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Legal action is underway to sue the Lord Speaker, Hon. Fakafanua, after he was accused of breaching the Constitution by stopping MPs debating the Prime Minister’s responses to the motion of no confidence yesterday.
The Speaker and his chief clerks were also accused of failing to immediately make it clear and locate in the Hansard a statement by the Speaker telling the House he would allow them to debate the motions against the Prime Minister.
The legal action has been confirmed to Kaniva News by the Tongatapu 4 MP Mateni Tapueluelu.
It came after the Prime Minister survived his vote of no confidence by a vote of 14 – 11.
Hon. Tapueluelu, who was recently granted leave to sue the Parliament in relation to an alleged illegal pay rise, said he believed the Speaker and the Parliament had breached the same clause of the constitution when he handled the motion of the vote of no confidence on Wednesday.
The dispute centred on Clause 62 (2) of the Constitution , which says: “Any member of the Legislative Assembly may, in accordance with its rules of procedure – (a) introduce a Bill in the Assembly; (b) propose a motion for debate in the Assembly; or (c) present a petition to the Assembly, and it shall be dealt with in accordance with the Assembly’s rules of procedure.”
The Assembly’s rules of procedure 84F, which cover a debate of a Motion for a Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister, say at Section 84F (2): “When a motion for Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister is debated in the Legislative Assembly, there shall be no other matter debated in the Legislative Assembly until the Motion is concluded”.
The Opposition believes the Assembly’s procedures and the Constitution clearly stipulate that they had the right to debate the motions after they were read out.
When the House returned after a break on Wednesday to deliberate after the 223-page report of 46 motions and responses were read out, the Prime Minister was the first to speak and move for the Speaker to go ahead and put his vote of no confidence to the ballot.
This was opposed by the Opposition who told the Speaker they needed time to clarify the responses from the Prime Minister because they felt some had been misleading and breaching other clauses of the constitution.
Lord Nuku from the Opposition spoke and gave an example. He said the vote of no confidence motions had accused the government on matters related to its conviction by a court and there was evidence about it. He said the response from the Prime Minister claimed the government did nothing wrong (“ ‘ikai ha me’a ia ‘e hala”).
A heated debate erupted, with more MPs who supported the Vote of No Confidence asking the Speaker to allow them to clarify the Prime Minister’s responses. They believed it was in the public interest to clarify the responses from the Prime Minister and leave it for the public to judge.
Tongatapu 7 MP Paula Piveni Piukala asked the Prime Minister whether he had something hidden in his responses and whether this was the reason he insisted on stopping them from clarifying his responses.
Speaker says the House will debate
Hon. Piukala reminded the Speaker that he had already told the House the day before that he would allow them to debate (“fakamalanga”) the motions and the responses after the clerks read them all out.
MP Piukala insisted that the Speaker should refer to the Hansard and double check what he had told the House.
The Speaker insisted that that debates he had mentioned were meant for the House procedures (“foungs ngāue ‘a e Fale”), but Piukala disagreed and told the Speaker to bring the Hansard to confirm what he was talking about as he believed he was right.
The Speaker asked to pause the meeting before he called his two chief clerks to help him check the Hansard.
After the short meeting the Speaker told the House his recollection was the same as the clerks, that the debate he was talking about the day before was meant for them to discuss the House procedure.
Kaniva News replayed the streamed video which recorded live the Speaker’s statement. Here is what he said about the debate in Tongan:
“ ‘A ia ‘i hono aofangatuku’ ko ‘ene ‘osi pe hono lau’ te u tuku atu e faingāmalie hou’eiki ke mo u fakamalanga mai ki he fokotu’u’ pea mo e tali’. Te tau tauhi pe ‘a e taki miniti ‘e 10 pea ko ‘ene melie pe feme’a’aki’ te u ui leva e pāloti’ pea ko ‘etau pāloti’i ‘a e fokotu’u’ pe ‘oku mou loto ki ai pe ‘ikai.”
In English he said (contextually translated by Kaniva News):
“So in conclusion, after the reading of the motions and the responses, I will give you the opportunity to debate (“fakamalanga”) on the motions and the responses. We will keep to the rule of 10 minutes limit for each MP who wanted to speak and when the debates finished, I will call for the ballot on the vote of no confidence whether you accept it or not.”
The Speaker said later, during the dispute in the House, that he had just located in the Hansard what Hon. Piukala was referring at. He read out that part of the Hansard, as translated above, but he made further comments which made it appear that he was trying to justify what he had said previously, that the debates he mentioned the day before were meant to be about the House procedure.
He did not allow the House to debate the responses from the Prime Minister. He finally allowed the House to ballot the Prime Minister’s motion to go ahead and ballot on his vote of confidence.
The Prime Minister’s motion was carried with a 17 – 10 vote.