COMMENTARY: The case of the Cabinet Minister and the Customs officer: The government must learn why it is vital to be seen to do the right thing

KANIVA’S COMMENTARY: Former Senior Customs Officer, Paula Naitoko, 68, has been jailed for six years.

He was found guilty in the Supreme Court of importing 6662 grams of methamphetamine worth of TP$1 million from the United States in 2019.

Naitoko, who was nearing retirement age, was also found guilty of trying to smuggle guns and ammunition into the country.

Kaniva News makes absolutely no adverse comment on the sentence or doubts the seriousness of Naitoko’s crime.

One cannot help thinking, however, about the disparity between the future that awaits him and that being enjoyed by former Finance Minister Tatafu Moeaki.

As we reported in August, Moeaki was convicted of electoral fraud and subsequently lost his seat in Parliament, but went back on the government payroll as a project manager in the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Minster of Infrastructure Sevenitiini Toumo’ua said he was happy that the convicted fraudster was working for the Ministry.

He praised Moeaki highly and said the former Minister had the experience necessary to fill the role.

Like Naitoko, Moeaki’s case was serious enough to be heard in the Supreme Court.

However, it seems unlikely that Naitoko will receive such generous treatment from the government.

The difference in the treatment of the two convicted criminals by their former employer – the government – has outraged public opinion.

Some members of the public have been angry enough to demand Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku resign.

The government must treat all its former employees –  whether they be Cabinet Ministers or Customs officials –  the same. If the government is to provide employment and what appears to be immediate rehabilitation for those convicted of crimes, then surely everybody convicted of a crime should benefit from such generosity of spirit.

There is equity in how the law is applied. All are equal when they come before the bench.  However, there must also be equity in how the government treats people. An equitable society is a peaceful and prosperous one. It is a just and principled society.

If the government does not treat people with equity, then it will set a bad example for the country. Do we want young people to grow up thinking that as long as they have the right connections, they can break the law and, apparently, be saved from any real consequences for their misdeeds?

People will form opinions based on how the government behaves. It is a lesson this government does not seem to have learned, despite the appalling example set by the previous administration in its handling of the Lavulavu case.

If a convicted drug smuggler’s only hope is that his family will be waiting for him when he is released, then why should a politician convicted of fraud and trying to cheat the electors expect to be welcomed back as if nothing has happened?

There is an old saying that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. So it is with government. The leaders of the country must not only behave honorably and with equity, they must be seen to do so.

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news