Armed Forces threatens action over weapon import claims, but Police Minister describes threat as is ‘imprudent’

Kuo fakatokanga mamafa e Taumalu'i 'a 'Ene 'Afio ki he kakai 'o e fonua 'i ha’anau fakamatala ki he Kaniva ‘o peheni: "‘Oku na’ina’i heni ‘a e Kau Tau, telia na’a ma’uhala ha taha pe ko ha kulupu, ko ha faingamalie ‘eni ke fakahoko ha ngaue ta’efakalao pe koe fakamoveuveu ki he ma’uma’uluta ‘a e fonua. ‘Oku tukupa mo mateuteu ma’u pe ‘a e Kau Tau, ‘o fakatatau ki he pule ‘a e Lao ke tokoni ki he Potungaue Polisi ‘a Tonga ki hono pukepuke ‘a e pule ‘a e lao moe ma’uma’uluta ‘a e nofo hotau kainga kotoa ‘i Tonga ni." Ko na’ina’i ‘eni kuo fekolo'aki ai e Minisita Polisi mo Komanitā Taniela Tuita mei he Tau Malu’i ‘a ‘Ene ‘Afio hili hono hū ta’efakalao ki Tonga ha fo’i mahafu ‘e 400,000 hili hono veteki ‘e he tu’i ‘a e Fale Alea he ta’u kuo ‘osi pea mo ha misini fa’u mahafu ka ‘oku tapui he lao. Pehē ‘e Tuita na’e ‘ikai ta’efakalao ‘a e fakatau mahafu ia ko ‘eni. Kae pehē ‘ehe Minisitā ne te’eki ke ne pehē na’e ta’efakalao ‘a e fakatau. Ko hono hū ange ‘o e mahafu ki Tonga ta’ema’u ha mafai meite ia, ko ia na’e ta’efakalao. Pehē ‘e he Minisita ko e tu’utu’uni ‘a e lao ‘oku ne fakamahino kuopau ke ma’u ha mafai mei he minisita polisi pea toki ngofua ke hu ha mahafu ki Tonga. Ko e hu mahafu ‘a e tu’i mo e me’atau kuopau pe ke kole ‘a e ngofua mei he Minisita Polisi. Pehē ‘e he Minisita Polisi koe’uhinga hono puke ongo koniteina mahafu ‘o tauhi ‘e he polisi mo e kasitomu ko ‘ene tu’uta ta’efakalao ki Tonga. Ne pehē ‘e he Minisitā Polisi ‘oku ta’efakapotopoto ke fai ‘e he Tau Malu’i ha fakatokanga natula fakamana pehē ki ha kakai ‘oku lolotonga nofo melino pe kinautolu ia. Ne toe hu mai 'e he sotia 'a e misini reloading machines 'e tolu taumu'a ke fa'u fakafo'ou e mahafu 'osi ngaue'aki. 'I he tu'u 'a e lao 'oku tapuhā ke fa'u 'e taha ha mahafu 'i Tonga pea 'oku ta'efakalao ai hono hū ange 'o e misini ko 'eni, ko e lau ia 'a e Minisita Polisi.

Police Minister Māteni Tapueluelu has clashed with Commander Taniela Tuita of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.

The two have exchanged a barrage of words after Hon. Tapueluelu claimed the importations by the Forces after the king dissolved Parliament last year of ammunition was unlawful.

In a statement in Tongan released to Kaniva News and other news media Commander Tuita threatened that the Armed Forces would respond according to the law to anybody who did anything unlawful.

Commander Tuita said the accusation against the Forces has degraded its reputation. He said the Armed Forces was ready if the Minister of Police took legal action against them.

Commander Tuita said claims that the “purchase” (fakatau mai) was unlawful were untrue.

In response, Hon. Tapueluelu told Kaniva New, the Armed Forces “was lying” in its statement.

Hon. Tapueluelu said he did not say the purchase was unlawful.

“What I have said, and I am saying, and I will be standing by it, was that the ‘importation’ was unlawful,” the Minister said.

The Minister said he did not take the Forces threat lightly.

“It has threatened the public,” Hon. Tapueluelu said.

“These are people who suffered after tropical cyclone Gita.”

“They are trying to rebuild their homes and help each other in this time of difficulties.”

He said it was imprudent of the Armed Forces to make such threats to people who are living at peace.

Hon. Tapueluelu warned that making warnings for the purpose of keeping the peace in the country was his responsibility and that of his Ministry, not the Armed Forces.

Hon. Tapueluelu told Kaniva News the only reason the Armed Forces agreed for the Police and Customs to seize the shipments was because the importation was unlawful.

He claimed the Forces Brigadier came to his office and apologised for what had happened.

Armed Forces denial

Commander Tuita said : “His Majesty’s Armed Forces has vehemently denied the claim which had been released saying the Forces unlawfully purchased ammunition which arrived in Tonga between August and December 2017.”

“This accusation has no legal basis or truth,” Tuita said.

Tuita claimed that after a meeting with the Police Minister to clarify the issue, the ammunition and weapons were returned to the control of the Police.

He said the purpose of returning the shipments was to give the Police Minister the opportunity to confirm the legal basis of the importation.

Tuita claimed the Forces talked to the government’s procurement department in 2016 in an attempt to import the ammunition. The purchase was budgeted in the 2016 – 17 financial year. A total of 80 per cent the payment was processed in January 11, 2017 and the remaining 20 per cent was paid in June 2017.

He said the Forces applied for a permit to import the ammunition on October 2. 2017, The permit was approved on October 6, 2017.

As Kaniva News reported on March 3, the approval was signed by Police Deputy Commissioner ‘Unga Fa’aoa. Hon. Tapueluelu said Fa’aoa had no power to do this.

Tuita said the VOEA Neiafu arrived in Tonga with the first shipment from Australia on October 6, 2017. He claimed Cabinet approved the request on October 13, 2017 and after it was cleared by Custom it was delivered to Taliai camp. The second shipment arrived from New Zealand on December 6 2017.

He admitted, the Forces returned the first shipment to Police and the second shipment to the Ministry of Customs. He said the amount of ammunition and weapon imported were far too small for the training and preparation of the army for the next five years.

Cabinet approval

Hon. Tapueluelu said the decision of Cabinet to waive duty to which Tuita referred to, was meant for a request from the king through his Lord Chamberlain to the Minister of Police to allow an importation of firearms and 600 ammunition for His Majesty.

Lord Ma’afu, the then Minister of His Majesty’s Armed Forces, submitted the request to Cabinet. Hon. Tapueluelu said because he was unaware of the controversial importation Fa’ao had approved, he supported Cabinets decision to allow the king’s request.

He said when he returned home for the day his ministerial driver passed him a letter seeking his signature on an application to import ammunition.

It was a letter from the Armed Forces to approve the importation of ammunition. He said he immediately became aware there was something wrong as Cabinet had just approved a request about a shipment of ammunition. He returned to his office the following day and after tracing back documents, it became clear this was not the king’s request.

He said the request related to the importation of 400,000 rounds which had been approved by Deputy Commissioner ‘Unga Fa’aoa. He said he did not know why they sought his signature after it was first approved by Fa’aoa.

The law

Hon. Tapueluelu said according to section 15 of the Arms and Ammunition Act, Chapter 20 Laws of Tonga, Revised Edition 2016, all applications for the importation of ammunition could only be approved by the Minister of Police.

The relevant section says:

(1) No person shall import any arm or ammunition or parts of arms and ammunition into the Kingdom from a place without the Kingdom unless he holds a licence in that behalf:

(2) Such licence may be obtained on application to the Minister of Police on payment of the prescribed fee and shall be in the prescribed form.

(3) Every holder of such licence shall endorse thereon descriptive particulars of all arms and ammunition or parts of arms and ammunition imported thereunder, and shall return such licence to the Minister of Police or to the nearest police station within 3 days from the expiration of the terms allowed thereby.

Reloading machines were unlawful

As Kaniva News reported, three reloading machines were imported by the Forces which were seized by Police.

These machines were made to assemble ammunition  by re-using cases or shells that had previously been fired.

Hon. Tapueluelu claimed the machines were prohibited under the law which banned the manufacturing of arms in Tonga.

The law says:

  • Any person who manufactures any arm or ammunition shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to both such imprisonment and fine.

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