ANALYSIS: The Prime Minster has accused the king, Parliament and former governments of ill-intention (“loto tāngia”) and breaking the Constitution when they sacked former Speaker Lord Lasike and former Cabinet ministers.
In July 2012, Lasike was convicted and fined for illegally possessing ammunition. As a result, he automatically forfeited his seat in Parliament.
Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa claimed these dismissals were unjustified.
He said leaders “kau taki” of those days did not live by the Constitution and it had cost some MPs their jobs.
The Prime Minister made the remarks in a livestreamed programme last week as he attempted to defend convicted Cabinet Minster Akosita Lavulavu and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu who have plundered more than half a million pa’anga of the government school grant scheme.
It was during the same radio talk show on Friday that he likened the church schools’ overpayments and misspending of the government school grant scheme to the Lavulavus plundering TP$558,600.
Many criticised the Prime Minister for making such comparisons against the churches.
The Lavulavus are set to be sentenced on July 2.
In justifying his use of Clause 23, which allows a convicted government representative to stay in office for another 42 days after their sentencing if they seek leave to appeal, the Prime Minister said he could not make any decision which went against the Constitution.
He then gave examples of previous dismissals and a court case he claimed were unjustified to support his stance on the Lavulavus.
Tu’i’onetoa cited the incident in which former Minister of Finance Dr ‘Aisake Eke was asked to resign in 2017.
He also mentioned other ministers and MPs who he said had resigned, but did not identify them. He said he was almost forced to resign after he refused to sign a government deal.
But what are the realities about these ministers and Lord Lasike’s dismissal?
Lord Lasike was dismissed in 2012 after an advice from the then attorney general was approved by King Tupou VI. At the time, the Office of the Legislative Assembly said the decision was made by the king under Clause 61(2) (c) of the Constitution. The noble’s title was also removed after he committed an offence under section 4(2)(b) of the Arms and Ammunition Act.
In 2017 the then Minister of Finance Dr ‘Aisake Eke was told to resign. The Late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva announced that Dr Eke had to go after a no confidence vote against him was defeated. Dr Eke abstained from voting. It was the King and Prime Minister who processed Dr Eke’s resignation according to their prerogative under Clause 51.
Although Tu’i’onetoa did not name two of the other ministers he alleged were unlawfully forced out of office, it appears he was talking about Education Minister Hu’akavameiliku and Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau.
The King revoked their ministerial positions after a recommendation by ‘Akilisi Pohiva. It was announced that the reason for the revocation included the duo paying gift money without the prime minister being made aware of it. The dismissal was made according to Clause 51.
Is Tu’i’onetoa’s comment misleading, and untruthful?
The Prime Minister appears to have confused the Court of Appeal decision to overturn Lord Lasike’s sentencing with his dismissal by the King according to the Constitution. These were two different incidents and should not be mixed up.
The Court of Appeal overturned Lord Lasike’s guilty verdict on the grounds that there had been a miscarriage of justice while the Supreme Court dealt with his charges of possession of ammunition without a license.
There was nothing to suggest that the quashing of the Supreme Court’s decision had anything to do with the King’s decision to sack Lord Lasike.
Tu’ionetoa was wrong again when he claimed that Dr Eke’s dismissal was unjustified and that the Constitution had been disregarded. It was in fact made based on reasonable grounds because, among other things, the then Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva was not happy with Dr Eke’s refusal to support the government by choosing to abstain in the vote of no confidence. In fact, his resignation was approved by the King under the Prime Minister’s recommendation under Clause 51.
Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa, who appeared to have read his response to media from a written document, and often stopped to correct his mispronunciation on Radio FM 87.5 on Friday, failed to identify which clauses of the constitution His Majesty, former prime ministers and Parlianment had breached.
He also failed to prove that the king, the parliamentarians, and former governments were ill-intentioned when they made the dismissals.
Should the Prime Minister stop trying to confuse the media and the public?
The Prime Minister’s attempt to drag in Lord Lasike’s dismissal to justify his defence of the Lavulavus was wrong because Lord Lasike was elected by the Nobles to the House after he was found not to have committed any offence prohibited under the election acts.
Tu’i’onetoa’s re-appointment of Akosita as Minister of Infrastructure while knowing she was facing serious fraud charges that could send her to prison for seven years has raised many serious questions. The Prime Minister and former Auditor General should have been aware of the implications of Clause 23 in her case.
It has to be made clear that Lord Lasike did not initially take legal action against His Majesty or Parliament for dismissing him. He was appealing his conviction by the Supreme Court after he was prosecuted for breaking the ammunition acts and was finally acquitted.
Lord Lasike’s compensation from government was justified because there was a miscarriage of justice in his court case.
What has the Prime Minister kept from the media?
The Prime Minister has remained silent when he was asked to explain why the government paid thousands of pa’anga to Akosita during the six weeks she was out of her office and in court. She will continue to be paid for another three months.
The Prime Minister should come clean and explain this situation to the public and tell them who will pay back that money if Akosita is denied an appeal and will be sent to jail next month.
The Prime Minister should apologise to His Majesty, Parliament and the nation for his failure to take appropriate action against Akosita. He should stop making wild accusations and unfounded claims in an attempt to divert criticism from his refusal to sack Akosita. He is the only one to blame for this situation since he appointed her in the first place.
If Akosita’s appeal is denied or if her appeal goes ahead and fails and she and her husband are jailed, the only decent path the Prime Minister can take is to resign to save the reputation of Parliament and the kingdom.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to reflect the fact that the king dismissed Lord Lasike following an advice from the then attorney general.