Tonga probing missing NZ aid

CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 05:00 01/11/2011

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Hundreds of thousands of dollars of New Zealand aid money to Tonga is believed missing, leading its government to launch an investigation.

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry is vowing to take a hard line if the money is found to be unaccounted for. A report into the aid money was received by New Zealand diplomatic staff yesterday.

Last night MFAT said it was aware an investigation had been launched by the Tongan auditor-general relating to a New Zealand aid programme project in Tonga.

"If there are monies that are not fully accounted for the ministry will take whatever appropriate steps are required," a ministry spokesman said.

The ministry would not comment on which aid project the investigation related to and said Tonga continues to receive New Zealand aid money despite the inquiry. It is understood the missing money totals several hundred thousands of dollars.

In the past five years New Zealand has provided almost $41 million in aid to Tonga.

The Government's international aid and development programme, called the New Zealand Aid Programme, is managed by MFAT. Aid was previously managed through NZAid, a semi-autonomous agency established within the ministry by the Labour-Alliance government.

But in 2009 Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced he was changing the focus of NZAid from "poverty alleviation" to "sustainable economic growth" and folding it back into the ministry.

The minister was last night awaiting a briefing on the contents of the report.

Labour Party foreign affairs spokeswoman Maryann Street said she was aware of an investigation into the use of aid money and would be pleased to see MFAT pursuing accountability.

AID TO TONGA

New Zealand has upped its aid support for Tonga's economic development in recent years.

Work in this area includes:

Funding for an interim domestic ferry service following the sinking of the Princess Ashika.

The "revitalisation" of a heat treatment facility so Tongan fruit and vegetables can be exported to other markets.

Supporting small and medium sized enterprises through business mentoring schemes

Technical and vocational training schemes to address skill shortages.

The design and construction of a 1.25MW solar photovoltaic power plant. Airport upgrade in island of 'Eua.

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- The Dominion Post

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