Lavulavu escapes impeachment after PM pleads with house to leave penalty to him

Tonga’s Minister of Infrastructure has survived a motion to impeach him by just three votes.

Impeachment could have ended his career, but Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva told the House that surviving the vote did not mean the Minister would go unpunished.

The motion was put to the House after the Parliamentary Privileges Standing Committee found there was evidence that the Minister, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu, had broken the law.

During the noisy debate that followed, a weeping Hon. Lavulavu apologised to the House and the Prime Minister.

Hon. Pohiva pleaded with the House to let him deal with the Minister.

Hon. Lavulavu was investigated after a motion by Vava’u No 2 Nobles’ Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa in August triggered an investigation into claims he was guilty of nepotism and fraud.

Hon. Lavulavu was accused of diverting the bulk of government money for road construction and other government projects to his son, Paea Lavulavu, and his company, Shining Turtle Construction.

The Privileges Committee told the House it gave Hon. Lavulavu five different opportunities to respond to the allegations, but to no avail.

The Committee said there was prima facie evidence against the Minister and told the House to accept all its recommendations.

PM pleas

The House accepted the Privilege Committee’s recommendation and in a sometimes emotional debate argued whether Parliament should impeach The Minister.

The Prime Minister asked MPs to put Parliament’s role in the impeachment aside and let him punish Hon. Lavulavu according to the power given to him by the constitution.

Hon Pohiva told the House he believed Hon. Lavulavu had broken the law and breached government policies and that he had the power to sack him.

But the Speaker of the House told the Prime Minister he feared that if the House did not approve the impeachment that would be the end of the case.

The Minister of Finance, Hon. ‘Aisake Eke, who is a member of the Privilege Committee, told the House he believed there was a case to be heard in the House.

The Prime Minister told the House before the Speaker put the motion to the vote that even if Hon. Lavulavu survived the ballot it did not mean he would not penalise him in cabinet.

The vote went 12 for Lavulavu and nine against him.

After the ballot the House took a break for the day. It will resume on duty next Wednesday before the Legislative Assembly closed for the term on Thursday 29.

The main points

  • Tonga’s Minister of Infrastructure has survived a motion to impeach him by just three votes.
  • Impeachment could have ended his career, but Prime Minister ‘Akilisa Pohiva told the House that surviving the vote did not mean the Minister would go unpunished.
  • The motion was put to the House after the Parliamentary Privileges Standing Committee found there was evidence that the Minister, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu, had broken the law.
  • During the noisy debate that followed, a weeping Hon. Lavulavu apologised to the House and the Prime Minister.

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