Two Apia-based suspended Tokelau senior public servants have broken their silence over allegations against them in the island’s allegedly unauthorised purchases of helicopters saga.
In an exclusive statement to the Sunday Samoan four months after they were suspended, General Manager for the Tokelau Public Service, Jovilisi Suveinakama and the Director of Finance, Heto Puka, have disputed the position by the government of New Zealand, saying they have got this completely wrong.
Mr. Suveinakama and Mr. Puka are angry about the way they have been treated by N.Z’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T), namely the former Foreign Minister, Tupa’i Murray McCully.
They claim the Tokelau Public Service Commission and the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau need to tell the truth about the work that had been done in the lead up to the purchase of the helicopters.
New Zealand’s attitude and reluctance to continue with the air service, they say, is holding back the development of Tokelau.
“The boat trip from Samoa to Tokelau takes almost 30 hours whereas travel be helicopter would reduce travel time to two hours,” they claim.
“Without air travel, the people of Tokelau continue to be isolated. Most people find this to be an unacceptable state of affairs. In fact, there are compelling social, economic and political reasons for provision of air travel.”
There is a bigger issue at stake, they said.
“Fundamentally in denying the Helicopters we are denying the cries of our elders, women, children and patients from an improvement in quality of life.
“We are also denying opportunities for linkages to our Tokelau international community overseas and other development that Tokelau chooses.
“The implementation of the Tokelau air services developments will bring a choice for those who choose to substantially change the way they travel to and from Tokelau.”
It was not possible to obtain a comment from the government of Tokelau and New Zealand yesterday. The following is the statement issued by the suspended Tokelauan pubic servants:
“Speaking out following 4 months of suspension, the General Manager for the Tokelau Public Service – Jovilisi Suveinakama and the Director of Finance – Heto Puka make this joint media statement alleging that MFAT officials got Tokelau’s Helicopters saga all wrong.
In February this year the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs made comments on NZTV1 that NZ was unaware of the Helicopter purchase. The Minister also commented that Tokelau did not support the purchase.
Both comments were refuted by a joint statement which mentioned that all the Taupulega, Tokelau General Fono and the Council had approved to a Tokelau Transport Strategy which included a multi-phased air service solution.
Tokelau and New Zealand have deliberated on the air service issue over many years with a number of solutions been suggested.
Cost implications for New Zealand was a hindrance which Tokelau acknowledged.
However, Tokelau continued to look to its officials for practical solutions to address the air service aspirations for her people. As such in October/November 2015 the General Fono endorsed a proposal for a 3 Phased Air Service solution being an interim, medium and long term.
In July 2016, the General Fono endorsed the Tokelau Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020 which focused on some key infrastructure developments including the implementation the air service solution.
The Fono also endorsed a new financing model to support the implementation of these key infrastructure developments over a 4 year period 2016-2020 beginning with the Interim solution (helicopters).
The development of air service access into the Tokelau Islands would see the people of Tokelau cut their travelling time from 28 hours on open sea from Tokelau to Samoa down to approximately 2 hours.
This development assist generally with women, children, elderly and patients – the vulnerable members of the community who finds these boat trips torturous and unbearable.
Members of the Tokelau community overseas who have the desire to visit home yet have voiced their frustrations with the debilitating shipping services to Tokelau which has remained the same over decades.
The sea between Tokelau and Samoa commands a sea-state 5 category which is usually rough almost throughout the year.
It is cruel to continue to expect our people to travel like this given the adverse effects of climate change on our weather patterns and global progress towards other advance transport infrastructure.
We believe there are only a few people using the change in government early this year to destabilize Tokelau’s development platform and assert their own development agenda.
The villages of Fakaofo and Atafu are still adamant on the air-service solution. Unfortunately some key MFAT Officials by acting and or by omission have done a grave injustice to Tokelau’s development.
We understand discussions have been occurring with these MFAT officials and the very few people from one village since December 2016 which may have incited all these disruptive changes to Tokelau’s development plan. These MFAT officials are now standing back and saying that this is an internal employment issue for Tokelau.
This issue points to the very heart of Tokelau’s decolonization and what role NZ intends to play. This negatively impacts the relationship which has been considered a ‘lighthouse’ for the UN Committee on Decolonization (UNC24).
Following the untruthful, irresponsible and ambiguous statement from the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs in February this year they cannot now be a spectator.
The least the Minister could have done at the time is to speak with Tokelau before stating publicly to the media what he mentioned. The Minister had a responsibility to the NZ citizens of Tokelau and he failed. Since our suspension in April this year, we have requested key documents from MFAT under the Official Information Act which our lawyers are still currently pursuing.
Fundamentally in denying the Helicopters we are denying the cries of our elders, women, children and patients from an improvement in quality of life. We are also denying opportunities for linkages to our Tokelau international community overseas and other development that Tokelau chooses.
The implementation of the Tokelau air services developments will bring a choice for those who choose to substantially change the way they travel to and from Tokelau.
The joint statement states that MFAT Officials got Tokelau helicopters saga wrong and this is hurting our women, elderly and children! It is not only stopping Tokelau’s development momentum but also stalls the vision towards sustainable self-governance in terms of its priorities.”