Government holds reaction to Tonga Ashika findings

There has been a call for the entire Tongan cabinet to resign following the Commission of Inquiry report into last year’s ferry disaster, which criticises the government for buying an unsafe and unseaworthy vessel.

But the government of Tonga maintains the report is not yet public, although electronic copies of the commissioners’ conclusions have already been posted on the internet.

Presenter: Adam Connors, with reporting by Australia Network’s Pacific Correspondent Sean Dorney in Nuku’alofa

Speaker: ‘Eseta Fusitu’a, Tongan Minister for Information and Communications; Barbara Dreaver, TVNZ correspondent; Lord Dalgety, secretary of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia

CONNORS: Tonga’s privy council, the cabinet and the king, have met to consider the Commission of Inquiry report into the ferry tragedy, that killed 74 people. The commissioners say it is scandalous that such a maritime disaster occurred and that the government failed to carry out due diligence, and therefore bought a vessel in an appalling and frightening condition. The government’s first official statement is to say that it’s too early to comment, because the report is not yet public. Leaked copies though, are on the internet. Even when it is made public, there may be little official response.

The Tongan Minister for Information, ‘Eseta Fusitu’a, fronted a media conference to explain why there is little response yet from the government.

FUSITU’A: I am strongly advised that what we say especially if the subjects are people who have been sued or may be sued that could trespass upon contempt of court.

CONNORS: TVNZ correspondent Barbara Dreaver asked an even more pointed question of the information minister.

DREAVER: Have you been told to keep quiet in case government gets sued because that report clearly says governmnet failed.

FUSITU’A: It is not time to answer that question. Right? Firstly, I think you will agree that when one speaks on the subject one should have at least read the material.

CONNORS: Some of those heavily criticised in the report deny culpability.

Lord Dalgety is the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia’s secretary.

DALGETY: I didn’t advise the board it was unseaworthy because i had no evidence that it was unseaworthy and neither did the directors.

CONNORS: But the strain is telling.

DALGETY: Oh it’s been ghastly for everyone in this country.