Cyclone Gita, tensions between palace and government marked beginning of 2018 


January – 2018 Round-up

Outrage

The year began with outrage on social  media after Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and his caretaker cabinet ministers were reportedly not invited to the king’s 2018 New Year reception.

Kaniva News was reliably informed the proposed Deputy Prime Minister, Semisi Sika, was turned away from the palace by the royal guards.

It is understood Hon. Pōhiva and his ministers have been invited to the King’s party every new year since they took power in 2014 until the January’s incidents.

Relations  between the king and Hon. Pōhiva remained tense after he returned to power in a crisis fuelled election at the end of 2017 after he and the cabinet were dismissed and Parliament dissolved.

The events pitted Hon. Pōhiva and his reformers against the nobility and entrenched power interests in the kingdom, but the people put the democratic reformers back into power.

The Prime Minister had been expected to announce the new cabinet before Christmas, but said he had to delay naming Ministers until he had been officially appointed by the king.

The new government of Hon. Pōhiva became official on January 5, the day the king appointed Hon Pōhiva’s cabinet ministers.

The Prime Minister’s health was a central point of interest during January, with one newspaper claiming he had cancer.

The Ministry of Health denied the reports and said the Prime Minister had been cleared of prostrate cancer.

He had been in the Intensive Care Unit at Vaiola Hospital for observation and monitoring.

Controversial judge retires

A British judge who gained notoriety for sentencing two Tongans to be flogged retired.

Judge Robert Shuster gained international notoriety when he sentenced two teenage boys in Tonga to be whipped.

In 2010 MPs ‘Akilisi Pohiva and ‘Isileli Pulu, moved in Parliament to have Judge Shuster impeached on the grounds that he was incompetent.

Many of his judgements in Tonga were overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Shuster was also the presiding judge at the Royal Commission of Enquiry into the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika.

Shuster has been a judge in the Turks and Caicos Islands since March 2015 when he retired from the bench.

February

For Tonga the chief story of February was the assault on the island kingdom by Cyclone Gita.

Two people died during the category four cyclone, including an elderly woman who was in her house when it was blown away.

Police also confirmed three major injuries and 30 minor injuries on Tongatapu as a result of Gita.

Gita flattened Parliament House, brought down power lines and caused widespread destruction in the kingdom.

Electricity lines were downed, roofs were torn off houses by the high winds and crops were destroyed.

Roads were blocked by debris and downed power lines.  

The lack of power also affected water supplies and communication.

The town of Houma in Tongatapu lost its water supply after the their two-tank water supplier was destroyed by the Gita.

The government declared a state of emergency as the cyclone bore down on the kingdom, bringing high seas and destructive winds.

Cyclone Gita had already caused major flooding in Samoa and American Samoa, where there are fears about the spread of dengue.

The storm centre also brought heavy rain to southern Fiji.

Corruption

The Prime Minister launching a stinging attack on government officials he accused of corruption and not liking him.

He told Kaniva News there was no use in the government having good policies while those who were required to implement those policies in the ministries were corrupt.

He said it was clear that in the past two years the only successful projects his government had launched were handled by senior officials who were not corrupt and did not have a political vendetta against him.

Dengue

A dengue outbreak claimed the life of 10 year old Toafei Telefoni from New Zealand, who died in Vaiola hospital.

Medical authorities confirmed there were 19 other cases of the disease.

CEO of Tonga’s Ministry of Health, Dr Siale Akau’ola,  told Kaniva News the influx of returning students and visitors to Tonga during the Christmas Holidays had brought in a large pool of dengue viruses which caused the outbreak.

Dengue is being closely monitored in several Pacific states.

An outbreak of dengue in 2017 killed five people in Samoa and infected 2500 others.

China

Tonga’s often controversial relationship with China came into focus after a report in the Australian newspaper attacked Chinese investment in the Pacific.

The report followed claims the previous month by Australian International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells that China was funding “roads to nowhere” and “useless buildings.”

In response, the Tongan government said it was “exceedingly grateful” for all Chinese loans and grants.

“The Kingdom of Tonga continues to value deeply and mutually its friendly and strong ties and cordial relations with both the Government of Australia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” the government said.

Fashion

A design by a Tonga fashion designer was displayed at Buckingham Palace as part of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange.

The event was hosted by The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Bou Fonua Tanginoa, who designed the work, said the experience was priceless. She said she met some great designers from around the world and had more potential to participate in further events.

She said her design represented the cultural wealth of Tonga.

March

Adern visits Tonga

In March Tonga welcomed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern.

While in the kingdom Adern said New Zealand would provide an extra NZ$10 million for post cyclone reconstruction.

The New Zealand Prime Minister visited the Fasi moe Afi primary school and saw children learning in the tents they have been using since the cyclone destroyed several classrooms.

Girls and rugby

Prime Minister Adern was caught up in a sporting controversy in Tonga when the Ministry of Education and Training told the principal of Tonga High School, a government sponsored institute, that the Director of Education had decided to to ban its girls from participating in rugby and boxing.

The ban did not affect the majority of school girls in Tonga, especially the church and private schools which are attended  by 90 percent of all students in the kingdom.

Ardern, expressed her disapproval of the ban. She said that while New Zealand’s aid support for sports in Tonga would not be threatened, she disagreed with the directive.

“As a school student I played touch rugby and I would encourage all young women to engage in whatever sporting code they are interested in,” she said.

Seasonal workers

Tongans employed in Australia’s Seasonal Workers’ Programme should have access to three year visas.

This was one of the recommendations from an official visit to Australia to investigate the programme led  by Minister for Internal Affairs by Akosita Lavulavu.

A three year visa has been piloted for workers from Kiribati and Nauru.

The Ministry report said a three-year multiple visa would reduce the cost and time of having to do health and police checks every year.

The Ministry’s official report on the  visit also recommended changes in the way Tongans are recruited. It said workers were often ripped off by labour agents. They should avoid using middlemen, contractors or labour hiring agents.

Caldwell

Police Commissioner Steve Caldwell came under sustained attack by the government in March.

Caldwell, who has run an anti-corruption campaign and suspended a number of officers, was criticised by Hon. Māteni Tapueluelu, who openly sided with a number of suspended officers protesting about their treatment.

The Police Commissioner’s position is largely funded by New Zealand.

A Police spokesman said officers had been suspended for “very good reasons.”

“The Commissioner is confined by what he can say publicly on individual criminal and disciplinary cases currently under investigation,” the spokesperson said.

Tonga’s police force has a troubled history of corruption and abuse.

It also has a history of New Zealand police officers working in Tonga being faced with entrenched opposition from police opposed to attempts to clean up the force.

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