The Tu’i’onetoa government has been accused of encouraging illegal acts after the Ha’apai governor was convicted and fined $12,500 in the Supreme court this week.
Tongan New Zealand-based lawyer Nalesoni Tupou wanted to know how serious enough an offence for the Prime Minister to force a Cabinet minister including governors to resign.
“For the time being if you would like somebody to become the governor of an island they have to break the law first as that was what the leaders did before they were appointed as governor,” Tupou wrote in Tongan.
The lawyer was concerned after it appears the government failed to do a background check of Viliami Manuopangai Hingano before the Prime Minister recommended his appointment.
He was appointed by the king in January this year just five months after he was charged with possession of unlawful huge amount of 198 kg turtle meat in August 2020.
“The Prime Minster was happy to give the post to criminals,’ Tupou claimed.
Tu’i’onetoa has yet to respond to our previous question asking him if he would dismiss Hingano after his conviction in March.
The Prime Minister was also 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 for Akosita to resign, the Prime Minister previously 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 previously 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.
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.
At the time, 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.
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.