We last wrote about Tonga’s unusual space enterprise, Tongasat, back in December 2010, when we focused on the alleged religious motivations of Princess Pilolevu Tuita, the firm’s majority shareholder. After a long quiet spell, the controversial company is now back in the news, as a pawn in a political tug-of-war between a Tongan opposition leader and the nation’s current prime minister. The issue is a rather substantial windfall that Tongasat recently enjoyed, courtesy of the government of China. The story gets broken down here:
Claims in Tonga’s parliament that there was an illegal transference of government money to Tongasat have been denied by two Prime Ministers, in a row over how a USD$75 million grant from China to Tonga was used.
A payment of USD$25.45 million that was given by government to Tongasat in 2011 was approved by the former Prime Minister Lord Dr Feleti Sevele and came from a grant given by the Chinese government to Tonga in 2008…
Lord Sevele told Matangi Tonga last week that the $75.35 million Chinese grant to the Tongan government in 2008 was “not like other Chinese grants”, and there were reasons for that, which he asserted that he did not want to get into.
“If there was no Tongasat there would not have been any such grants. The grant were made because Tongasat was leasing orbital slots to the Chinese.”
But as to why the Chinese Government did not pay their dues straight to Tongasat, instead of giving the Tongan government a grant, then for the government to pay Tongasat, was not made clear.
Check out this excellent piece from The Space Review for more background on Tongasat’s sleight-of-hand. It’s clear to me that the Tongan royal family is earning a fortune by capitalizing on a public asset—namely, the orbital slots that the country is entitled to by international law. Call us cynical, but the “grant” just seems like a fig leaf designed to make this seem like a government-to-government transaction, rather than a pure pay-off to a privately held enterprise. Par for the course in Tonga, alas.