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Tonga PM sorry for worker sex crime claims

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017 Karen Sweeney

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Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has apologised over allegations Tongan seasonal workers paid underage girls with cash, drugs and alcohol for sex while working in New Zealand.

The scandal broke as Prime Minister Bill English touched down in Tonga for a series of meetings in Nuku'alofa.

It's alleged groups of men in New Zealand as part of the recognised seasonal employment (RSE) programme gave girls as young as 15 cash, alcohol and drugs in exchange for sex multiple times a week over a six month period last year.

Fifteen workers were sent back to Tonga in disgrace earlier this year.

Mr Pohiva met with Mr English for a cabinet meeting in Nuku'alofa on Friday morning where he apologised for the behaviour of the men.

"I had to apologise to the Prime Minister for the recent instance that happened in New Zealand last year and earlier this year which may have caused uneasiness between the partnership between the two countries," he told reporters in a press conference afterwards.

Mr Pohiva said he'd made it clear the selection process on the Tongan end would be done properly to ensure the "right people" are chosen.

Mr English said overwhelmingly RSE workers from Tonga made a great contribution to New Zealand, but admitted there were some exceptions that tightening of screening by Tonga could help.

Oversight in New Zealand is also important, he said.

"There needs to be quite a lot of supervision to ensure that they are behaving in a way that the Tongan government would regard as appropriate for the reputation of Tonga," he said.

No formal complaint was made about the allegation to police, but the worker's Tongan liaison Sefita Haouli confirmed he was aware of the claims and believed deportation the best solution.

"There's only so much we can do and one of the best ways of dealing with this is to remove them," he told TVNZ.

Immigration New Zealand was only made aware of the allegations against the RSE workers this week, skills and investment manager Matt Hoskin told NZ Newswire.

While the overall number of incidents has been reducing, he said there had been an increase in the last six months with 44 incidents recorded so far this year.

There are around 10,000 RSE workers in New Zealand.

Mr English met with a group of workers during his visit to Tonga on Friday as part of the annual Pacific Mission, thanking them for their hard work in New Zealand.

He also talked with local workers at Tatakamotonga village who are upgrading the nation's electricity services.

New Zealand has committed $5 million to continue the network upgrade, connecting the capital Nuku'alofa to more reliable electricity.

According to Mr English the money will help connect a further 8500 people and save $1.1 million a year by reducing line losses.

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