The Ha’apai governor Viliami Manuopangai Hingano’s guilty verdict last month in the Supreme Court has put Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’ionetoa’s leadership to the test this week.
Tu’ionetoa was under pressure over calls for his Minister of Infrastructure ‘Akosita Lavulavu to resign as she is currently facing two separate serious fraud charges in courts.
In response to the calls by the Opposition, the Prime Minister said: “Let the law rule.”
Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate face charges of knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities were found in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016 and a land lease complaint in 2020.
Tu’i’onetoa also said: “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty” implying that this was the only justification for him to sack a Cabinet minister who has serious allegations against them.
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But Tu’ionetoa stopped short of answering a question from Kaniva News asking him if this meant he would sack ‘Akosita if the courts will find her guilty.
“I ask you to please re-read and re-read my first response I gave you previously the answer is there and read the constitution to understand it,” Tu’i’onetoa said in response to a question we expected him to reply yes or no.
The Prime Minister was e-mailed another question.
“Will you sack the Ha’apai governor Viliami Manuopangai Hingano after he was recently found guilty by the court of unlawful possession of (198kg) turtle meat”.
The Prime Minister has yet to reply to that question within the last 36 hours.
In convicting the governor last month, the Supreme Court judge said:
“Having heard the accused‘s background, he being a director in the Ministry of Public Enterprises, and he had been a member of Parliament representing District 12 of Ha’apai which included Lofanga, and having grown up and living in Ha’apai, I do not believe his evidence that he did not know that an approval was required before a turtle was killed”.
Tongan courts have no power to order a cabinet minister or the governors to resign. That power rests with the Prime Minister and the king by the constitution.
The two governors and all Cabinet ministers were appointed by the king on the advice of the Prime Minister.
This means, it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative to appoint and dismiss them through the king’s constitutional power at any time at his pleasure.
‘E fekau nai ‘e he Palēmia’ Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa ke fakafisi ‘a e Kōvana Ha’apai Viliami Manuopangai Hingano hili ‘ene halaia ‘i he fakamaau’anga’ ki he ma’u mo e kakano’i fonu ta’efakalao? Kuo ‘osi fakamahino ‘e Tu’i’onetoa hili ha ui kiate ia mei he Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ke fekau ‘ene Minisitā Ki he Ngaahi Ngāue Lalahi ‘a e pule’anga’ ‘Akosita Lavulavu ke fakafisi tu’unga he ongo tukuaki’i mamafa ‘e ua kuo fai kiate ia kuo’ ne lolotonga tu’u ai ‘i he ‘ao ‘o e fakamaau’anga’. Ko e tali mei he palēmia, tuku ke pule pe lao’. Na’a’ ne toe pehē ‘oku tonuhia ‘a e taha kotoa pe kae ‘oua kuo fakamo’oni’i fakalao kuo’ ne halaia. Ko e fehu’i tatau ne fai ki he palēmia’ ‘o pehē kapau ‘e halaia ‘a Lavulavu’ te ne fekau ke fakafisi? Na’e ‘ikai ha’ane tali mahino ‘io pe ‘ikai ki he fehu’i ko ia’.