Kalafi reveals PMO emails to Forbes interviewers

Kalafi Moala, the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser, has revealed the content of two emails from Prime Minister’s Office dated March 7 and March 17 regarding a conversation about the Forbes Affair.

The emails show that the dispute over who was responsible for organising and contracting the Magana-O’Callaghan interview with Prime Minister Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva for a Forbes advertorial, will drag on for a while.

Kalafi stated, “…how easy to squeeze a quarter of a million pa’anga out of a poor country for a useless piece of cut and paste journalism.” He called it, “a case of envelope journalism in which the interview subject pays the journalists who did the interview.”

The emails he revealed were between a senior officer of the Prime Minister’s Office and Eduardo Magana and Sheila O’Callaghan, Managing Director, Forbes Custom Magazines and Sections - the two people who came to Tonga in February to interview the Prime Minister for a Forbes advertorial. They charged a controversial US$130,000 ($274,165.93 pa‘anga), which ended up having to be paid from the budget of Tonga’s Ministry of Tourism.

Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance are claiming they had no prior knowledge that the interview would have to be paid for.

Kalafi revealed selected content of some of the email correspondence yesterday, August 14, in a bid to counter a statement made by the Minister of Finance, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke this week. The Minister stated that he learned that the interview would have to be paid for, only after the interview had been conducted on 11 February.

The first email message, according to Kalafi, was dated 7 March 2015, from an unidentified senior officer in the PM’s Office, on behalf of the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet addressed to Eduardo Magana, a Mexican national, who was one of the two Forbes interviewers.

Kalafi quoted the PMO email as follows: “We are concerned and disappointed that you have sent an invoice to the Ministry of Finance for the payment of the transcript for the interview with the Hon Prime Minister… From the outset of our email communications up to the interview you never mentioned any costs or charges for the interview. You had stated in your request letter and in the interview that you chose Tonga because of the election of the new Prime Minister and the Coronation in July. You had asked for an interview not an advert as stated in your invoice. We are not prepared to pay such a significant amount for two pages in a publication….”.

Direction from PMs:

Kalafi said he had seen a second email, a reply from Sheila O’Callaghan, Managing Director, Forbes Custom Magazines and Sections, who stated that “We rarely discuss pricing with a head of state…However, we always discuss it with the Minister of Finance on direction from the Prime Minister or President…”

Kalafi said Ms O’Callaghan stated that, “I did not discuss pricing with the Hon. Prime Minister… We have had a very good working relationship with the Minister of Finance and his office. We told him the concept of the feature… He said the two pages would be enough and that a Chinese translation would be appropriate too as we always offer one other language. … He signed a contract for the two pages, which I attach. We submitted an invoice before we left as they needed time to do their procurement procedure.”

Kalafi highlighted his claim that Hon. ‘Aisake Eke made the deal, with another extract from Ms O’Callaghan’s email: “The invoice is for the contract that was signed to produce the two pages on Tonga for insertion in Forbes.”


The Forbes Affair was first raised in the Tongan Parliament on June 17 by Lord Tu‘iha‘ateiho who queried if it was true that government had paid over US$100,000 to the American magazine Forbes to interview the Prime Minister.

In the House, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke said that the interview would be paid for from the budget allocation of the Ministry of Tourism.

The Prime Minister, Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva told the House that Forbes “… came here to interview me. So that was the value of this interview. There is a belief that this is not a waste of money. The readers are popular people… It is not a big amount, we can recover the money,” he said.

Press release:

Earlier on 23 February, a press statement from the PM’s Office announced that two journalists from Forbes had been in Tonga from 11-19 February to interview the PM. The press release said he had been nominated for some “magnificent milestones” and that “The Kingdom of Tonga has been picked by Forbes… to highlight on its famously-worldwide magazine, which is also seen a great privilege to the people of Tonga from the perspective of social and economic development.”

The Prime Minister’s Office stated that, “the assigned project to this Tonga promotion is also designed and aimed to be translated into Chinese language as Tonga has benefitted from Chinese investors.”

The PM’s press office also reported that the Forbes interviewers had asked the PM “What makes Tonga stand out to international well-established investors?” to which the PM had answered “I think the simplicity of our society makes Tonga more attractive….” He added that “…our active promotion of eco-tourism in our society, subsistence economy and lifestyles of our people…would contribute.”

For the future the PM had also told the Forbes interviewers “I sincerely hope they [Tonga’s people] would continue to live within the means of what is available.”

Concern over cost:

On the night of 23 June, the concern over the cost of the quarter of a million pa’anga interview was one of the last issues to be debated before the house passed the 2015-16 National Budget.

That was when the Minister of Finance told the House that they had not paid Forbes and they were still trying to confirm if there was an agreement with Forbes, because they had not signed any agreement.

When parliament concluded its 2015 budget debate on June 24 the question of whether or not Tonga had paid Forbes and whether or not a contract had been signed remained unanswered.

Earlier this week the Minister of Finance issued a statement denying allegations made by Kalafi in his newspaper about who organised the interview and who had contracted it.

The Minister said that the payment for the interview with funds from the budget allocation of the Ministry of Tourism was a Cabinet decision, and the Minister of Tourism was in Cabinet.