Tokelau and NZ relations back on track as helicopter Inquiry continues

29 March 2017
There’s been very little information about the 16 March meeting between Tokelau’s government leaders and New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Murray McCully and Tokelau Administrator Mr David Nicholson.
PGNL6737-Group-photo-Council-Adminstrator-McCully2-450 Tokelau/NZ meeting 16 March 2017: (L-R) Administrator Tokelau, Mr David Nicholson;  Member for Atafu, Kelihiano Kalolo;  Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Murray McCully;  Ulu-o-Tokelau Siopili Perez;  Member for Fakaofo, Afega Gaualofa.

However, it has been revealed from the trickle of information that has come through:
  • There was “fruitful and honest discussions” with both parties acknowledging the special relations between the two countries and the wish to continue as such
  • The Helicopter Purchase issue, one of the main points discussed in summary:
  • that Tokelau’s leaders expressed just as much disappointment and surprise about the helicopter purchase as Mr McCully.
  • Agreement reached to resolve the issue as quickly as possible
  • An inquiry into the matter, headed by Tokelau’s Public Service Commissioner will be considered with urgency.
  • steps are being taken to recover the funds that were placed at risk; and jointly deal to the weaknesses in governance and decision-making processes that were highlighted as a result
  • Mr McCully was acknowledged for his past contributions to Tokelau. He was issued with an invitation to visit the three atolls as he looks to step down from politics in May.
  • Gifts were exchanged and a family photo taken.

Ulu-o-Tokelau Siopili Perez and Administrator for Tokelau, Mr David Nicholson.
From Tokelau’s perspective, there is expectation that the Commissioner, through his Inquiry will consider assessing capability gaps in skills needed to assess capital purchases. Then, a request for technical and training support to ensure this does not happen again, would be proposed to New Zealand so the lessons learnt and improvements needed are built into the current government arrangement and decision-making processes.

Through this saga, there were two key messages the current Tokelau leadership wanted to impress on the elders and people of Tokelau; and New Zealand.

That change is needed in its governance arrangements as indicated by how the helicopters were purchased

Reassure the leaders of Tokelau that New Zealand’s strong partnership with Tokelau is safe and strengthened by now having the Administrator working closely with them.

Some of the details relating to the Helicopter issue were confirmed six days later (22 March) when Mr McCully tabled answers to two written questions by Labour’s Pacific spokesperson and MP for Mangere, Aupito Su’a William Sio.
Ulu-o-Tokelau Siopili Perez greeting Mr McCully at the New Zealand High Commission in Apia, Samoa.
Date Question Lodged: 15/03/2017
Question 1: Has the Minister initiated an inquiry to find out how the purchase of two helicopters for Tokelau were made, who was involved in the decision, and who benefited from the sales to Tokelau of these helicopters?

Answer Text [from Mr McCully] Date Received:22/03/2017:
  • The Administrator for Tokelau has commissioned an independent review of Tokelau’s governance of the helicopter purchases. This has been completed and a copy of the review has been passed to the Tokelau Public Service Commissioner. The report finds that there are issues of governance and process around capital purchases that need urgent attention.
  • The Tokelau Public Service Commissioner plans to conduct his own inquiry focusing on internal issues. New Zealand will not be releasing the review report, or making comments that could prejudge the outcome of that inquiry, while it is under way.
  • In the interim New Zealand will work closely with Tokelau to improve the governance arrangements for capital purchases and we have been advised that steps are being taken by Tokelau to recover costs associated with the purchase.
  • Answer Text [from Mr McCully] Date Received:22/03/2017:
  • The helicopter purchase has uncovered weaknesses in Tokelau’s decision making processes and governance.
  • The New Zealand taxpayers and Tokelauans must have confidence that Tokelau is responsibly spending the money it receives from New Zealand and other sources.
  • The Tokelau Government has told me they are deeply concerned about the purchases, and are keen to work with New Zealand to improve their processes and governance around capital purchases. We expect Tokelau to address these issues and will be providing support to ensure this happens.
  • The Administrator holds residual powers over decision making in Tokelau and I have conveyed to the Administrator that until we are confident in the quality of decision making, governance and processes in Tokelau, that I require him to increase oversight of Tokelau’s capital expenditure.