The Heilala Festival committee says it deeply regretted the bullying and racist reaction to the speech by 2018 winner Kalo Funganitao at the crowning night.
During the final stage of the competition, Funganitao criticised the competition’ organisers for not supporting her when she became the victim of cyber bullying following her win last year.
Radio New Zealand reported that Deputy Prime Minister Semisi Sika, who is also the festival director, has been accused of failing to intervene when someone from the VIP table reportedly screamed racist abuse at Miss Pacific Islands Leoshina Kariha,who is from Papua New Guinea.
It described Funganitao’s speech as the strongest criticism the pageant had ever received.
The Committee and the Tonga Tourist Association said they did not condone any form of bullying or racism and took allegations about the behaviour very seriously.
They acknowledged Funganitao’s work in promoting Tonga during the past year.
However, the committee said she should not have publicly aired concerns she had harboured for the previous 12 months.
It said the focus of the evening should have been on the contestants and incoming Miss Heilala for 2019-20.
“The Heilala Festival Committee and Tonga Tourist Association do not condone the Heilala Pageant being used as a platform for advancing individual agendas of any contestant, past or present,” Hon. Sika said.
“The final night of the pageant competition is to celebrate the 25 contestants’ participation and to crown the winner.
“This was not completed in the usual fashion, which is truly regretted for the 25 contestants, their families and supporters.”
Meanwhile, New Zealands’ flagship Pacific new programme, has praised Funganitao for her courage in speaking out.
Presenter Indira Stewart said it was “never the time in our culture to confront issues.”
She described the former Miss Heilala as “incredibly brave.”
The main points
- The Heilala Festival committee say it deeply regretted the bullying and racist reaction to the speech by 2018 winner Kalo Funganitao at the crowning night.
- During the final stage of the competition, Funganitao criticised the competition’ organisers for not supporting her when she became the victim of cyber bullying following her win last year.
For more information
Indira Stewart and Sanele Chadwick talk Miss Heilala controversy and Pacific Games
Ceremony was wrong time and place for speech against bullying say critics, but former winner says she is “relieved”
Anger as Tongan beauty queen’s bullying claim speech disrupted