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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Commentary

Tonga’s New Government Tested In 2012

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 24, 2012) – The year 2012 has been an eventful year for Tonga, and a real test of the ability of government, and the people of Tonga to get the new system of government to work properly.

2012 was marked by the death of the reformer King George Tupou V, and ushered in a new Royal family.

The year has also seen a failed attempt to oust our first elected government.

Tonga's majority elected parliament completed its second year in office trying to implement a new system of government that was introduced in 2010 Hopefully now, after a dramatic year in the House, our government and our members of parliament are beginning to realize that to investigate wrong doings and corruption within government, is a task for institutions such as the Anti Corruption Commission and not a job for politicians or our elected members of parliament.

Death of the king

The year started off with a big blow, with the death of King George Tupou V on March 18. He was the architect of Tonga's new system of government, allowing the transference of the executive power of the King in Council to the newly elected Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

The king's death meant a realignment of the royal family at the apex of the Tongan political system. Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka ascended the throne as King Tupou VI. His son, Prince 'Ulukalala, became the new Crown Prince Tupouto'a 'Ulukalala (27).

To add another dimension to this realignment, the Crown Prince married, the Hon. Sinaitakala Tu'imatamoana 'i Fanakavalangi Fakafanua in a colourful royal wedding on 12 July.

Vote of no confidence

Meanwhile, in the Tongan parliament there was a move to oust the government taking shape. On June 18 ten People's Representatives presented to the Speaker of the House, Lord Lasike, a Motion for a Vote of no Confidence in the Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano and his Cabinet.

After the House passed the $332.2 million pa'anga national budget for the 2012-13 Financial year on June 25; in the afternoon of the same day three Cabinet Ministers, the Minister of Health, 'Uliti Uata; the Minister of Police, Sunia Fili and the Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industries, 'Isileli Pulu resigned from Cabinet to support the motion for the Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister.

At that critical point of time if the House had voted on the Motion for a Vote of No Confidence there was a chance that the Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano and his government could have been voted out of office, with the supporters of the motion already securing 13 votes, which is half of the total members of parliament.

New Speaker

At the same time the integrity of several members of parliament was being challenged, as criminal charges were laid.

On 9 July the Speaker of the House Lord Lasike (55) was found guilty by Chief Justice Michael Dishington Scott in the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court, for the illegal possession of two .22 rifle bullets. (Although his later appeal against the conviction was successful).

On 18 July His Majesty King Tupou VI revoked Lord Lasike's appointment as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and he lost his seat as a member of parliament. There was also the possibility that he could lose his noble title.

On July 19 the House elected Lord Fakafanua as the new Speaker of the Tongan Parliament, and the House started debating the Motion for a Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

On July 30 the former Minister of Health 'Uliti Uata (75) was rushed to hospital, suffering from a stroke. He was sent overseas for medical treatment.

On August 2 Lord Nuku won the by-election for the 'Eua Noble's Representative to replace Lord Lasike in parliament.

Nuku'alofa reconstruction

Meanwhile, government shifted its focus to the activities of the previous government. In the background, an investigation had been going on in an attempt by government to inform public how a TOP$119 loan from China was spent by the previous government of Dr. Feleti Sevele for the reconstruction Nuku'alofa after it was burned by protesters on 16 November 2006.

The loan, though a soft loan to government to be repaid within 20 years, had increased the debt burden of the country to the point that the World Bank had announced that the Tongan government could no longer borrow money from overseas.

In April 2011 government had engaged a group to produce a report but it failed to win favour with the Prime Minister. In June 2011 the Prime Minister cancelled the engagement of this group, reporting that they had gone "quite outside the scope of the assignment."

Parliament had on 26 July 2011 formed an Independent Parliamentary Committee, led by 'Akilisi Pohiva and Dr. Sitiveni Halapua to produce a report on how the Chinese loan was spent. By December 2011 the two members of parliament presented a motion resolution with the House, for the status of the Independent Committee to be upgraded to a Royal Commission. The House instead turned the Independent Committee into a Parliamentary Select Committee, and Lord Lasike and Lord Tu'i'afitu also became members of the Committee.

NDC Report

So in 2012 during the division in the House over the Motion for a Vote of No confidence in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, the House appeared to be united in their desire for a report on how the previous government of Lord Dr Feleti Sevele and the Nuku'alofa Development Corporation spent the Chinese loan.

On Friday, August 31 the NDC Report was released to the public by the Chairman of the Select Committee, Lord Fakafanua, the new Speaker of t he House, 'Akilisi Pohiva and Dr. Sitiveni Halapua.

The Committee found that the government loan from China was Illegal. It also made claims of illegal transference and allocations of the loan money. It went on and recommended for government to carry out criminal investigation and prosecution.

Some government Ministers reacted to these recommendations by pointing out that the committee did not keep in line with their Terms of References, and the report was of no use to government.

New committee

On 2 October the House voted for the report to be handed over to a new Independent Parliamentary Committee to chaired by 'Aisake Eke who was the Secretary of Finance when government signed the loan agreement with the Exim Bank in 2007.

So by the time the Legislative Assembly finally decided to vote on the other matter, which was the Motion for a Vote of no Confidence in the Prime Minister, on 3 October, the composition of the House was different from what it was in July.

Lord Fakafanua had became the Speaker, and Lord Nuku had joined the table of the Nobles' Representatives; while Sangster Saulala, one of the 10 People Representatives who was a signatory to the motion had accepted the portfolio of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. 'Uliti Uata was still away overseas on medical treatment. The motion was rejected with a vote of 13-11.

By the end of 2012 the preoccupation of our Members of Parliament, by just playing politics and trying to secure their own political futures, overlooked the fact that they were elected by their constituents to try and improve the economy, to create employment opportunities and to help improve the standard of living.

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/
Copyright 2012 Matangi Tonga. All Rights Reserved

 


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