THE Select Committee appointed by the Legislative Assembly to look into a motion for an order on Fua’amotu airport land lease agreement, met Monday morning for the first time.
The committee was approved by the House after Tongatapu 1 MP constituency ‘Akilisi Pohiva put forward such a motion.
It prompted after Tongatapu 8 MP constituency raised in Parliament his concern about the Cabinet’s decision on March 23, 2011 to pay a lump sum of TOP$3.7 million to noble estate holder, Lord Kalaniuvalu.
Sione Taione told Parliament “it is irrational to pay large amount of money including additional TOP$3000 to be paid by government as annual rental charges.”
Taione said TOP$2 million payment has been made by government to Lord Kalaniuvalu with TOP$1.7 yet to be paid excluding the rental annual fee.
The Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Samiu Vaipulu pointed out the 159 acre land lease agreement was originally totaled at TOP$38 million a year. It went down to TOP$3 million after some negotiation according to Vaipulu.
“I had to go and ask to reduce the lease fee to an affordable price for government and Tonga Airports Limited (TAL) where we settle for TOP$250 per acre.
We settled the land lease negotiation at TOP$3 million for a 99 years in order for the World Bank to approve an aid of TOP$35 million for the refurbishment and upgrade of Fua’amotu airport. This is to allow landing of Boeing 777 airbus there,” said Hon. Vaipulu.
He maintained that in accordance with our Constitution government can reserve any land for development purposes but the World Bank demanded a consultation between the two parties involved.
“…It was directed from the World Bank to review the land lease agreement because they did not want government to insist on a low land lease agreement price…but to come to some kind of understanding with the land owner.
And that’s the status of the negotiation made which was settled at an affordable price for government and the Tonga Airports Limited,” said Hon. Vaipulu
About the annual charges, the Deputy Prime Minister said it is not a new rental fee but it’s within the lease agreement package.
“The TOP$3000 was taken from the TOP$3 million. It was my suggestion to the land owner to leave that amount aside for his heirs in the future to enjoy, the lease is for 99 years,” explained Mr. Vaipulu.
Meanwhile Tongatapu 8 MP constituency was adamant that no deed of lease was registered with the Ministry of Lands and Survey yet the TOP$2 million has been paid to Lord Kalaniuvalu.
“I went to the Ministry of Lands and Survey, and nothing was registered there, no formal request for a land lease was made, yet government directed them to negotiate with Lord Kalaniuvalu for he demanded the payment of TOP$1.7 million if not he’s not going to sign the lease agreement,” explained Sione Taione.
This was done not according with the normal procedure stated in the Land Act,” according to Taione.
The Justice Minister Hon. Clive Edwards also explained that the matter was referred to Cabinet because should both parties do not come to some kind of understanding it would be a major problem.
“The airport would be closed, people working there will lose their job and livelihood and transportation and aviation would be greatly affected,” maintained the Hon. Minister.
The nine member Select Committee comprises of three Cabinet Ministers including the Education Minister, Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Samiu Vaipulu and the Lands and Survey Minister, Lord Ma’afu.
The People’s Representatives are represented by Tongatapu 1, 5 & 8 MP constituencies, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, ‘Aisake Eke and Sione Taione, while the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, Lord Lasike , Lord Tu’i’afitu and Lord Fakafanua represented the noble representatives.