Tonga Law Society’s President Lawyer Sione Fonua said the society is concerned at the recent public statement made by Dr ‘Aisake Eke challenging the Supreme Court decision in the criminal case against convicted Cabinet Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu and her disgraced husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu.
He said unjustified attacks on the judiciary undermined the rule of law.
As Kaniva News reported this week, Dr Eke was one of the witnesses called by the Lavulavu to appear in court on their behalf.
The couple who plundered more than half a million pa’anga of the government school grant scheme are set to be sentenced on July 2.
Dr Eke claimed, among other things, in court students can donate Tongan handicrafts and domestic animals in lieu of school tuitions.
In his decision Justice Nicholas Cooper said Dr. Eke provided no proof for his claims and that all his credibility was gone.
“It was obvious he was not desirous of telling the truth.”
Dr Eke’s lawyer
His lawyer, Tongan-Auckland based Amelia Schaaf told Kaniva News the former Minister of Finance is seeking legal advice and ffighting to clear his name.
“Dr Eke said what he provided to the Court was true and he stands by those statements.”
“Non-government educational establishments in Tonga are free to formulate their operations and policies and how school fees are paid.
Their school fees can be paid by cash or “in kind”, with Tongan mats or tapa pieces being provided in lieu of cash.
“This reflects the reality of poverty in Tonga as some parents are unable to pay school fees.
“This was the practice at ‘Atenisi and ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga institutions.
“For government schools, school fees must be paid in cash.
Independence of the court
The Law Society said: “Trust in the independence of the courts and respect for the rule of law are critical to democratic government.
“All citizens are bound to follow the rule of law – including Ministers of the Crown, Members of Parliament, and government officials.
“All must abide by the decisions of the courts, which decisions are made by judges personally appointed by His Majesty.
“There is never any justification for undermining or attacking the legitimacy of judges who are fulfilling their judicial oaths through the exercise of their independent and impartial judgment.
Judges must be allowed to do their job without fear of criticism, retaliation or retribution because without it, judicial independence is threatened, and the rule of law is undermined”.
In kind or barter school fees
As Kaniva News reported, the Lavulavus claimed students did not pay fees in 2013 and 2014 and said they were given the option of making handicrafts or working for the Institute.
“They were able to work in services in buffet dinner services,” Etuate said.
“They were also able to work in tour guiding services. Also do some cleaning up of rubbish at school”
These types of payments were described in court during the trial as barter or payment-in- kind.
Auditor General Sēfita Tangi told the court Cabinet had made no decision to allow these kinds of payments.
“Auditor General made the point that UTRI did not have a record system to prove ‘ in kind’ payment system”.
“Cabinet decision only allows school fees; the reciprocated monetary receipt. Which means pay in cash,” Tangi said.
“This has been procedure probably more than a century for schools in Tonga”.
Payment-in kind or barter had never been accepted.
“Only money was accepted. “