Accusations by Tongatapu 4 MP Māteni Tapueluelu that government members drank alcohol and had a barbecue after launching the national fasting and prayer service in ‘Eua have led to a complaint against him being upheld – and the Prime Minister asking the House to pardon him.
The Tongatapu 4 MP made the allegation last year.
He went on to claim that Tonga would be cursed because of the government’s behaviour.
Minister of Finance Tēvita Lavemaau said no one had the right to tell Parliament that the fasting and prayer services the government had promoted around the islands had brought a curse on the nation “fakamala’ia.”
He was speaking in support of a Parliamentary complaint that Hon. Tapueluelu breached the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Assembly.
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The complaint was lodged by the Minister of Police, Lord Nuku, after Hon. Tapueluelu told the House last year: ” ‘Eiki Palēmia ‘oku ke mea’i, ko e ngaahi pau’u ‘oku mou fai he fonuá ni ko e fo’i pau’u kovi tahá eni kuo mou faí, ko ho’omou pau’u lotu ‘aki ‘a e ‘aukaí pea ‘e mala’ia ai e fonuá ni”
In English this means: “Hon. Prime Minister you know, among these mischief you and your Cabinet are doing in this country, this is the worst mischief you have done. You have conducted the fasting in a mischievous way and it will bring a curse on this country.”
Lord Nuku immediately told the Speaker he wanted to lodge a complaint against Hon. Tapueluelu’s statement. This gave the Speaker a chance to use his Parliamentary power to order the House Parliamentary Privileges Standing Committee to process the complaint and report to the House.
The Committee returned to the House last week with its findings and said Tapueluelu’s statement breached the the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Assembly regulation 108 and the constitution clause 70. It said the statement was disrespectful, offensive and contempt of Parliament, a breach punishable by imprisonment or other punishment that the House may impose according to its rules.
The Committee, however, did not submit Hon. Tapueluelu’s response to the accusation against him alongside its findings.
The Committee said it did not submit his response because it did not directly answer the questions the committee demanded he answer about the complaint.
The Tongatapu 4 MP told the House he was concerned about the omission of his response.
He said he would accept any punishment the House could impose upon him as long as his response was heard.
Hon. Tapueluelu responded to the Minister of Finance who queried his statement and claimed it was the worst ever to be made in the House and it has affected religion in the country.
Hon. Tapueluelu reminded Lavemaau that after they marked the beginning of the fasting with prayers (“fakama’u ‘a e ‘aukai”) they left and drank alcohol and had a barbecue.
In Tongan Tapueluelu said: ” Ka fakama’u ‘a e ‘aukaí pea ‘osi pē pea mātuku atu ‘o inu mo papakiu…”
“What would you call that?” (“Lau ia ko e hā?”) Hon. Tapueluelu asked Lavemaau in Tongan.
Tapueluelu said that was what he concerned about, according to Hansard.
Lavemaau did not deny it, or answer the MP’s question. Instead, he just repeated Hon. Tapueluelu’s question by saying: “What would you call that?” (“Te ke toe ui ‘e koe e me’a ko iá ko e hā?”)
Neither the government bench nor the Committee denied the accusation made by Hon. Tapueluelu. Instead, they focused their debates on the importance of fasting and prayer services to the nation. They said this was why Tonga was still Covid free. They also debated the importance of keeping the privilege and dignity of the House according to the laws.
Ask for pardon
The Committee’s report was carried 12 – 9, but in a bizarre twist, the Prime Minister asked the House to pardon Hon. Tapueluelu. The Prime Minister was supported by Lord Nuku, who lodged the complaint and the Speaker agreed.
The Prime Minister told the House the statement by Tapueluelu was directed to others including him.
“I ask the House please put it aside ,” (“Fakatatafe atu”) the Prime Minister said.