Convicted Minister of Infrastructure Akosita Lavulavu had to take her seat shortly after she took the floor in parliament to announce her ministries’ new budgets for financial year 2021/2022.
She was skipped over during a parliament debate on the national budget before the Minister of Finance Tevita Lavemaau stepped in and announced the Ministry of Infrastructure and Tourism budgets on her behalf.
Akosita began addressing the House with the normal practice of fakatapu before she was interrupted by nobility MP Lord Tu’iha’angana.
The king’s noble said Akosita was convicted by the court and it was not appropriate for her to deliver a speech on her budgets in the House.
He said the House was debating on important matters relating to the national budget and law.
Lord Tu’iha’angana said it was not easy for him to raise his concerns in front of Akosita but he thought he must say it because all MPs have oaths to maintain the constitution and the law of the country.
The MAFF Minister Lord Tu’ilakepa spoke in support of Lord Tu’iha’angana.
The House then proceeded with the announcements of three budgets from the Public Service Commission, Department of Statistics and MEIDECC before the Minister of Finance announced Akosita’s budgets.
Lord Tu’iha’angana’s concern has sparked heated debates in the House with the defiant Prime Minister reading out the clause 23 of the constitution saying he cannot do anything against Akosita until the day of her sentencing because the clause allowed her to stay in office if she will seek a leave to appeal her sentencing within 42 days.
But Lord Tu’iha’angana was worried and asked whether Akosita will seek leave to appeal her sentencing or not.
The exchange also sparked a debate in the House about the importance of conscience approach.
Lord Tu’iha’angana said the Prime Minister’s stance on Akosita according to the constitution was clear but it was important for him to speak up because he wanted to have his heart and conscience cleared out of his concern.
Akosita and her disgraced husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu was found guilty of defrauding more than half a million pa’anga of the government school grant scheme.
They are set to be sentenced on July 2.
In full pay
Akosita’s failure to perform her duty in parliament came after 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 estimated three months.
There have been calls for the Prime Minister to 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 Minister of Finance told the House the Ministry of Infrastructure’s budget for 2021/2022 was $39.6 million. It included $1.7 million budget support and $13.7 funded by the government.
He did not give the total amount of the budget for Tourism but he said $1.5 million was allocated for the new tourism board of directors.
The House later passed the National Budget for 2021-2022, of $618.4 million pa’anga.
Lavemaau told the House that the deficit budget will be financed 60 percent by government, and 40 percent by Tonga’s foreign development partners.