Outstanding fines no bar to Lord Nuku’s election, says AG

Lord Nuku’s TP$3,380,335 pa’anga court debts to another Noble will not affect his election to Parliament unless the constitution is changed, Acting Attorney General ‘Aminiasi Kefu says.

Lord Nuku owes the money after the Land Court found him and Chinese companies had
trespassed on two blocks of land which belonged to Lord Luani.

As Kaniva News reported in May, Mr Justice Scott ordered him to pay TP$5,556,000.

This was reduced after a successful appeal before Mr Justice Blanchard in September.

Lord Nuku was re-elected to Parliament last week by ‘Eua members of the nobility during
Tonga’s snap election.

The situation has called into question the fairness of the Constitution to all Tongan MPs and political candidates.

Read more: Lord Nuku keeps title and estate

Clause 65 of the Tongan Constitution stipulates that a candidate for Parliamentary elections has to get a written clearance from the Supreme Court and Magistrates Court showing they have no record of outstanding order before they can register to become a candidate.

Hon. Kefu said that clause did not apply to the Noble’s Members of Parliament.

“The prohibition was only intended for the people’s Parliamentary representatives,” Kefu told Kaniva News in Tongan in an e-mail.

Clause 65 says: “Representatives of the people shall be chosen by ballot and any person who is qualified to be an elector may be chosen as a representative, save that no person may be chosen against whom an order has been made in any Court in the Kingdom for the payment of a specific sum of money the whole or any part of which remains outstanding or if ordered to pay by instalments the whole or any part of such instalments remain outstanding on the day on which such person submits his nomination paper to the Returning Officer: Provided that no person holding an office of emolument under the Crown shall enter the Assembly except the Ministers, and the Governors.”

The Acting Attorney General said the prohibition counted from the day the candidates submitted their “letter” to register as candidates.

“There is no such “letter” to be handed in by the nobility,” he said.

Attorney General could not charge MP

He said it has been declared in a judicial case between Māteni Tapueluelu and the Attorney
General that according to the electoral law the Attorney General could not charge an elected Member of Parliament, only candidates who could file an election petition against other candidates.

Hon. Kefu said if Lord Nuku was charged according to Clause 4 of the Constitution the only
outcome could be that the prohibition in Clause 65 could be repealed because it clashed with Clause 4, but the court could not be able to make decision against Lord Nuku using the prohibition in Clause 65.

People might see this as the court making law and not confining itself to its responsibility to
define the law according to the power given to it by Clause 84 of the Constitution, Hon. Kefu said.

He said an option in this situation was an amendment to the Constitution to apply the
prohibition stated in Clause 65 to the nobility as well as the people’s representatives.

The nobles and the law

In 2012 Parliament passed amendments to the Arms and Ammunition Bill 2012 submitted by a member of the nobility.

The amendments reduced the penalty for the illegal possession of arms from five years to one year or a fine not exceeding TP$5,000 [US$2,698] or to both fine and imprisonment and for the illegal possession of ammunition from two years to one year or a fine not exceeding TP$2,000 [US$1,079] or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Before the amendments, the Nobles could be stripped off their titles and lands if they found
guilty for illegal possession of firearms.

The move was described by then opposition leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva as an attempt by the nobility to save Lord Tu’ilakepa and Lord Tu’iha’ateiho, who at the time face court cases after they were charged with possessing ammunition and firearms without licenses.

The Supreme Court stripped Lord Lasike of his title and estate after he was convicted for illegal possession of 2.22 ammunition in 2012.

Lord Lasike’s title and lands entitlements were eventually restored after a Court of Appeal
decision overturned the Supreme Court’s decision against him.

People’s reps pay court fines

As Kaniva News reported recently, Kele’a newspaper paid court fines of about TP$120,000 last month to allow its former editor, Tongatapu 4 MP Mateni Tapueluelu, to run for Parliament.

Tapueluelu was re-elected to Parliament in last week’s snap election.

In 2014 Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva paid the TP$22,000 legal costs he had been ordered to pay by the Supreme Court in Nukuʻalofa, to clear his way into Parliament in the 2014 general elections.

The Election Office disqualified Sione Kauate Tupouniua from seeking the nomination to
Parliament in 2014 because he failed to fulfil legal requirement stipulated by Tonga’s Electoral Act Section 9(4).

Tupouniua paid his debts and was cleared by the Registrar’s Office, but he went to the Election Office too late to register as a candidate for then general election.

  • The main points
    Lord Nuku’s TP$3,380,335 court debts to another Noble will not affect his election to
    Parliament unless the constitution is changed, Acting Attorney General ‘Aminiasi Kefu
    says.
  • He owes the money after the Land Court found him and Chinese companies had
    trespassed on two blocks of land which belonged to Lord Luani.
  • Clause 65 of the Tongan Constitution stipulates that a candidate has to get a written
    clearance showing they have no record of outstanding orders before they can register.
  • Hon. Kefu said that clause did not apply to the Noble’s Members of Parliament.
    For more information

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