Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has failed to address questions about the thousands of pa’anga the government has paid to convicted Minister Akosita Lavulavu.
Kaniva News understands she was paid while out of office and attending court for six weeks. She is continued to be paid.
Questions arose after Tu’i’onetoa claimed that previous governments had had to financially compensate Ministers who had been sacked, but then won an appeal against their guilty verdicts.
Kaniva News has asked the Prime Minister to give an example of such an incident. We are waiting for a reply.
We queried him after he asked Kaniva News and other media to help him publicise his decision to keep Akosita in office despite her conviction.
He justified his decision by saying he would not force Akosita to resign because Clause 23 of the Constitution said anybody who had been convicted could appeal their sentence within 42 days.
His stance has sparked a public uproar, with many calling for him to use his prerogative under Clause 51 to suspend Akosita until her seeking leave to appeal her sentencing had been confirmed.
What happened to ministers who were dismissed in the past?
Kaniva News believes that of all the Cabinet ministers dismissed or demoted by Prime Ministers or the king before and after the 2010 political reforms, none were convicted while they were ministers.
Cabinet ministers who had been dismissed resigned because they either became involved in allegations, caused distraction to the government or the Prime Ministers were not happy with their performance.
This was because the Prime Minister has exclusive power given by Clause 51 of the Constitution to sack them at his pleasure. It mirrors Clause 50, which gives the PM the power to appoint his Cabinet.
Akosita is believed to be the first Cabinet Minister in Tonga to be convicted in the Supreme Court of serious fraud, but Tu’i’onetoa has taken no action against her.
How much Akosita is expected to have received?
The Prime Minister must come clean and explain why Akosita has continued to be paid. As Kaniva News reported last week, she was expected to have received an estimated TP$30,000 when she was out of office to attend her fraud trial and for the three months until September.
This money from the government’s coffers cannot be paid back to the Ministry of Finance even if Akosita’s seeking leave to appeal is dismissed, a source who was familiar with the government’s salaries said.
It is believed Akosita has been paid more than TP$7500 by the government as her normal salary. The money was meant for her to stay in her office and perform her ministerial duties or to represent Vava’u 16 in Parliament.
She is expected to remain in office until July 2 when the Supreme Court is expected to lay down her sentencing. This means that in another 28-day period, Akosita is expected to receive payments of about $5000 in total.
After her sentencing it is anticipated that she will stay in her government office for another 42 days, during which time she is expected to apply for permission to appeal against her Supreme Court conviction. This means she is expected to receive another total of TP$7500 payment for this period.
If she lodges an appeal, it could take another 42 days or longer before she faces the Appeal Court. This meant she is expected to receive another payment of about TP$7500 for that period.
Our source said Akosita’s Cabinet and parliamentary salary was around TP$1250 a week on top of her other allowances and entitlements.
What were the reactions against the PM?
The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to penalise Akosita has sparked a huge uproar with many calling on him to resign.
In Parliament this week the Noble MPs led by Lord Tu’iha’angana along with Opposition Party took side with the public and told the prime minister he had to do something against Akosita.
There were calls for him to use his common sense and stand her down to maintain the government’s reputation and the king’s dignity.
Tu’i’onetoa has been slammed for using the Holy Bible and Clause 23 of the Constitution to defend his decision to keep Akosita in office while at the same time the constitution clause 51 has given him a prerogative power to force her to resign.
The Prime Minister is now facing another backlash over revelations about her pay. Critics have lashed out, saying that he has repeatedly changed his justification for taking no action against her.
‘Oku mālie ‘a e kumi ‘uhinga holo ‘a e palēmia’ ke malu’i ‘ene ta’efiemāvae kava mo Akosita Lavulavu hili hono fakahalaia’i ia ‘i he fakamaau’anga’ pea ‘asi mai mo ‘ene ngaahi fakamatala hā ta’emo’oni pea ‘oku ‘ikai ko ‘ene toki fai ‘eni. Tala mai ‘e he palēmia’ ‘oku’ ne loto ke tuku pe ‘a Sita ‘i loto he ne ‘osi tuku ki tu’a tokua ‘e he kau palēmia ki mu’a ‘a e kakai pe kau minisitā ne halaia he fakamaau’anga’ pea iku ‘o tangi kinautolu ‘o liliu ‘e he fakamaau’anga tangi’ ‘a honau tautea’ ka kuo mole honau lakanga’. Toe pehē ‘e Tu’i’onetoa na’e iku ‘o mole lahi ‘a e pule’anga’ ‘i he ngaahi keisi peheni’ hili hono totongi huhu’i e kau minisitā pe kakai ko eni’. Na’a’ ne fakamatala’i e tu’utu’uni ‘ikai ‘ilo pe ko ha mo’oni ko ‘eni ‘a e kau palēmia ki mu’a’ ko e “kāimu’a” mo e “‘oho’ohomu’a”. Na’e fehu’i atu leva mei he Kaniva’ ‘o ‘eke ange ke ne tala mai ange’ ha minisitā mo ha palēmia ne hoko ki ai ha me’a pehē ki mu’a’ hangē ko ‘ene fakamatala’. ‘Oku te’eki ai ke ne tali mai ‘a e fehu’i ko ‘eni. ‘Oku tui ‘a e Kaniva’ ‘oku ‘ikai mo’oni e fakamatala ko ‘eni ‘a Tu’i’onetoa’. Ne te’eki ’i ai ha minisitā ia ‘i Tonga he teketi (decade) ‘e tolu kuohili’ ne mo’ua he fakamaau’anga’ pea tuku ki tu’a pea tangi ia ‘o toe liliu hono tautea’ pea iku toe totongi huhu’i ia ‘e he pule’anga’. Ko e kotoa e kau minisitā kuo fakafisi ‘i Tonga he kuohili’ ne fai pe ia he tu’utu’uni ‘a e kau palēmia ‘aho ko ia’ tu’unga ha hu’uhu’u kuo fai kia kinautolu pe ko ha ‘ikai pe fiemālie e palēmia’ ia kia kinautolu. Ko e mafai fakaleveleva ia ‘o e palēmia pea ‘oku ‘ikai ha lao ia ke ne ta’ofi. Ka kuo kalo ia fai ‘ene faka’uhinga mo manavasi’i na’a mo’ua e pule’anga’ tokua ha tali e tangi ‘a Sita’ kae fēfē ‘ene vahe’ pe ‘ena kae nofo fale hopo ia’? Toe hokohoko atu pe ‘eni ‘ene vahe’ pea ka ‘alu ia ‘o ngāue pōpula ‘e toe totongi fakafoki fēfee’i mai e pa’anga kakai’ ko ia?