King rejects proposal by PM Tu'i'onetoa to become member of Privy Council

The king has rejected a proposal to allow Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa to become a member of the Privy Council.

The king has also declined a request by the Prime Minister to give the Minister of Police more power over the Police Commissioner.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa made the revelation during his meeting with some members of the Tongan community in Auckland on Monday.

He told the meeting King Tupou VI rejected the proposals during their audience this month.

The Prime Minister said that while he was Police Minister he felt disappointed when he saw that the minister did not have much power over the Police Commissioner.

He said he told the king during their audience the Prime Minister should be in the Privy Council so he could thoroughly update him and his councilors of what happened in the cabinet and the executive government.

In his response regarding the proposal to increase the Police Minister’s power the king told him to toe the line (“taki taha tu’u pe i hono laini.”) When he declined the request for the prime minister to be appointed a member of the Privy Council the king told Tu’i’onetoa “you choose your own Cabinet Ministers and I choose my own Councilors.”

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Hon. Tu’i’onetoa was responding after a member of the Tongan community asked him during the meeting in Mangere, South Auckland about the roles of the Police Commissioner and how it worked in relation to the Minister of Police.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa is the third prime minister since the democratic reform in 2010 . There have been concerns that while the government is democratically elected, some of its key appointments are made by the king and his Privy Council who they are not accountable to the people. These included the appointments of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General.

Lord Tu’ivakano was the first Prime Minister after the move to democracy in 2010. He quickly realised there were issues with the existing constitution and how it stipulated the appointments of these key positions. Lord Tu’ivakano finally endorsed a report by  Constitutional Law expert from the Commonwealth, Peter Pursglove, who reviewed Tonga’s 2010 constitution.

In his report, which was published in 2014, Pursglove said Tonga’s 2010 constitution was poorly written, promoted secrecy, compromised the role of the judiciary and parts of it may have been  illegal.

Pursglove said the Privy Council lacked any democratic composition or accountability.

Police Acts – Parliament’s report

In 2015 Parliament was told the Police Acts needed to be amended to give more power and authority to the Minister of Police.

Parliament said the call for amendment to the Acts was raised by the former Prison Commissioner Sione Falemanu and senior officers during a parliamentary visit to Hu’atolitoli Prison.

According to the Tonga Police Acts the Police Minister could meet with the Police Commissioner to give him direction of what the Minister  would like the Commissioner to do for the safety of the community.

Former Police Minister Mateni Tapueluelu reportedly said the fact the Police Commissioner was not appointed by the Cabinet according to the constitution while the minister is being appointed by the Cabinet made it difficult for them to work together for the benefit of the community.

Tapueluelu said that in New Zealand the Prime Minister, on the advice of Cabinet, recommended the appointment of the Police Commissioner to the Governor General. 

King’s first response for the country

The revelation by the Prime Minister was the first time the country has received a response from the king after a raft of six bills were tabled by the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s government in Parliament earlier this year.

The bills included giving the government, rather than the king, control over key judicial and police appointments.

The bills were first submitted to Parliament by Lord Tu’ivakano in 2014 although the noble and his former government ministers and MPs did not support the bills this year when ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s government submitted them to Parliament after public consultations. 

Previous proposal for Privy Council

Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa‘s deputy, Sione Vuna Fā’otusia, told a press conference in Nuku’alofa in 2017 that the then government proposed to amend the Constitution so that Cabinet ministers become members of the Privy Council.

Hon. Fa’otusia said this was to allow the ministers to talk and discuss directly with the king any laws or any amendments to the constitution right from the beginning to the end before the king chose to sign them off or not.

He said it was a good idea to get the king involved in the process right from the start so he could really understand why MPs wanted to make or amend those laws.

He also said the judicial committee which advised the king in Privy Council had caused instability in Tonga.

“These committee members were people we did not know,” the Minister told the  press conference.

They were not chosen by the people, he said.

The committee was chaired by Lord Dalgety of Sikotilani Tonga and few other law lords, the Minister said. 

Hon. Fā’otusia said many of the amendments to laws and the Constitution passed by Parliament were vetoed by His Majesty because of this judicial committee.

“If the judicial committee did not agree with laws and  amendments to the constitutions which were already passed by the Parliament that’s the end of it” the Minister said.

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