Media reports on the motion of no confidence have focused on Deputy Prime Minister Sione Vuna Fā’otusia’s concerns about what he sees as the undue influence of disgraced former MP ‘Etuate Lavulavu on the Prime Minister and the cost of the government’s prayer and fasting excursions to the outer islands.
Existing concerns about the roadworks schemes and the alleged failure of the government to address the plight of watermelon growers whose crops have been banned from entering New Zealand were also raised in the motion of no confidence.
However, the motion of no confidence raises a number of other issues that raise concerns about proper governance and procedure.
Radio New Zealand reported last night that Hon. Fa’otusia had resigned. When asked by Kaniva News earlier in the day whether he had handed in his papers, the Deputy Prime Minister would only say it would be “the decent thing to do.”
The motion was tabled by leading Democrat Sēmisi Sika and was signed by 10 MPs. It has been calculated that with two Nobles trapped overseas, the Democrats could topple the Prime Minister with fewer than a handful of votes.
In the motion of no confidence, questions are raised about the apparent lack of planning for Covid-19.
Despite promises in the Budget Statement that combatting Covid-19 was the government’s chief priority, no plan setting out actions to ensure safety for the people of Tonga had been brought to Parliament.
The motion claimed that a TP$39 million “to fill in the gaps in the 2020/2021 budget” did not go through proper procedures. By law the government can only borrow TP$15 million a year in any financial year, the motion said.
A loan of $39 million “to fill in the gaps in the 2020/2021 budget” did not go through the normal processes.
A budget deficit of TP$20.6 million was funded from the Emergency Fund because of the TP$380m expenditure with a revenue of only TP$359.4m. In this deficit budget there is already the inclusion of the proposed loan from IMF of $19m plus $20m from Government bonds was included.
In the motion, it was claimed the amount of the loan was “spread and hidden” in the budget statement.
According to the petition, the road works programme had been selected to benefit Cabinet members.
The huge amount of money allocated raises questions on the selection process of companies to be providers and subcontractors on the projects.
The Prime Minister revealed in February 2020 at a public meeting at Tongatapu 4 that roadworks in his TT10 constituency has already exceeded $4m but were not finished, the motion said.
“A total allocation of $300m for the roadworks include $45m for the first year (2020/21). $120m for the second year (2021/22); and $135 for the third year (2022/23).
“Details of the $300m are outlined as: a) $100m for rocks, b) $50m for tar and kerosene, c) $20m for clearance of trees and roadsides, d) $50m needs of workers e.g. overtime, oil, etc. e) $20m for works to seal the roads, f) $20m for drainage work, g) $40m other expenses.
“The huge amount of money allocated raises questions on the selection process of companies to be providers and subcontractors on the projects.”
Selective financial assistance
The motion of no confidence said the 2020/21 budget had allocated financial help to the company operating the boat from ‘Eua, the constituency of the Minister of Finance, despite the fact that there were other local boat companies in need of assistance.
“The Budget Statement includes the commitment from Government ‘to fund from the Budget of 2020/21 assistance to sea transportation to ‘Eua.’ The Minister of Finance, Tevita Lavemaau is the people’s representative to ‘Eua, and Government looks the other way concerning issues of conflict of interest,” the motion said.
Other examples of Selective financial assistance included the refusal to help Real Tonga Airlines, effectively shutting them down, yet starting a new airline owned and funded by Government.
It was also raised that TP $610,600 had been set aside from the Prime Minister’s Office current budget under the heading ‘announcements for media,’ up to June 30, 2021. Questions were raised about which media were getting the bulk of the payments, and why it cost so much such a high cost when the Government has its own radio and television service.?
Construction of footpaths
Footpaths were meant to be laid down in the main towns of Nuku’alofa (for Tongatapu), Neiafu (for Vava’u), Pangai (for Ha’apai), and ‘Ohonua (for ‘Eua). Instead, other villages and where Ministers come from had been selected for work instead..
“This is obviously another blatant case of selective works carried out by Government only in constituencies of those in the Cabinet,” the motion said.
“These points of contention presented in the motion will be debated and responded to by the Prime Minister. He is being given plenty of time before the January 12 reconvening of Parliament to prepare his response. “
Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa has again been asked for his response to accusations made by Deputy Prime Minister Sione Vuna Fa’otusia in his no confidence motion.
We would like to report the Prime Minister’s response and have asked him to comment several times.
We will let you know his response as soon as we hear from him.