Disciplined, defiant Democrat demonstrators gather outside meeting; PM reveals nobles’ $6m ‘down payment’ in negotiations over road project

Editor’s note: This story is edited to correct what we have earlier on said Lord Tu’ilakepa owned a quarry and that he has offered to sell rocks for TOP$70 per heavy truck load if the government used his quarry for the road project. That was not correct.

New Zealand-based PTOA supporters protesting against the rule of Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa staged large demonstrations in Mangere, South Auckland yesterday.

For more than five hours the protesters sang hymns and waved anti-government banners in defiance of the restrictions put in their way by police, who kept them across the road from the meeting venue.

The meeting was held at the hall of the United Church of Tonga Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

Undercover and uniformed police officers stood in front and among the protesters to prevent them from moving across to the other side of the road where Hon. Tu’i’onetoa was meeting with some members of the Tongan community.

Hundreds of Democratic party demonstrators appeared to have been well organised and disciplined for the largely peaceful rally. The only exception came when the Prime Minister’s supporters launched themselves at the Democrat supporters.

Members of Tongan community meet with the Prime Minister. Photo/Kaniva Tonga

As Kaniva news has already reported a clash ensued following exchanges of words from among the protesters and their opponents, who had gathered  on the church property.

PTOA supporters held banners calling for PM Tu’i’onetoa to step down and calling him a traitor.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa told the meeting at the hall he was happy to meet them for the first time.

He asked for their help in his attempts to build the nation.

PM Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa and Chief Secretary Edgar Cocker. Photo/Kaniva Tonga

Prime Minister’s Project

Hon Tu’i’onetoa told the gathering what he has described as the “Prime Minister’s project.”

This was his cabinet’s main priority of filling and sealing all roads in Tonga.

The Prime Minister reminded the audience this was a project created and approved by the former government of ‘Akilisi Pohiva, which had been deferred.

He said then when he was elected he decided to put the policy into action.

He said the project was named as his project to facilitate the work required and so he could deal with problems and change laws if necessary.

TP$6 million down payment deal

The Prime Minister said two of his noble cabinet ministers offered to sell rocks for TOP$70 per heavy truck load if the government used their quarries for the road project.

Kaniva understands the nobles were Lord Ma’afu and Lord Nuku.

The Prime Minister said based on how the government calculated the costs for the rocks, it could spend nearly $20 million on the project if it accepted the nobles’ offer.

He said the nobles also made a down payment of $6 million, which was $3 million for each of them, to be paid to them in advance and the government would settle the balance within 10 years.

Hon Tu’i’onetoa said nothing had been agreed or approved at this stage.

He said the nobles’ offer could save about $36 million because the other three quarries the government could use cost $200 per heavy truck load.

If the government used these quarries it could spent $56 million to complete the project. He said the government did not have that much money.

The Prime Minister lashed out at his critics who alleged that the government had paid $3 million each to the nobles.

The criticisms  

The PTOA supporters have criticised the Prime Minister for the deals, saying they involved a conflict of interest.

Some critics claimed the Prime Minister’s supporters have accused the late ‘Akilisi government of nepotism and favouritism, but now the Tu’i’onetoa government has done the same thing

The Prime Minister was welcomed at the meeting with positive comments from the audience who at times applauded him and his Chief Secretary, Edgar Cocker.

Hon Tu’i’onetoa did not reply to a question from Tagata Pasifika correspondent John Pulu who asked him during the meeting what would he like to say about the protesters who rallied outside and called for him to step down.

It was not clear why Hon Tu’i’onetoa did not respond to that question after he responded to a first question by Pulu.

It appeared the Prime Minister  may have been affected after he tripped over the edge of the carpet and fell to his knee on his way from the microphone to his seat when he finished his opening speech. However, he appeared to be fine later on.

Pulu said he did not pursue the question and felt for the Prime Minister after he fell over.  

Request to donate tar

Hon Tu’i’onetoa asked the audience during the meeting to donate one drum of tar for each of their families in Tonga.

Some who spoke during the meeting supported the idea while some raised concerns at how this donation could be collected and organised to make sure no one abused the opportunity.

Hon Tu’i’onetoa said he had just returned from Norway and had asked the Norwegian Prince if he could donate 150 drums of tar to Tonga. The Prime Minister reported that the Prince said he would talk to the petrol company about it.  

As Kaniva news reported previously, the Minister of Infrastructure said the government would help families who had no family members overseas. In the case of constituencies like Vava’u, where kava plants were their major source of income, people could trade in kava for their tar.

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