Health Minister departure another blow to PM as king yet to appoint Cabinet ministers nominated in July

The departure of Tonga’s Minister of Health to take up a new job with the World Health Organisation has added to a string of disasters the Prime Minister is facing. 

King Tupou VI

The Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku hosted a lavish government dinner this afternoon to farewell Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala.

Dr Piukala will lead the WHO’s regional office.

His nomination for the top job in the Western Pacific comes months after the UN health agency fired its previous director, Dr Takeshi Kasai, following allegations of racism and misconduct first reported by the Associated Press last year. Dr Kasai denied the allegations.

WHO said in a statement that Dr Piukala has nearly three decades of experience working in public health in Tonga and across the region in areas including chronic diseases, climate change and disaster response.

Dr Piukala defeated rival candidates from China, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Vietnam.

Dr Piukala was in the news recently after nurses in Tonga staged a half-day strike and petitioned the king after they were disappointed at his handling of their proposal for a pay rise.

PM Hu’akavameiliku has to nominate another new Cabinet Minister for the king to appoint to replace Dr Piukala.

This will come on top of two Cabinet Ministers whose names were submitted to the king  in the middle of last year. However, the king has still not ratified the appointment of the ministers.

This appears to show that relations between the palace and the Hu’akavameiliku government have not been good.

Critics believe the king is still unhappy with the government’s lack of action after he chastised the Parliament and the former government of Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa for their failure to provide annual ministerial reports on time and their continued involvement with the airline business, while at the same time private companies had been vying to operate it, including the New Zealand-based Tongan Fly Niu.

PM Hu’akavameiliku

As we predicted recently, the king did not commission Lulutai’s new De Havilland Twin Otter into service. Instead, the Crown Prince launched the Twin Otter service in December.

Tongan monarchs have traditionally launched such government big projects.

In 2014 King Tupou VI commissioned the newly purchased 34-year-old St Theresa, which he renamed the MV Niuvakai.

As we reported recently, the royal celebration of the vessel was followed by a finding by Tonga’s Ombudsman that the vessel should have not been purchased because it had numerous deficiencies.

A New Zealand-based marine surveyor identified 17 problems with the MV Niuvakai before Tonga’s national shipping line paid TP$1.3 million for it, three times what vessel was worth.

The Ombudsman said the Friendly Island Shipping Agency’s board had failed to conduct a proper evaluation of the vessel.

As Kaniva News recently reported, Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku was one of the delegation which allegedly on board MV St Theresa to check whether or not the old ferry was fit to be purchased.

After its commissioning the MV Niuvakai regularly experienced serious mechanical failures leading to repeated delays to its schedule and it being anchored for months.  Since last year it has been spotted anchored at Pangaimotu island facing Nuku’alofa, in a spot known for dumping derelict and inoperable ships.

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