Tonga Power staff call off strike
Planned strike at Tonga power company called off at least under the election on Thursday.
Staff at Tonga Power Limited have called off a planned strike, following the cabinet's decision to suspend an investigation into the company until after the election.
The cabinet had decided to investigate Tonga Power for financial irregularities based on an anonymous letter sent about three weeks ago, which levelled several accusations against the acting CEO Steven 'Esau.
The CEO of Tonga Power, John van Brink, says the accusations are unfounded, and the Board of Directors have expressed concern at the cabinet discussing anonymous emails without any evidence.
Mr van Brink spoke with Leilani Momoisea about why staff at Tonga Power had issued the strike notice.
JOHN VAN BRINK : There was a lot of publicity in the media, and as a result, staff were getting increasingly concerned about the impact of that on Tonga Power and also on their colleague, and manager, and sent a letter signed by about 114 or so people, I'm not sure how many there are, but certainly quite a large majority of the company, staff and management, signed a letter that went to cabinet on Friday morning expressing concern, explaining the reasons for their concern and stating that they were going to go on strike. Cabinet discussed the issue and the letter and made a decision not to proceed with the investigation, at least til after the elections. So everything has quietened down, the strike was called off straight away.
LEILANI MOMOISEA: And so the strike really was more a stand of solidarity for the colleague.
JV: Absolutely, yes.
LM: Do you see the issue being resolved now, or will it be a 'wait and see' until after the elections?
JV : I think it'll be a wait and see. My gut feel is that it will go away, unless something comes up that causes friction between Tonga Power and government and this matter rears it's head again. Right now I feel confident that it's going to go away, and that everybody has simmered down.
LM : And what of the accusations in that anonymous letter, what do you make of them?
JV : They're false. There was about seven related to things like the acting CEO travelled too much, he was away from the office, he was supposed to have paid for a trip for the general manager of our gas distribution business to go to Australia, to pick up, or to be conferred for his doctorate degree, little things like, he tints his window, why does he do that on his car? And a couple of issues around recruitment process, final selection following an interview cycle for two jobs. I investigated those and I talked to staff, and even from when I was in Auckland, before going back, I could see that these were completely false. I'm more than comfortable that the company is operating the way it should do, and is well managed and there were no issues in my absence.
John van Brink says if the matter is brought up again, his preference is that the government would take due process, provide terms of reference, make a shareholder resolution and allow the board of Tonga Power to decide whether to investigate or not.
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