The removal of Tongan Finance Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo was a political decision, Opposition frontbencher ‘Isileli Pulu told Kaniva Pacific this week.
‘Akolo was sacked by the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, who accused him of not supporting Cabinet’s decision to approve a cost of living allowance (COLA) for civil servants.
Pulu, who was Tourism Minister in 2012, said there was a hidden agenda behind the Finance Minister’s sacking.
He said ‘Akolo was the only member of Cabinet to stand up to the Prime Minister and was not popular because he constantly questioned other minister’s spending.
Lord Tu’ivakano wrote to ‘Akolo, who was in Auckland, telling him to resign or be dismissed.
‘Akolo received the letter via the Tongan consulate on January 6.
In the letter, the Prime Minister said ‘Akolo did not support Cabinet’s decision on December 20 to approve a five per cent pay rise for civil servants.
In his letter the Prime Minister said the Solicitor General had advised that it would be legal to pay for the rise from the government’s contingency fund.
Cabinet originally approved a 20 percent rise.
'Akolo denied that he had not supported cabinet’s decision and said he had acted in accordance with government's directions.
He flew back to Tonga on January 7, hoping to see the Prime Minister.
However, when he tried to attend a special cabinet meeting in Nuku'alofa he was stopped by a security guard and told that the Acting Cabinet Secretary wanted him to hand over his letter of resignation immediately and leave.
The Prime Minister is now Acting Finance Minister.
Tonga’s Minister of Justice, Clive Edwards, told radio 89.5FM the decision to sack ‘Akolo was entirely the Prime Minister’s.
He said the meeting was held for Lord Tu’ivakano to listen to his ministers’ views on his decision to sack ‘Akolo.
A total of 10 ministers attended, two of whom asked the Prime Minister to be lenient.
The Minister for Public Enterprises Hon Fe’aoVakata was absent.
Meanwhile, former cabinet colleague, ‘Isileli Pulu, said he did not think ‘Akolo had been forced to resign because of how he handled the Cost of Living Adjustment issue.
“That sounds ridiculous because it had been approved,” Pulu said.
"'Akolo was very clear and straightforward in the way he broadcast the cabinet decision on the COLA and how they previously approved a 20% and then finally agreed to 5%,.
“What came to my mind when I heard this was I knew for sure that only ‘Akolo can challenge the Prime Minister in the cabinet.”
Pulu said this was especially true when it came to over-spending by some ministries.
‘Akolo seconded Pulu when he moved in the House that the government reconsider how it used its travel budget.
“I think the Prime Minister and his ministers were not satisfied with their Finance Minister on that,” Pulu said.
"When I was in the Cabinet the ministers who spent all their budget before the next financial year personally approached the Prime Minister and asked for more.
“When the PM agreed the Cabinet ministers all agreed.
“It was difficult for a person in such an environment to become Finance Minister.”
Pulu said that now Lord Tu’ivakano was Acting Finance Minister, he should work in the Treasury and watch its offices struggling every two weeks to find the money to pay civil servants’ wages.
The main points
- Tongan Finance Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo has been removed from Cabinet on the orders of the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano.
- Lord Tu’ivakano accused the Finance Minister of not supporting Cabinet’s decision to approve a five percent cost of living allowance for civil servants.
- 'Akolo denied that he had not supported Cabinet’s decision and said he had acted in accordance with government's directions.
- Opposition frontbencher ‘Isileli Pulu, who was Tourism Minister in 2012, told Kaniva Pacific there was a hidden agenda behind the Finance Minister’s sacking.
- He said ‘Akolo was the only member of Cabinet to stand up to the Prime Minister and was not popular because he constantly questioned other minister’s spending.
- The Prime Minister is now Acting Finance Minister.