11 Dec 2017

Tokelau pair dismissed after chopper purchase probe

5:12 pm on 11 December 2017

Tokelau has dismissed the two public servants at the centre of an investigation into the territory's controversial helicopter purchases.

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Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The action marks the end of an investigation, beginning with their suspensions in April, into the role of Jovilisi Suveinakama and Heto Puka in the spending of millions of dollars of government funds on two helicopters late last year.

Tokelau's government cut their pay in July, which prompted Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka, the former public service manager and finance director respectively, to lodge a legal dispute which is before the Wellington High Court.

Tokelau minister, Kelihiano Kalolo, said commissioner Casimilo Perez dismissed the pair in a move backed by Tokelau's government.

Mr Perez had the final say on the matter after being presented a report on the investigation, which was conducted by Aleki Silao, a member of the public service.

Mr Kalolo said the decision would be conveyed to the Taupulega, or council of elders, before the reasoning behind it was publicly released.

Tokelau's leaders met in Wellington last week with New Zealand officials including the administrator to the territory, Jonathan Kings, who ordered Tokelau to suspend Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka.

Mr Kalolo said the matter of the investigation was not raised during talks last week.

Discussed with Ulu of Tokelau & Ministers of Council projects to get faster internet connections & safer channels for ships to get to shore

Photo: Aupito W. Sio, MP/ Twitter

He said Tokelau had reached an agreement with New Zealand to get more assistance with managing its finances.

"It seems that we are not moving forward because of the issue [fiscal management]. So I would like to move forward and I would like Tokelau to see that we are working towards resolving some of these issues."

The controversy began in February, when New Zealand's foreign minister Murray McCully told media he was furious that Tokelau had spent millions on two helicopters.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully

The former New Zealand minister for foreign affairs and trade, Murray McCully. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The purchases were later revealed to be part of plans to build air strips on Tokelau and establish a commercial air service from Samoa.

The scheme was canned after New Zealand stepped in and Tokelau was forced to sell the helicopters and suffer restrictions on its capital spending.

Tokelau and New Zealand have since pinned the blame on Mr Suveinakama and Mr Puka, who have been accused of going behind officials' backs in authorising the purchases.

The pair claim they have been scapegoated and that they were carrying out the orders of Tokelau's leaders.

The Ulu of Tokelau, Siopili Perez, and his wife, Taase Perez, at their inauguration.

The Ulu of Tokelau, Siopili Perez, and his wife, Taase Perez, at their inauguration. Photo: Supplied

Ulu Siopili Perez, who told RNZ Pacific in March he never agreed to the helicopters, was among the council members who signed off on $US10 million in capital spending last September which included the helicopters, to meeting notes provided to RNZ Pacific in August.

Afega Gaualofa, who, alongside Ulu Perez, was part of the leadership who attended meetings in Wellington last week, also agreed to the spending proposed at the September council meeting.

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