Tongan church in shock after pastors allegedly misused funds
Tongan church pastors face discipline for allegedly misappropriating funds.
The Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga is shocked that eight pastors have been caught allegedly misappropriating thousands of dollars of church funds.
All eight are now on suspended duties but remain with their parishes until a church hearing in June.
Sara Vui-Talitu has more:
One of the leaders of the Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga says all eight will be held to account. Clergy Director, the Reverend Dr Mohenoa Puloka, says he was so disappointed when auditors reported a total of more than half a million pa'anga was missing, or US$344,000 in total, from church accounts. He says when it was first discovered, he approached them individually.
REVEREND DR MOHENOA PULOKA: I had to ask them one by one, if they had taken the money or stolen the money, and they all said no. But then their claim was that it's only an error on paper, but there was no money lost. And to that, the auditor and our finance secretary said, 'No, that's not true'.
The Reverend Dr Mohenoa Puloka says at least one case dates back to 2005, but admits auditing proceedures could have been better.
REVEREND DR MOHENOA PULOKA: Part of the reason for my doing this now, part of this is my moral responsibility. Also, to acknowledge the fact that we have to respect the people. It's their money entrusted to these clergy, and they were not doing a good job on that, so we have to do that. Overall, yes, this is a big shake-up in the church.
All eight now face disciplinary action at a hearing with the clergy synod during the church annual conference next month. A member of Tonga's National Council of Churches who did not want to be named, says while they are very concerned about the huge loss in funds in the Wesleyan Church, it is not alone and they're aware others are also experiencing similar problems. A journalist at the radio station BroadCom, Luseane Luani, agrees, with the story being widely covered by local media.
LUSEANE LUANI: We are not the only one - the Wesleyan, I mean - experiencing these kinds of problems - other churches are too. But I think it makes us wake up to see that we can't continue to be like this. You have to be accountable for the money, for the church, and also the projects that are being authorised by the pastors. They're not directly involved, but at least they have a hand in making sure that the money is properly used, or managed, in that sense.
She says church leaders may now just have to hire people who understand finance.
LUSEANE LUANI: The pastors have to work closely with people who know how to deal with finance, in that sense, from now on. Because if you dont really know how else, you only have to discover later that there's no money for the church. You don't really know how to manage the money.
The Reverend Dr Mohenoa Puloka says he's now considering ways to increase accountability, but will start by stopping making pastors solely repsonsible for church finances. Instead, he says each church may now need to elect their own finance committee to account.
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