Pōhiva denies claims of nepotism, says ministers have vowed to put sexual misdeeds behind them

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has denied claims of nepotism made by failed political rival ‘Eliesa Fifita.

Fifita claimed Hon Pōhiva was guilty of giving special privileges to a member of his family by appointing his son, Siosiua Po‘oi Pōhiva, as his personal assistant without advertising the post publicly.

Fifita stood unsuccessfully against the Prime Minister for the Tongatapu 1 constituency in the last election.

In a letter which was copied to Kaniva News, Fifita also claimed that Hon Pōhiva had ignored sexual improprieties committed by two of his ministers.

We were unable to obtain a response from the Prime Minister in time for publication.

However, Hon Pōhiva told  Radio FM89.5 that he recruited his son as his personal assistant because he trusted him.

He said Poʻoi was not paid the government salary allocated for the post, but was instead paid directly from his Prime Ministerial salary.

He said Treasury had been informed of the arrangement.

Hon Pōhiva said this would save taxpayers’ money, in line with his policy of wise management of the country’s finances.

Fifita claimed the Prime Minister had selected an MP to join his cabinet even though he was aware of allegations that he had been involved in extra-marital affairs.

The failed politician claimed that the minister had fathered three illegitimate children.

He said Hon Pōhiva’s actions went against the principles of transparency, morality and honesty he had championed while he was a fierce critic of the former governments.

Transparent

In his letter to Kaniva News, Fifita said the Prime Minister had said that application for posts must be transparent. He said Hon Pōhiva had proposed that government posts must not be selected in such a way that people appeared to have been chosen because of nepotism and favouritism.

Hon Pōhiva has been a long time critic of what he described as unfair distribution of the country’s opportunities and wealth among the Royal Family.

He criticised the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV for allowing his daughter Princess Pilolevu to run her own business using Tonga’s satellite slots, saying it was unconstitutional.

The Tongan constitution says: “The King shall govern on behalf of all his people and not so as to enrich or benefit any one man or any one family or any one class, but without partiality for the good of all the people of his Kingdom.”

The Prime Minister responded to allegations about the appointment of his ministers by saying that he had no option but to choose from a small number of politicians who held the balance of power.

The Prime Minister told Radio FM 89.5 that  the most important thing for him was to use people who had been scrutinised and elected by the people.

Hon Pōhiva said the ministers had vowed to leave what had happened behind them and do their best to build the nation while they were in the new government.

In the post-election period there was a strong push from Hon Pōhiva’s supporters to engage in horse trading with the independent politicians so the Democratic Party could form the best government for the people.

One week before the premiership election on  December, 29, 2014, Hon Pōhiva  said he had held various secret meetings with some of the independents to try to persuade them to join his government.

“They must be given whatever ministerial posts they want so that we would form a democratically elected government,” he told Kaniva News.

Conflict

Fifita’s letter has been hotly debated on social media, with Hon Pōhiva’s  selection of his son as his personal assistant secretary the most discussed topic.

Critics said it was a conflict of interest that did not reflect well on his government.

Olivia Ve’etutu T said: “PM does not look good with it in the international level after all those numerous years of calling for good governance!”

Arthur Fonua said: “…the appointment of his own son does not enhance or strengthen his own foundational vision of inclusion…not well thought out from a democratic perspective and metric”.

Senolita Swan commented: “What a shame…Do what you preach… I had such a high hope for this PM.”

However, the Prime Minister’s supporters rallied around.

Sione Talanoa Fifita  commented in Tongan on the Democracy for Tonga Facebook page that Hon Pōhiva had not committed nepotism because his son was paid from the Prime Minister’s salary.

Maggie Tupou said: “The way I see it, there is no conflict of interest as his son’s wages are paid out of the PM’s pocket. It is normal for people to hand pick their own personal assistants.”

lex Tora said:  “Interesting indeed….my one cent contribution – PMs the world over pick their own personal assistants and pay for them from their own pay packets….if that is what PM Pōhiva has done then I do not see any problem with that — I think he is worried about having someone who will not be able to do the job as he wants it done — making it happen so to speak — so he has gone for his son because he may trust his son more to be able to perform than those who have been sitting there for some time….interesting indeed….”

The main points

  • Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has denied claims of nepotism made by failed political rival ‘Eliesa Fifita.
  • Fifita claimed Hon Pōhiva was guilty of giving special privileges to a member of his family by appointing his son as his personal assistant.
  • Fifita also claimed Hon Pōhiva had ignored sexual improprieties committed by two of his ministers.
  • The Prime Minister has denied allegations of nepotism.

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