The trial of the Minister of Infrastructure, Tourism and Transport Akosita Lavulavu and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu will take about two months, it has been estimated.
The couple have been accused of knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretences. They first appeared in court last week, April 12.
In a separate trial which began last month, they have been accused of using forged documents in a land lease deal.
‘Etuate has a long history of court appearances and convictions in Tonga and the United States.
No more excuses
Opposition Leader Semisi Sika believes there are no more excuses for Akosita to continue in her various ministerial roles on full pay when she is expected to spend most of her times in court.
Sika’s second call came after Akosita rejected his first call saying there were no legal basis for her to resign.
All ministers who resigned in the past in Tonga, including one who was at the centre of an allegation in New Zealand, did so because they were connected to allegations.
Trials vs ministerial duties
“The thing is she will try to pursue two different things at once, and I tell you she will fail at both,” Sika told Kaniva News.
Sika said he was also concerned at what he described as “diversionary tactics” he claimed Akosita had used to keep public attention diverted from the allegations.
The Leader of the PTOA party said he believed Akosita attempted to expend emotions on the reinstatement of the Tonga Tourism Authority Board (TTAB) and to distract the public from targeting them amidst their serious fraud allegations.
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- Sēmisi Sika: Infrastructure Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu should ‘volunteer to resign’ ahead of her two separate fraud trials
Possible thoughtless decisions
“The problem here is that she would tend to make unthoughtful decision because of the pressure, and you can see that happening when she reinstated the Tourism Authority Board last week with a budget of $1.5 million,” Sika said.
Sika said the country’s economy was currently on life support and it was important for the country’s leaders to act prudently and work smart.
“How on earth can a small country which relies heavily on New Zealand and Australia’s funding for more than 50 percent of its annual budget spend $TP1.5 million to set up and pay a board of directors with no experiences at all in tourism to advise the government on the tourism industry that is currently being devastated by the coronavirus pandemic?” Sika asked.
Sika said the move may have been justified if the Minister used the money to help boost the local tourism operators.
“These businesses are facing increasing compliance costs as they struggle to keep their heads above water with no international visitors,” Sika said.
TTAB appointment can be delayed
It took the Minister more than a year to reinstate the TTAB, something her critics believed should have set a precedent for the Minister to delay the TTAB reinstatement further because of border closures.
The Tonga Tourist Association wrote to the Minister and asked her to defer the reinstatement of the TTAB and wait until borders open, a process critics believed she could work around it to give space for the tourism businesses’ request.
When Akosita took up the Tourism ministerial seat in 2019 one of her first move was to revive the previous whale watching licensing policy which was restricted under the previous Minister.
Akosita suddenly stopped her revival process and restricted the number of licences again amid reports the king was concerned about the increasing numbers of approved operators in Vava’u.
Her handling of that restriction led to the minster being sued after she denied six whale watching operator license applications.
The Supreme Court eventually quashed her decision and ruled that the Minister must pay the plaintiffs’ court fees.
As Kaniva News reported recently, the Minister came under the spotlight after the Chief Magistrate asked the Attorney General to take a look at Akosita’s Traffic and Roads Laws 2020. The Magistrate believes the laws were flawed.
She has been accused of being insensitive after she refused to waive or defer payments of whale watching operators’ licence fees due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She said she has no power under the law to do so.
‘Oku fakafuofua ‘e nofo fale hopo ‘a e Ministaa’ ni ‘i ha mei mahina ‘e ua ke fai ‘ene hopo tukuaki’i kākaa’i e pa’anga tukuhau ‘a e kakai’ taimi tatau ‘e kei vahe kakato pe ‘i hono lakanga minisitaa’ ka ‘e ‘ikai taimi kakato ia ke fai hono ngaahi ngafa fakaminisitaa’. Kuo toe ui ai e taki Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ kia Akosita Lavulavu mo pehē ‘oku ‘ikai ha toe ‘uhinga ka ko e pau ke ne fakafisi leva ‘o fai ‘ene hopo kae ‘atā e sea fakaminisitā ki ha taha kehe he ‘oku lolotonga lahi e launga fekau’aki mo ‘ene ngaahi potungāue’. ‘Oku ‘ikai fea ke ne vahe kakato mei he tukuhau ‘a e kakai kae ‘alu ia ‘o nofo fale hopo he’ene me’a fakataautaha ia ‘a’ana.