Official says Government funds had already been allocated for Tonga 2019 before host's withdrawal

Tonga’s former Minister of Finance has claimed Government funds had already been allocated for the 2019 Pacific Games in the upcoming 2017-18 budget prior to the country’s withdrawal as hosts.

Kaniva News reports that ‘Aisake Eke, who was sacked as Minister of Finance in March after abstaining in a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pōhiva, told a meeting of the Tonga Sports Association and National Olympic Committee (TASANOC) the funds were all specifically aimed to support preparations for the Games in two years’ time.

The Pacific Games Council (PGC) confirmed last week it had received notification from the Government that it had officially pulled the plug on the country’s hosting of the Games, with chairman Vidhya Lakhan conceding it was an "extremely disappointing and confusing decision".

Tonga seemingly withdrew from staging the Games amid concerns the country could face economic difficulties if they went ahead.

But Lord Feleti Sevele, the chairman of the now-defunct Tonga 2019 Organising Committee, presented figures at the TASANOC meeting which he said contradicted the claim that withdrawal was due to financial issues.

Lord ʻAlipate Tuʻivanuavou Vaea, who chaired the meeting attended more than 40 delegates from 17 National Federations, said Tonga should honour its commitment to the Games.

Both Lord Sevele and Lord Vaea have been asked to hold discussions with the Government about reversing its decision.

TASANOC are seeking a meeting with Pōhiva to discuss the matter.

Tonga's withdrawal sparked speculation as to who would step in as hosts of the 2019 Games.

Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (FASANOC) President Joseph Rodan has given his strongest hint yet that the country would be willing to replace Tonga.

Rodan had admitted it was a possibility in October of last year amid concerns over Tonga's ability to stage the event.

However, in an interview with the Fiji Times, Rodan warned that any bid would need the backing of the nation's Government and finances would be the "main issue".

The comments from Rodan come after Papua New Guinea Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko confirmed the country "would not commit" to hosting the Games in 2019.

Papua New Guinea, who played host to the 2015 edition in Port Moresby, are considered one of the more developed Pacific nations and therefore one of a select pool of countries which could be capable of staging the event at short notice.

A spokesman for the Tongan Cabinet told Kaniva News last week that Pōhiva had decided to save the country from what has been described as a "costly mistake".

He added that Pōhiva was informed earlier this month of a World Bank report, which stated the Polynesian kingdom could find itself in financial trouble in the scenario that it went ahead and hosted the 2019 Games.

Pōhiva cast doubt on Tonga's ability to host the event last year when he warned a number of construction projects for the Games were unlikely to meet their deadlines.

In March, TASANOC secretary general Takitoa Taumoepeau admitted preparations for the Games were "running late" but stressed the event would go ahead as planned