Siaosi 'O Vailahi Pōhiva, Dr Netatua Prescott

The People’s Party candidate Dr Netatua Prescott pulled out of by-election debate with Democrat’s candidate Siaosi ‘O Vailahi Pōhiva yesterday.

They were the only two contesting for the Tongatapu 1 seat made vacant by the death of late prime minister, ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

The constituency was a stronghold for the Democrats and in the past 32 years its seat was held by ‘Akilisi who was globally known as the democratic campaigner.

Siaosi and Prescott were supposed to take part in a live TV debate organised by state-run media, the Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

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The broadcaster said Dr Prescott contacted the station on the morning before the debate to say she could not make it.

Meanwhile, the two contestants’ political campaigns had something in common – the millions clawed back by the treasury and donors each year because the government was unable to spend them.

Siaosi said more than TP$60 million was handed back to the treasury in the 2018/19 fiscal year, of which $7 million was from the Ministry of Education.

Siaosi said he was disappointed that the money was returned to treasury while at the same time more people’s essential and urgent needs were not addressed.

Siaosi believed the mechanism of good governance “pule lelei” did not work.

He vowed to continue his father’s democratic reform process and make sure good governance and a fair distribution mechanism functioned in the government system. He believed this was the only solution to make the economy viable and this way the grassroots level received the benefits they should have.

In a recent interview with news editor Laumanu Petelō which was livestreamed on Facebook, Dr Prescott said she was concerned at the millions of dollars being handed back every year to the World Bank because the government could not spend the money in areas where they were meant to be used.

Dr Prescott, who is the head of the Service Central Unit (SCU) established to look after government and overseas donors projects,  said these were funds paid by the Bank for projects for the people of Tonga.

She alleged that corruptions, delays and the lack of skilled workers had caused the refund back part of the money to the Bank.

She said sometime the government had to pay back money to the Bank because of what she described as illegal activities that arose while projects were implemented.

Prescott said Tonga had been granted US$70 million from World Bank for five projects.

It appears addressing these issues was one of her reasons for going into Parliament.

Editor’s comments:

Siaosi believed becoming an MP was the only way he could implement the ideas he shared with his voters during his political campaign.  Prescott sought the same political pathway.

The duo’s political campaigns may look appealing to the voters but the question is – are they really going to achieve the ideas they shared with their constituents through Parliament?

We have learnt from the past years that only MPs who were elected Cabinet Ministers or became aligned with the government had the chance to achieve anything they wanted for their own constituency. This was because they had the numbers to win any ballot putting forward on any motion in the House.

The projects funded by World Bank Prescott was talking about were controlled by the Tongan government and the Bank and Australia, one of the largest donors. This means the parliament did not have much power to do with it.

Dr Prescott was appointed head of the SCU for the projects. With that, she was in a good position to improve and fix the problems she was talking about in the projects. She has the power and bigger voice to discuss that with the donors and if there are legal issues, these are for Cabinet to deal with.

Siaosi must make sure his PTOA party has the numbers to win the next premiership as the only way he can achieve his fight to fulfill his father’s democratic reforms.

He also needs to get the support of the nobles and the king to make sure more political reforms take place smoothly as happened in 2010.

About one more month before the election day, Prescott and Siaosi need to be more specific in what they need to tell their constituents about what they can do for them in Parliament.

There was also a discussion about road maintenance, electricity and water rates as well as building drainage, but these were duties of the government not MPs. It was the government which allocated the budgets and made policies for these needs.

The main points

  • The People’s Party candidate Dr Netatua Prescott pulled out of by-election debate with Democrat’s candidate Siaosi ‘O Vailahi Pohiva on Monday.
  • They were the only two contesting for the Tongatapu 1 seat made vacant by the death of late prime minister, ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

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