated a serious failure to be transparent.

Moala said he did not think the Forbes article would benefit the kingdom.

Dr Eke said Moala had breached his contract with government by circulating wrong information which was not authorised by the Prime Minister’s Office or the government.

Moala told Kaniva News the statement he released regarding the Forbes debacle was his and was not referred to the Prime Minister’s Office because they would not approve it.

He published the article in Taimi-‘O-Tonga.

Dr Eke said if Moala followed the right procedure he might have been corrected by the Office.

Dr Eke said Moala had recently made a mistake in one of the Prime Minister’s Office press releases.

In a press release confirming the government would host the Pacific Games in 2019 earlier this month, Moala published that the government had agreed to a two cent charge on foreign exchange currency to help fund the Games.

However, the charge was supposed to be one cent and when Moala was asked where he got his information from he cited Matangi Tonga Online.

The press release was taken down and a technical error was blamed. A revised press release with the correct information was posted on August 5.

Dr Eke said Moala was wrong when he insisted that the Ministry of Finance organised the Forbes interview and its  payment.

Dr Eke said Cabinet approved the payment to the magazine.

He asked why Moala did not check with the Cabinet staff about the decision.

Conflict of interest

Dr Eke said Moala’s role as the Prime Minister’s media adviser conflicted with his work as owner of a newspaper and radio broadcasting station.

“My question is where is the ethics and professional standard of journalism when Kalafi is doing his role in government while at the same time he is making money from the news in his newspaper and radio?,” Dr Eke said.

Dr Eke said the Prime Minister had told the House in June that he knew there were criticisms about the payment and claims that it was a waste of money.

According to Tonga’s Legislative Assembly’s minute number 26  June, 23,  2015, Hon. Pohiva apologised to the House, saying if the amount was too much there would be a way to recover it.

Moala has provided copies of what he claims are e-mails between the government ministries and the Forbes officials to Kaniva News.

Moala claims the e-mails show the Finance Minister was solely responsible for organising the interview and how it was to be paid before the Prime Minister was informed.

Kaniva News publishes the following documents purely as a matter of public interest.

E-mails timeline

Saturday, 31 January 2015 7:17 AM

An e-mail was sent by Eduardo Magaña, Senior Features Director of Forbes Custom Magazine to Ms Tupou Sisilia Tonga, the Senior Assistant Secretary/Policy Support Division and cc’d to Former Interim Chief Secretary ‘Aholotu Palu and other senior officers in government.

In the e-mail, Magaña said he “will be travelling to Tonga, to land on the 9th of February.  I have been in touch with the Office of the Prime Minister and they will be providing with a confirmation letter as  I will be meeting with the Prime Minister, therefore I copy Tupou Tonga as she has been kind enough to organise the meeting and will be providing the confirmation letter.

February 2, 2015 4:50 PM

On February 2 Ms Tonga e-mailed Wesley Nam , the Director of Forbes Custom and asked him to confirm whether or not Eduardo Magaña Otega and Ms Sheila O’Callaghan were Forbes representatives. Ms Tupou also asked Nam to confirm if the request for the interview with the Prime Minister was genuine.

February 3, 2015 1:57 PM

On February 3, 2015 an e-mail from Ms Tonga was sent to Tonga’s Secretary For Foreign Affairs & Trade and cc’d to ‘Aholotu Palu and other senior officers in government.

In the e-mail Ms Tupou confirmed the request by Forbes representative Edward Magaña on January 31 was approved and to be done on February 9, 2015.

Tupou told the secretary the Forbes Representative claimed they were from Forbes Magazine.

“We would appreciate any other information that the San Francisco Consulate Office or New York Mission Office might be able to provide on Forbes CM&S”, Tupou said in her e-mail.

February 4, 2015 3:50 AM

On  February 4, 2015 a response from Wesley Nam was e-mailed to Ms Tupou. Apparently the e-mail was cc’d to other Forbes officials according to names on the email cc panel.

In the e-mail, Nam said:  “I can confirm that Forbes Custom Magazines & Sections (Impact Media) is a legitimate and trusted partner of Forbes Media.  They promote and produce country economic development and investment-themed special advertising sections that appear in Forbes magazine.”

March 3, 2015 3:39 PM

On March 3, 2015, an e-mail was sent from Ms Tonga to Sasinita Tapueluelu, an accountant at the Ministry of Finance and National Planning and was cc’d to ‘Aholotu Palu and others in the government.

In the e-mail, Ms Tupou told Tapueluelu the Prime Minister’s Office had not been  aware that the interview with the Hon. Pohiva would be paid for until she raised the matter it in her e-mail.

March 7, 2015

On March 7, 2015, a senior officer from the Prime Minister’s Office on behalf of the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet (CSSC) contacted Magaña.

The e-mail reads: “We are concerned and disappointed that you have sent an invoice to the Ministry of Finance for the payment of the transcript for the interview with the Hon. Prime Minister…. From the outset of our email communications up to the interview you never mentioned any costs or charges for the interview.  You had stated in your request letter and in the interview that you chose Tonga because of the election of the new Prime Minister and the Coronation in July.  You had asked for an interview not an advert as stated in your invoice.

“We are not prepared to pay such a significant amount for two pages in a publication.  You may have wasted our time and the Hon Prime Minister’s time with your misleading request for an interview.

“I have copied in the PA (Personal Assistant) to the PM and the Press secretary who confirmed that there was no mention of any costs at the interview and they were also surprised at the mention of the invoice.”

March 9, 2015

In reply on March 9, 2015, the other journalist wrote:

“In my experience we rarely discuss pricing with a head of state as it is not his field.  However, we always discuss it with the Minister of Finance or Economy on direction from the Prime Minister or President.  I am sure the Minister of Finance, Mr. Eke must have told the Prime Minister of his decision to conclude the agreement with us.”

Signed: Sheila O’Callaghan, Managing Director, Forbes Custom Magazines and Sections.

Editor’s Comment

We published the e-mails above to help readers understand some of the facts surrounding the debacles over the Forbes interview. The e-mails were sent to us by Kalafi Moala at our request, but they were not forwarded in their original e-mail formats. We were unable to get confirmations of their authenticity from the senders and recipients of the e-mails so we chose not to publish the original we received from Kalafi.

It is apparent more e-mails must have been sent and received during the communication in relation to the Forbes interview, but we did not have them and they are not in the above e-mails.  I cannot therefore say that the e-mails above and the contract signed by the Ministry on February 13, two days after the Prime Minister was interviewed, confirmed the Minister of Finance was responsible. It is impossible to determine responsibility at this stage because there are still a lot of pieces missing from the puzzle as we do not have all the related communication information.

You can read the  contract agreement between Forbes and the Tongan government, here

The Prime Minister’s Office should come clean on this issue and release all communications and contacts made before, during and after the Forbes interview to the media as soon as possible so they can  be made available to the public. If not, the row between the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister’s media adviser will only embarrass the government of Hon. Pohiva.

The  main points

  • The row between Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s media adviser Kalafi Moala and his Finance Minister over the Forbes scandal has blown up, with both men pointing the finger of blame at each other.
  • Moala, who is editor of Taimi-‘O-Tonga newspaper, has lashed out at Dr Eke saying he was not telling the truth.
  • Now Finance Minister Dr ‘Aisake Eke has hit back and claimed Moala has breached his contract agreement with government to keep to ethics and professional standard of his performance.
  • The row stems from revelations that the Tongan government agreed to pay the prestigious American business magazine nearly a quarter of a million pa’anga for an interview and a two page spread on the kingdom.

For more information

You can read the Forbes article, ‘Tonga: The  Beginning of Excellence,’ here:

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