National Party MP’s resignation over scandal shows Tongan leaders how to behave properly

The question that now arises is who is going to pay back the salary and entitlements they earned while they stayed in Cabinet?

COMMENTARY: The resignation of National Party MP Sam Ufinddel is another lesson for Tonga’s politicians in how the kingdom’s leaders should behave.

PM Hu’akavameiliku, NZ MP Sam Ufinddel and Tongan Speaker Lord Fakafanua

Ufinddel has been ousted over historic allegations of misbehaviour including alleged abuse of a flatmate and his expulsion from boarding school for severely  beating a fellow student.

The National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, said the Tauranga MP had been stood down pending an investigation.

The National Party has been wracked by scandals in recent years.  The most recent involved 2020 National candidate Jake Bezzant who resigned after serious allegations emerged from an ex-girlfriend that he had been posing as her and sending inappropriate messages and images to strangers.

National Party board member Roger Bridge resigned after it emerged he had called a talkback radio station and pretended to be someone he wasn’t to undermine one of his party’s own candidates.

National’s Southland MP, Hamish Walker , resigned in 2020 after he admitted to leaking confidential COVID-19 patient details. Then former National Party president Michelle Boag confessed to passing on the data to Walker and she stepped down as National Party deputy leader.

The Nationals are not the only party to suffer from public scandals, but in the cases listed here the MPs understood clearly – if perhaps reluctantly – that if the game was up it was time to go. There was a clear expectation that public figures have to meet certain standards.

Even in private enterprise there are examples of management taking the appropriate course of action. Earlier this year the head of current affairs and news at TVNZ, Paul Yurisch, resigned after a news anchor he had hired, Kamahl Santamaria, left suddenly after a female staff member at TVNZ had complained about inappropriate behaviour.

Tongan cases

Unfortunately the same has not always been the case in Tonga.

As we have reported before, Tongan politicians and public figures have not always shown the same sense of propriety. The most serious case in recent times has been the Lavulavus who were ultimately jailed, but not before the Prime Minister caused a public scandal that dragged on for weeks by refusing to stand down Cabinet Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu. 

The recent appointment of Lord Sevele as Chair of the Reserve Bank has also caused concern, but the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have appeared to support his appointment.

In her response to request for comment on Lord Sevele’s appointment, the Attorney General said: ” In relation to the examples that you have listed, these are mere allegations because according to the best of my knowledge these issues have not been adjudicated before a Court of law”.

The current government has allowed a re-run of the Lavulavu scandal by not insisting that the three Cabinet Ministers who were convicted of electoral bribery stood down while their appeals were heard.

Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei, Minister of Finance Tatafu Moeaki and Minister of Internal Affairs Sangster Saulala all appealed against their bribery convictions in the lead up to the 2021 November General Elections. Their appeals all failed, which means that their elections are void.

They earlier obtained a stay of action so they were not immediately unseated while their appeals were heard. We believe they should all have stood down and foregone their salary and benefits of office until a judgement was made one way or the other.

The three ministers had been unseated yesterday and the Parliament had called for fresh elections.

The question that now arises is who is going to pay back the salary and entitlements they earned while they stayed in Cabinet?

It would have been far better and shown a far higher regard for the reputation of Parliament and democracy if they had fought their case outside Parliament. If they had won, they could have taken their place in the House and received their back pay.

If they could not find somebody at home to tell them how to behave properly, they could have been guided by the example of New Zealand politicians and public figures described above.

New Zealand’s system may not be perfect, but the fact that politicians and public figures who have broken the law or made major errors of judgement have stood down or been stood down provides a standard of behaviour for Tonga to follow.

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