Editorial: PM’s vow to treat ‘two as one’ under spotlight as January vote of no confidence that could bring down Tu’i’onetoa government nears

    Kaniva Editorial

    With only 12 days to go before the vote of no confidence in the Tu’i’onetoa government, politicians on both sides of the house will be weighing up the administration’s record since it came to office.

    PM Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva News)

    A great deal of concern has focused on accusations of nepotism and favouritism surrounding the awarding of lucrative roading contracts and the costs of the Prime Minister’s prayer and fasting tours.

    These are indeed serious matters of concern that highlight what critics will see as the failure of the government’s promise to treat two as one, but there are also other issues that are cause for concern.

    There have been attempts to control what Parliamentarians say in the House, efforts to limit debate and a tendency to over-sensitivity to criticism.

    It has also shown little regard for the democratic legacy of former Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, reversing the work of placing more control in the hands of Parliament.


    The new government’s reign began in controversy after Hon. Tu’i’onetoa abandoned the Democrats and sided with the nobles and opposition members.

    The government shelved the six bills the Pōhiva government had tried to pass, claiming his government did not have enough time to do it.

    The Prime Minister told Kaniva news last year that the king, the nobles and the people must be “in unity,” implying that he did not want any dissent or change.

    In an interview with this news service, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa argued that his government would treat people with different views the same way, citing the Tongan proverb “Lau e ua ko e taha” – “Counting two as one.”

    Critics would argue that the government has acted very differently to its promise.

    Kaniva News believes the government has shown wise leadership in its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, listening to scientific advice, sealing the borders and restricting the number of repatriation flights so the kingdom’s facilities are not overwhelmed.

    Nevertheless, the country is hurting economically, with the case of water melon growers only the latest crisis. When so many people are feeling financial pain, many will argue that it was utterly thoughtless for the government to go swanning around the islands, ostensibly to promote prayer and fasting as a barrier to Covid-19, while apparently living off the fat of the land and collecting gifts, all at taxpayers’ expense.

    Critics will say this does not show the government treating two as one. They will look at this behaviour and ask whether the government expects ordinary people to grant them every wish while acting as if they were great lords from some far distant time in Tonga’s history.

    And as we have asked before, if all that food was being eaten, who in the government was fasting?

    For its critics, the most glaring example of the failure of the treating two as one policy is the awarding of the roading contracts.

    The contracts are at the centre of the vote of no confidence, which will take place when Parliament resumes.

    Opposition Leader Sēmisi Sika accused the Tu’i’onetoa government of designing the tendering process for its roading project so the contracts would be given to three of its friends.

    All the tenders have been awarded to companies with links of varying strength to the government, a conflict of interest that would raise red flags in Australia and New Zealand.

    However, the Prime Minister has argued that the roadworks are a priority for the people and that the deals his government has arranged are financially beneficial. He also argued that the government was working for everybody.

    “For whom are these roads being built?” Hon. Tu’i’onetoa asked.

    “For the elderly of the country. For the children of the country. The growers of the country. Men and women. Yes for everyone in the country.”

    Without contrary evidence, we must accept that Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa is sincere in his beliefs about who would benefit from the roads. He may be equally sincere in believing that his cruises around the islands leading prayer meetings and fasting have helped keep the pandemic at bay.

    However, it seems the Prime Minister has not yet learned that governments must not just believe they are doing the right thing. They must make sure they are seen to be doing the right thing every day they are in office. They must avoid behaviour that makes it look as if they favour their friends over everybody else or that makes them look as if they think they are better than other people. Good, open, fair government must not just be done; it must be seen to be done.


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