Former Education Minister and CEO approved million dollar proposal to Taiones’ IT company

The former Minister of Education and Training, Dr. ‘Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki approved a deal which cost more than a million dollars with a company partly owned by a close relative of the king.

The deal to upgrade the ministry’s management and information system was made with Triesten Technologies, a company owned by Lupepau’u and ‘Epeli Taione. Lupepau’u is His Majesty’s niece.

The deal with the Taiones was revealed after the Ministry  arranged to hire an IT expert to upgrade the Ministry’s IT system for only TP$150,000, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The offer to Triesten Technologies by Dr Taufe’ulungaki was confirmed to the Taiones in a letter dated October 7, 2014 signed by former Education Ministry CEO Emily Moala Pouvalu, the Office said.

Epeli Taione did not respond to our request for comment. However, he wrote on his Facebook page: “A lot of people and media outlets have asked me questions about the ongoing saga with MET (Ministry of Education) in Tonga. We are just another business that work so hard to earn a living, and we wish we can help out whatever way we can if given the chance.”

News about the Triesten Technologies deal came after Dr Taufe’ulungaki and Pouvalu strongly criticised the move by the Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva – who is also Minister of Education – to hire information technology expert Piveni Piukala to upgrade the Ministry’s IT system.

They presented a petition to the king asking him to terminate Hon. Pohiva’s appointment as Minister of Education.

Pouvalu, whose contract with the ministry ended in May, insisted that hiring Piukala would damage years of work she and her staff had devoted to developing the ministry’s IT system.

It was not immediately clear whether or not Triesten had initiated the project approved by Dr Taufe’ulungaki and Pouvalu.

The Prime Minister was not made aware of the offer to Triesten.

“When the Hon. Minister assumed his portfolio for education and training in January this year, the Ministry did not inform him that there was such a prior arrangement,” the Office of the Prime Minister said.

“It was only revealed to him on Saturday, October 17.

“According to the Hon. Minister, if he had been made aware of this arrangement, there would be no misunderstanding on the software issue that the Ministry is facing today.”

The Office said the Prime Minister considered hiring Piukala as he wanted to immediately address complaints raised by parents last year about the results of students’ examination.

The Prime Minister invited Piukala to come to Tonga in February to start working with the ministry on data analysis.

The Prime Minister’s Office described Piukala as an expert in ICT who had developed a management and monitoring integrated information system for the Samoan Ministry of Education.

It said the Samoan Government paid him Samoan Tala $180,000 (TP$150,000) to develop the software.

“Mr. Piukala is a Tongan Citizen, and is willing to assist the Ministry to develop an in-house customised Management and Monitoring Integrated Information System to meet the needs of the Ministry at a cost of TP$150,000,” the Office said.

The Office said his software would be able to analyse the performance of students to allow the Ministry to raise the quality of education and student achievement.

His contract with the ministry is expected to run from October this year to February, 2016.

Triesten Technologies

It was not clear at the time of writing how the Taione’s company is linked to Triesten Technologies, an Indian company with offices in India, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

According to the company’s website, it has an office in Tonga at Fakafanua South Building in Ma’ufanga.

It lists several schools and colleges in India as clients and says it provides information management systems.

The main points

  • The former Minister of Education and Training, Dr. ‘Ana Maui Taufe’ulungaki approved a deal which cost more than a million dollars with a company partly owned by a close relative of the king.
  • The deal to upgrade the ministry’s management and information system was made with Triesten Technologies, a company owned by Lupepau’u and ‘Epeli Taione. Lupepau’u is His Majesty’s niece.
  • The deal with the Taiones was revealed after the Ministry arranged to hire an IT expert to upgrade the Ministry’s IT system for only TP$150,000, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
  • The Office said the Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pohova, who is currently Education Minister, had not been aware of the proposal.

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