Minister Lavulavu’s latest attack downplays lessons to be learnt about how MPs have behaved when faced with serious allegations

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala fakaTonga

Minister of Infrastructure ‘Akosita Lavulavu’s latest attack on  Kaniva News and our right to hold her to account appear to stem from stress over the two separate serious fraud cases she is expected to face on Monday March 29 and April 12 .

Hon. ‘Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu

In her latest statement on VPON media, ‘Akosita has repeated herself several times in her latest attack on the roles of the media and the opposition party. She also downplayed how much Tongan Parliamentarians can learn from the New Zealand Parliament about how its MPs have behaved in similar circumstances.

In New Zealand, Australia and other Parliaments it would be expected that MPs facing such serious charges would step down, even temporarily, for the good of the party and so as not to besmirch the name of Parliament.

‘Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate face charges of knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities were found in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016 and a land lease complaint in 2020. She did not deny these charges in her attack on Kaniva.

There were more serious accusations in Kaniva’s article on Wednesday about the various court rulings against ‘Etuate in Tonga as well as in the United States. ‘Akosita did not deny this. Instead, she kept asking for the legal basis for the calls we and Opposition Leader Semisi Sika have made for her to resign. We have already told her it was our responsibility to do so.

Contradictory

In our second story, which was a commentary, we made our argument clear:

“There does not have to be a court judgement to be made for a Cabinet Minister to resign once they come under the spotlight. The Tongan courts have no constitutional power to order her to resign. The mere fact that she has been accused and charged with two separate fraud cases, not just one, was enough for her to resign.”

Ironically, ‘Akosita did answer her own question by admitting that Sika has a right to call on her to resign in his role as an MP and citizen of Tonga.

In the Minister’s own words: “Semisi Sika is entitled to do so [call for her resignation] as a member of the parliament or citizen of Tonga.”

However, she claimed we were wrong in saying that Sika was the Leader of the Opposition Party because Tonga did not have a party system government. She was wrong.

Tonga People’s Party Inc (TPPI) and PTOA Party

The Tongan constitution does not say that Tonga has a formal party system of government.  Technically, however, the party system does exist and is recognised in Tonga and in the international level. It has been referred to as such  in legal documents, been recorded in the Parliament’s Hansards and quoted by local and international media as well as leaders of Tonga and overseas countries.

‘Akosita should know this well because she and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu were founding members of the Tonga People’s Party. This Party was formalised and registered with the Tonga government in January 2020, according to ‘Akosita’s husband ‘Etuate. There was also the PTOA party.

On page 4 of the TPPI manifesto there is this statement and I quote: “In the current Parliament, TPPI has 18 affiliated MPs and the opposite party of Paati Temokalati Otumotu Anga’ofa (PTOA) has only 9 MPs.” This manifesto has become a legal document.

So ‘Akosita and VPON’s argument that Tonga does not have a party system is flawed.

The Opposition Party

It is now normal practice that whenever the Prime Minister and his executive Cabinet are elected  and have a supporting bench in Parliament the rest of the MPs in the Legislative Assembly became the Opposition, with somebody they chose as their leader.

The name Opposition Leader was first given to Late Democratic Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva. It was quoted by various international media including the Australian newspaper the Age. The Australian Parliament reported in 2004: “Opposition Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva commands 70 per cent popular support and would be Prime Minister in a conventional democracy.”

After Pohiva’s death Radio New Zealand referred to him as Opposition Leader:  “He (‘Akilisi) was without question the best opposition leader Tonga ever had.” After Pohiva’s death he was replaced by Sika and again Sika was referred to as Opposition Leader.

NZ and Tongan parliament exchanges

In our Commentary we gave examples of Ministers in New Zealand and Australia who voluntarily resigned because they believed their continuation in the roles while they were being accused was the kind of distraction their government did not want.

We mentioned that to highlight the ground and basis for their voluntary resignation after they had been accused or linked to allegations or corruptions. They resigned without going to court to clear their names. We said ‘Akosita could learn a lesson from the two countries.

The New Zealand and Tonga Parliaments  have visited each other in the past; the last time in 2020 when the Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, led a Tongan delegation to New Zealand .

Lord Fakafanua told Radio New Zealand at the time that “a lot of experience and knowledge of the New Zealand Members of Parliament was a great resource for Tonga “to tap into”.

Lord Fakafanua said he thought the most important thing to take away with them was “New Zealand Parliament’s commitment toward strengthening democratic processes and sharing those ideals and values”.

This was why our Commentary on Thursday suggested that ‘Akosita should learn from Australian and New Zealand ministers who voluntarily resigned in the past. These are the good values and ideals Tongan MPs need to learn from New Zealand and it was our role as media to remind ‘Akosita of that.

When she has serious two accusations laid  against her, the decent thing to do would be to resign.

Tongan Ministers’ resignations

Tongan ministers who have resigned in the past including the Minister of Justice ‘Alisi Taumoepeau in 2010, Prime Minister ‘Ulukālala Lavaka Ata, who is the current king, in 2006 and Finance Minister Cecil Cocker in 1995. They resigned because they had been linked to allegations which were not good for the government of the day.

‘Akosita should remember that Cocker resigned from his ministerial position after he was at the centre of an allegation which linked to a cocktail party in New Zealand.

‘Akosita asked why Kaniva did not  call on Sika to resign when, in 2016, the Supreme Court rules he “acted unlawfully when he advised the plaintiffs that their appointments on the Board of the Authority had ended.” ‘Akosita accused Kaniva of being biased in calling her to resign while we did not call on Sika to resign.

Court penalises ‘Akosita

A simple pattern can help explain this situation for the Minister. Opposition Leader Sika made a comment to Kaniva News on Wednesday calling on her to resign, which we reported. No one in the Opposition in 2016 told Kaniva News they wanted Sika to resign, but we did report Sika’s case at the time.

The point is, we didn’t call on Sika to resign after his decision was quashed by the court in 2016, and we also didn’t call on ‘Akosita to resign after the court imposed her penalty in 2020.

‘Akosita’s case, in which she was penalised by the court for unlawfully denying whale watching licenses to a group of companies was only raised in Thursday’s commentary in an attempt to shed light on her implication that only a court decision could justify a resignation.

FAKAMATALA FAKA-TONGA

‘Oku mahino ‘i hono toutou ‘ohofi ‘e he Ministā ki he Ngaahi Ngāue Lalahi’  e Ongoongo ‘a e Kaniva’ mo e Taki ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ‘oku ‘ikai ha poini ia ka ko e lahi pe situlesi he fefine’ ni tu’unga he’ene ongo fu’u hopo lalahi ‘e ua ‘e kamata ‘apongipongi ‘ pea ‘oku ‘ikai ke tau fakaanga he ta ko e me’a ia ne fakafisi pehē ai pe kau minisitā ‘a Tonga’ ki mu’a’. Ko e ongo tukuaki’i mamafa ‘eni ‘o ‘Akosita mo hono hoa’ ‘Etuate Lavulavu ki he liliu loi ha ngaahi pepa ke na kaiha’asi’aki ha fu’u pa’anga lahi mei he tukuhau ‘a e fonua’, pea mo e tukuaki’i ki hono fa’u ha fakamalata loi ke lohiaki’i’aki ha lisi kelekeleke ki he Potungāue Fonua’. ‘Oku toe fepakipaki e fakamatala ‘a e minisitaa’ ni  mo ‘ene ngaahi fehu’i kuo fai ki he Kaniva’. Fehu’i pe ia pea ne toe tali pe ‘a e  tali totonu ki he’ene fehu’i ne fai’. ‘Ohofi ‘e ia ongoongo’ ni hono fokotu’u atu ‘e Sēmisi Sika ke fakafisi’. Pea ne mau ‘osi tala atu ki ai ko e ngafa totonu ia ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ke fai ‘a e fokotu’u ko ia (to hold her to account) pea ko e fatongia mo ia ‘o e mitia’ ke tuku atu ki he kakai’ e fakakaukau ‘a e Taki Fa’ahi Fakaanga’. ‘Ohofi ia ‘e ia mo ‘eke pe ko e ha ‘emau totonu fakalao pea ko e ha e makatu’unga fakalao ke fakafisi ai. ‘Osi pe kuo ne toe tala mai ‘oku ne fakapa’apa’i peseti ‘e 100 ko ā e mitia’. Ka ko ‘ene ‘ohofi e Kaniva’ ‘aki e fanga ki’i poini fulufulu’i moa’ ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha faka’apa’apa ia ki he mitia’. Tala mai ‘e ia ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha taki ‘a Sika ia ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ he ‘oku ‘ikai ha sisitemi fakapaati ia ‘a Tonga. ‘Osi ko ia’ ko ‘ena paati ‘ena mo hono mali kuo ‘osi lesisita ‘o ui ko e Paati ‘a e Kakai’ ‘o Tokoni Sea ai ‘a ‘Etu pea mēmipa ai ‘a Sita. ‘Oku ‘ikai tala mai ‘e he konisitutone ia ‘a Tonga ko ha sisitemi fakapaati ‘a e pule’anga’ ka ‘oku ‘ikai tapu ia ke fokotu’u paati ai mo ngāue atu ‘aki ‘e ha taha hangē ko e mitia’  ‘a e ngaahi hingoa fakapaati hangē ko e Taki ‘O e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ki he kau Fakafofonga Falea Alea’. Tala mai ‘e ia mo e VĪPONI’ ke tuku e fakatatau ia ki he fakafisi ‘a e kau minisitā ‘a Nu’u Sila’ mo ‘Aositelēlia’ he ‘oku kehe pe  kinaua ia mei Tonga pea ‘e ‘ikai  ke fakafisi ha minisitā ‘i Tonga koe’uhī ko ha fakafisi ‘a ha minisitā ‘i Nu’u Sila. Mio’i ‘e ia ‘emau ongoongo ke tu’u kehe. Ko e me’a ne fokotu’u atu ke ne ako mei he fakafisi ‘a e kau minisitā ‘a e ongo fonua’ ni. He kuo ‘osi ha’iha’i ‘a e ongo Fale Alea’ ni tautefito ki Tonga mo Nu’u Sila ke na feako’aki. Pea kuo ‘osi fe’a’ahi’aki ‘a e ongo Fale Alea’ ni he kuohili’ pea ko e fakamuimui taha’ ko e ta’u kuo ‘osi ne ‘i heni ai ‘i Nu’u Sila ‘a e Sea Looti Fakafanua mo ‘ene timi ko e omi ke ako he ngaahi tō’onga, angafai mo e founga ‘a e kau Fale Alea Nu’u Sila. ‘Ilo pe ia ‘e Sita he ne ‘osi kau mai he ‘a’ahi ‘e taha ki mu’a ka ko e mahalo lahi pe situlesi he teu hopo’. Me’a ‘e taha ke ne manatu’i na’e fakafisi ‘a e Minisitā Pa’anga ‘a Tonga he 1995 ko Cecil Cocker tu’unga ‘i ha tukuaki’i mamafa kiate ia ‘i ha paati ne fai ‘i Nu’u Sila ni. Sio ki he poini. Ko e me’a ‘e hoko ‘i Nu’u Sila’ ‘e ‘ikai faka’ata’atā ‘a Tonga ia mei ai. ‘Oku ako ‘a Tonga mei Nu’u Sila, mo’ui he pa’anga ‘a Nu’u Sila ko e hā kuo ‘ai ia ke kehe ‘enau founga ki he fakafisi? Pea ko e kau minisitā ne fakafisi ‘i Tonga’  hangē pe ko Nu’u Sila’ kau ai ‘a Cocker, Minisitā Lao ‘o e 2010, mo e Palēmia ‘o e 2006 ‘a ia ko e tama tu’i ia ‘o e ‘aho ni’ ne ‘ikai ke nau toe ō ki he fakamaau’anga’ ke ‘eke ai ha’anau totonu ka ko ‘enau fakafisi pe tu’unga ‘i hono tukuaki’i kinautolu’. Ka ‘oku vivili mai ia ‘oku ‘ikai ha makatu’unga fakalao ia ke fakafisi. Ko ‘ene tukuaki’i mamafa pe taha ko e ava mai ia ‘a e matapā kiate ia ke lue ki ‘api’. Angamaheni’ ‘oku makatu’unga pe he mamafa ‘o e tukuaki’i tautefito ki he ongo keisi ‘a ‘Akosita’ he ‘oku iku ia ki he Fakamaau’anga Lahi’. Ka ko e founga ia ki ha kau minisitā kuo tukuaki’i,  fiema’u ia ke nau male’ei ki tafa’aki  ō ‘o teuteu ‘enau hopo’ kae ‘atā e Sea mo e ‘ōfisi ‘a e pule’anga ‘o e kakai’ ia ke ha’u ha taha kehe ki ai ‘oku ‘ikai uesia ‘ene mo’ui mo hono ‘atamai’ koe‘uhi ko hono tukuaki’i’. Tala mai ‘e Sita  ‘oku paiasi ko ā e Kaniva’ hono lipooti ke fakafisi hili ko ia’ ne  ‘ikai ke mau fai pehē hili hono fakahā ‘e he fakamaau’anga’  ne maumau’i ‘e Sika ‘a e lao’ ‘i he tu’utu’uni na’a ne fai fekau’aki mo e kau talekita poate Takimamata’ he 2016. Ko e ki’i pēteni faingofua ‘eni ke fakahinohino’aki e minisitaa’ ke mahino lelei ki ai e me’a ni. Ko Sika na’a ne fai e komeni ‘i he Kaniva’ ‘i hono lakanga ko e Taki ‘O e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ‘o ne ui kia Sita ke fakafisi. Na’e ‘ikai ko ha fakakaukau ia ‘a e Kaniva’. Pea ‘i hono li atu e pēteni ko ‘eni ki he keisi ‘a Sika he 2016 ‘oku peheni, na’e ‘ikai ha taha ia mei he Fa’ahi Fakaanga ‘o e ‘aho ko ia’ te ne fokotu’u mai ki he Kaniva’ ha’ane fakakaukau ke mau lipooti ke fakafisi ‘a Sika. ‘Ikai ko ia pe ne ‘ikai ke fokotu’u atu ia ‘e he Kaniva’ ‘i he ta’u ni ke fakafisi ‘a Sita mei hono lakanga’ tu’unga hono tautea’i ia ‘e he fakamaau’anga ki he’ene maumau’i e lao ‘a e fonua’ ‘ikai foaki ‘a e ngaahi laiseni ki he mamata’anga tofua’a’ ki ha ngaahi kautaha.  ‘A ia ‘oku fetamate’aki pe ia. Na’e ‘ikai ha’amau lipooti  ke fakafisi ‘a Sika he’ene maumau lao he 2016 pea ne ‘ikai ha’amau lipooti ke fakafisi ‘a Sita he’ene maumaulao he 2020. Ko e toki lipooti atu pe ‘eni ‘i he’ene keisi tukuaki’i tohinima loi’ pea ‘oku ‘i ai pe makatu’unga lelei ki ai he ‘oku fu’u mamafa faufaua ‘a e tukuaki’i ko ia’.

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