Outspoken pastor criticises Tongan Parliament’s big pay rise; says silence of church leaders supports wrongdoing

A Tongan pastor has been lauded as a true prophet after he strongly criticised the Parliamentarians and government Ministers’ pay rise, which has been backdated to 2018.

Dr Sitiveni ‘Aipolo of the Assembly of God church said Parliament made the pay rise while inflation was high and people were struggling to meet basic needs.

The pastor said religious leaders’ failure to speak up when government leaders had been accused of making wrong decisions meant they were supporting wrongdoings.

He said the kingdom’s financial difficulty was not about money, but leaders’ lack of responsibilities.

As Kaniva News reported last week, the big pay rise received by Tongan Parliamentarians this year has met with controversy and its legality has been disputed.

The PTOA Party (Democrats) MP Mateni Tapueluelu claimed the pay rise did not comply with government regulations, citing  Section 13 which stipulated that only the Tonga Remuneration Authority could recommend a pay increase for parliamentarians.

The government’s use of a circular to solicit MPs approval of the pay hike rather than a debate before a face-to-face vote in the House had been called into question.

Parliament said the salary rise was legal and was approved through a circular which was distributed among the MPs. It said the circular was a legal means of communication approved by the House.

People speak through elections

Dr ‘Aipolo’s criticisms were made during a political campaign last week in Tongatapu to support the newly elected PTOA MP for Tongatapu 7, Paula Piveni Piukala.  

Hon. Piukala was campaigning after his former rival candidate and MP Sangastar Saulala was unseated following a Court of Appeal decision dismissing his bribery conviction appeal.

It was Piukala who brought the bribery charges against Saulala.

Dr ‘Aipolo said the young people’s dancing and singing during Piukala’s campaign spoke about something deep in their hearts which they could not express.

“I wish to connect what is hidden in your heart tonight to the purpose of why we are here”, Dr ‘Aipolo told the crowd and listeners in Tongan in the speech which was also livestreamed on Facebook.

Dr ‘Aipolo said the children of today would ask in the future what did their parents do for them at present.

Election of a neighbour

The pastor then recounted the parable in the Holy Bible about the Good Samaritan.

He said Jesus was asked to confirm what he meant by the word “neighbour”.

Dr ‘Aipolo said Jesus told of a man who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by robbers on the way. He was badly beaten and left for dead.

The first person to pass the injured man was a priest, who crossed the road and continued walking.

The second person to pass the injured man was a Levite, a priest’s assistant. He also crossed the road and continued walking without helping the man.

The third person to come by was a Samaritan, a person from Samaria. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. When the Samaritan saw the man, he took pity on him. He bandaged him and cleaned his wounds. He then put him on the back of his donkey and took him to an innkeeper, who he paid to look after him.

The parable ends with Jesus giving a commandment to go out and do the same as the Samaritan had done.

Dr ‘Aipolo told the audience and online listeners “we are here tonight to choose a neighbour”, implying that that neighbour was Hon. Piukala.  

Don’t believe in that lie

Dr ‘Aipolo said Tonga was in deep trouble and a disastrous situation (“tu’unga fakatu’utāmaki”).

He said the kingdom’s problem was not a lack of funding.

“Do not believe in that lie”, he said.

“I can tell you we have enough money because they (Parliament) can backdate their pay rise to 2018 while we are struggling financially”, Dr ‘Aipolo said.

He said the Parliamentarians could do whatever they wanted.

“Apart from having their other allowances such as those for being members of government boards, they travelled overseas which means they received travelling allowances while at the same time we are struggling”.

He said the problem to which Tonga was heading was deep “loloto”, for which he received a round of applause from the crowd.

The pastor revealed during his speech how some of his close family members had chastised him because of his outspoken support for those who criticised  government leaders’ wrong decisions.

“I do not care, and I am doing what I believe is right for me to do”, he said.

He then slammed his religious colleagues and community leaders saying the “silence of good people in the face of evil is evil in itself”.

Dr ‘Aipolo’s criticisms have been welcomed by the Tongan online community and regarded him as a true prophet who stood by the grassroots level referring to what Jesus Christ said in the Holy Bible about being a true prophet.

It reads: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits”.

Critics believe most religious leaders and clerics’ strong involvement with the government’s controversial national fasting programme showed they had failed to independently speak out against the government when it made wrong decisions.  

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