Sēmisi Sika: Infrastructure Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu should ‘volunteer to resign’ ahead of her two separate fraud trials

The Minister of Infrastructure ‘Akosita Lavulavu should step down ahead of her two separate fraud cases due next week and next month, said PTOA Leader Sēmisi Sika.

(L-R) Sēmisi Sika, ‘Etuate Lavulavu, ‘Akosita Lavulavu

“She should volunteer to resign,” Sika said.

Sika said ‘Akosita should quit to keep the “dignity of the Cabinet”.

“Obviously, she is there looking for job.”

“If somebody holds an important position and has court cases in which they had been accused of committing fraud and forgery they should resign immediately,” he said.

‘Akosita was contacted for comment.

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The Minister along with her disgraced husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu are due to appear in a Magistrate Court next Monday 29 March 2021 to face a lawsuit brought against them by a landlord in Vava’u.

In that case, Sione Tui of Ha’alaufuli accused the Lavulavus of creating and signing a letter on his behalf to the Ministry of Lands and Survey without him knowing about it. The Lavulavus denied this.

In April 12, two weeks after their Magistrate Court appearance, the Lavulavus are due to appear at the Supreme Court to answer charges brought against them by the Auditor General.

In that case, the Lavulavu couple is charged with knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016.  Akosita was the director of the school while ‘Etuate was the president.

The couple holds positions in the Prime Minister Tu’ionetoa’s Cabinet and People’s Party which are regarded as highly influential.

‘Etuate and Tu’i’onetoa were founding members of the Party before Tu’i’onetoa was appointed as Party Chair and ‘Etuate was Deputy Chair.

The right-hand woman

Following her arrest in March 2018 the late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva dismissed ‘Akosita.

It was reported that her dismissal came after the Prime Minister tried to convince her to resign voluntarily from Cabinet because of her criminal charges but she refused. She was later reappointed as Cabinet Minister by the Tu’i’onetoa government in 2019.

‘Akosita’s infrastructure ministerial roles puts her in a position in which she has been seen as the Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa’s right-hand woman.

She is the minister who oversees the Prime Minister’s controversial multi-million new road project.

It was estimated that once the project is completed in four years’ time since it began last year it costs taxpayers $300 million.

Critics believe such a big project for a small country like Tonga should have been given more times to be discussed and planned on national level.

Conflict of interest 

Not only we have reported that there was a conflict of interest surrounding the awards of the project’s contract works to companies with strong links to the Tu’i’onetoa government, the government has stopped one of its contractors from New Zealand saying there was an issue with its contract agreement. It was the same contractor which failed to pay about more than $100,000 freight debts to a New Zealand based-Tongan freight company which we reported in December.

Sika, a former Minster of Infrastructure previously criticised the project saying it opened a door for the country to face a possible financial crisis.

As Kaniva News reported recently, heavy rain and flooding have destroyed most of the newly constructed roads in Vava’u and part of Tongatapu. This means more money was needed from the taxpayers’ coffers to reconstruct these roads. Meanwhile, most parts of the kingdom have yet to have their roads repaired or constructed.

Concerns about contractors’ background

As we said previously,  there is no doubt most Tongans want the road project and see it as a priority. However, they are deeply concerned about the background of the people who have strong links with government and these contractors.

‘Etuate’s company the Inter Pacific was one of the contractors the Tu’i’onetoa government has awarded with a contract to supply rocks and construction services under the Prime Minister’s road project.

‘Etuate previously denied any involvement with any activities which link him to the road project’s contracts.

But it has been recently reported by local media that ‘Etuate was the CEO of his company overseeing the road works currently conducting in Vava’u.

He has been regarded as the mouth piece of the Prime Minister and he has his own newspaper the Kalonikali Tonga and a radio station FM 89.5 in which he attacked the opposition and the government’s critics.

‘Etuate’s past

In 2016 Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted ‘Etuate of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign. He was later dismissed from his Parliamentary and ministerial posts.

The judge said ‘Etuate was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.

‘Etuate was also arrested in Utah in the United States in October 2003 over a 1997 immigration scam. In 2004 he was convicted after pleading guilty to two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate.

In a case in 2000, Lavulavu was sued by the Late Prince Tu’ipelehake for damages and unlawful cultivation of his land. In his summing up of the trial, Lord Chief Justice Ward said Lavulavu “was willing to say almost anything that seemed to suit the moment with a repeated disregard for the truth.”

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