Commentary: Criticisms and possible answers to why Tu‘i‘onetoa changed his stance on Clause 23 of the Constitution before Akosita Lavulavu finally resigned

Commentary Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa finally gave up clinging to Clause 23 of the Constitution before he officially announced that fraudster Akosita Lavulavu has resigned as Cabinet Minister.

(L-R) Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa

The sudden revelation left many people confused while critics said the unusually formal and preacherly announcement of the resignation was another justification for the Prime Minister’s finally acting to avoid causing public controversy and outrage.

It came after the Prime Minister told media and Parliament he could not do anything to remove Akosita from Cabinet until her appeal was heard, citing Clause 23. He said he received legal advice to stand by the clause amid criticism.

It was another shift of justification he made after he previously told media he would not act against her until she was found guilty by the court.

Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu were found guilty by the Supreme Court on June 4 and they were sent to jail on July 2. After her conviction Tu’i’onetoa announced that Clause 23 barred him from making a decision that would go against her.

The announcement

If the Prime Minister had stood firm on Clause 23, Akosita would still be a Cabinet Minister in jail until her appeal was heard in September this year or March 2022. This meant she would still have been paid in full and receive all her allowances and entitlements.

When Tu’i’onetoa announced her resignation in a FM 87.5 Facebook livestream last week on Thursday, July 15, he did not say why he changed his mind.

His announcement began with a formal introduction of Tongan practice of fakatapu by mentioning His Majesty King Tupou VI and his main heralds as well as the nobles of the realm and church leaders before saying he had accepted Akosita’s resignation from Cabinet.

He said he stood by Clause 23 until July 9 to support Akosita as one of his “children in the Cabinet” (“taha ‘eku fānau ‘i he Kapineti”.)

“I made a decision to dismiss her effective from July 2 2021”, the Prime Minister said in Tongan.

He said it was a challenging moment for him.

He said it was important for him not to quick to make decision but be courageous and find spiritual assistance from God.

He also said there were four pillars of decision making which were administrative justice, executive accountability, good administration and good spirituality.

The Prime Minister also mentioned scriptures from the Holy Bible and preached on them to justify his support for Akosita.

He said Akosita had struggled to find help in times when she was in difficulties, but he was there and the Cabinet Ministers to support her.

He also sent his love and wished Akosita and ‘Etuate Lavulavu and their family good luck.

Former MP Lepolo Taunisila described the announcement by the Prime Minister as long winded and like a confession after he realised his previous decision to do nothing against Akosita had caused huge public controversy.

Taunisila said the Prime Minister should have got straight to the point and said Akosita had resigned and who was acting in her place.

Possible scenario

The Prime Minister should come clean and explain why she finally resigned and whether she was forced to tender her resignation.

Failing to do so will give the public and media the right to work it out for themselves apart from media and public pressures.

Firstly, it may be that the prime minister and his legal advisors finally realised that the power given to him by Clause 51(3)(a) to sack a minister at his pleasure had mirrored a flaw in his repeated claims that clause 23 barred him from taking action until the appeal is heard.

Secondly, it could be that this was because  ‘Etuate, the person who was said to have great influence on the Prime Minster, was no longer in contact with him. It has long been suspected that Etuate wrote the Prime Minister’s responses to the media especially whenever he was being accused or criticised. Former Deputy Prime Minister Vuna Fā’otusia resigned last year after saying he was dissatisfied with Tu’i’onetoa listening to ‘Etuate when he interfered in government affairs.

Thirdly, it could be that Akosita made the decision herself while in jail. It could be that the former Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism used her time in Hu’atolitoli prison to think deeply about how she embarrassed and discredited the government and the nation.

No mention of the stolen money

The Prime Minister’s justification for his doing nothing against the Lavulavus’ saga since day one  seems to have to protect the Lavulavus.

He never said anything about the New Zealand and Australian funds they stole from the government or to recover it through legal action. ‘Etuate told the Supreme Court during their trial he could pay back the money only if his sentencing was reduced to community work. The judge rejected his offer.

The Prime Minister did not apologise to Tonga, New Zealand and Australia after the money was stolen.

The Prime Minister must remember that his job includes making sure the tax and overseas grant monies are spent honestly and wisely.

Democracy principle

He also must remember that in a democracy like Tonga, it is all about the principle of the majority rules and minority rights.

This means, he is obliged to make his decision based on what is good for the majority of the people while not taking away the rights of the minority.

In the Lavulavu’s case, it is possible for the Prime Minister to love the Lavulavu couple despite the serious offending they made, but he overplayed the situation.  He was seen tearing up during his official Facebook livestream after the Lavulavu’s conviction while alleging that other schools did the same thing as the fraudster couple.

The Prime Minister should learn that his unwise decision not to immediately dismiss Akosita in the beginning has caused a lot of controversy and criticism in the public. His lack of leadership should be blamed for this.

FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA NOUNOU

Ne me’a e ‘Eiki Palēmia’ ‘o fakahā faka’ofisiale kuo fakafisi ‘a Akosita Lavulavu mei he Kapineti’ he uike kuo ‘osi’ fakafou mai he lavesitulimi (livestream) ‘a e Letiō FM 87.5. Taha e me’a mahu’inga kuo mahino heni’ ko hono tuku ange ‘e he  palēmia’ ‘ene pipiki ki he kupu 23 ‘o e konisitūtone’ ka ne fakahā mai kuo’ ne fakafisi. Kapau na’e kei piki mate pe ‘a Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa ‘i he kupu 23 ‘e kei minisitā pe ‘a Akosita neongo ‘ene ngāue pōpula’ pea ‘oku ‘uhinga ia ‘e kei vahe kakato pe ia mo ma’u ‘a e ngaahi monū’ia kotoa pe ne tonu ke ma’u ‘e ha minsitā na’e ‘ikai ngāue pōpula kae ‘oualeva kuo toe hopo’i ia ‘i he Fakamaau’anga Tangi’ ‘i Sepitema ‘o e ta’u ni’ pe Mā’asi ‘o e 2022. Ne ‘ikai fakahā mai ‘e he palēmia’ ‘a e ‘uhinga kuo toe liliu ai ‘ene fakakaukau’ pehē pe kia Akosita ke tuku e kupu 23 ki tafa’aki kae fakafisi ā ia. ‘I he ‘uhinga ko ia’ ‘oku ‘atā ai ki he kakai mo e mītia’ ke nau vavalo’i ko e hā nai ‘a e ‘uhinga’ makehe mei he ngaahi teke fefeka mei he mītia’ mo e papiliki’. He ko hono mo’oni ‘oku hā mai ‘oku ngali mole nai mei he palēmia ‘a e pōto’i taukei taki  mahu’inga ko e fai ‘a e tu’utu’uni totonu ‘i he taimi vave ke fakasi’isi’i ha maumau ‘e fakatupu vālau ‘i he kakai’ ‘o hangē ko ia na’e hoko’. Kaekehe ko e anga ‘eni e vavalo ki he ‘uhinga kuo fakafisi ai ‘a Akosita’.  ‘Uluaki, ngali na ko e tupu ‘eni he kuo ‘ikai ha toe fetu’utaki ‘a e palēmia’ mo ‘Etuate. Ko ‘Etuate foki na’e tukuaki’i ko ia na’e ‘atamai pea na’a’ ne fa’u e ngaahi tali ‘a e palēmia’ ki he mitia’ tautefito ki he taimi na’e fai atu ai hano tukuaki’i ‘o Tu’i’onetoa. Na’e fakafisi ‘a Vuna Fā’otusia mei he Tokoni Palēmia’ ko ‘ene mamahi he lahi e tui ‘a e palēmia’ ia ki he fale’i ‘a ‘Etuate’ ka ‘oku ‘ikai hano lakanga he pule’anga’. Ua, pe na’a kuo tali ‘e he palēmia’ mo hono kau fale’i fakalao’ ‘a e mātu’aki tōnounou ‘a ‘enau faka’uhinga ki he kupu 23 he ‘oku toe ‘i ai mo e mafai ia ‘o e palēmia’ he kupu 51(3)(a) ke ne tuku ha minisitā ki tu’a ‘i ha fa’ahinga taimi pe. Ne pehē foki ‘e ha fakamatala fokotu’u fakakaukau ki mu’a ‘a e Kaniva’ ngali ‘oku fepaki ‘a e kupu 23 mo e kupu 51(3)(a) ‘o e konisitūtone’. ‘I he’ene pehee’ ko e fatongia ia ‘o e Fakamaau’anga’ ke ne veteki mai ko e hā hono mo’oni’. Ka kuo toe to’o pe ‘e Tu’i’onetoa ia ‘a e fatongia ‘o e Fakamaau’anga’ ‘o ne pehē ‘e ia ko e tonu ē ‘a e kupu 23 kae hala ‘a e kupu 51(3)(a) ia. Pea ko e tolu e ‘uhinga ngali ne tu’unga ai e liliu e fakakaukau ‘a e palēmia’, na’a kuo toki ma’u taimi ‘a Akosita ‘i Hu’atolitoli ke ne fakakaukau ‘iate ia pe ke fakafisi he kuo’ ne  fakatupu ha mā’anga mo ne tukuhifo  e ngeia ‘o e pule’anga’. Kuo ‘i ai ‘a e fakaanga ki he founga ne fakahoko mai ‘aki ‘e he palēmia’ ‘a hono talaki e fakafisi ‘a Akosita’. Ne faka’uhinga’i ‘e he ni’ihi ne fu’u tō ia ki tu’a. Ne tonu k ene talamai pe kuo fakafisi ‘a Akosita pea ngata ai. Ka kuo toe malanga mai ia  fakaTohi Tapu mo lau lotu ka ko e feliuliuaki ‘ikai pau ki ha me’a ‘ene fakatonuhia’i ‘a e ‘ikai ke ne fai leva ha me’a kia Akosita ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha angatotonu fakalotu ia.  ‘Oku mahu’inga foki ke mahino ki he palēmia ko ‘ene ‘i he lakanga taki’ kuopau ke ne muimui he fakakaukau fakatemokalati ‘o e pule ‘a e tokolahi’ mo e totonu ‘a e tokosi’i (Majority rules and minority rights). ‘Oku ‘uhinga ‘eni kuopau ke vave ma’u pe ke fai tu’utu’uni ki he lelei ‘a e tokolahi taimi tatau te ne kei ‘oange pe faka’apa’apa’i fe’unga ‘oku taau  ma’a e  totonu ‘a e  tokosi’i. Pea ‘i he keisi ‘a e ongo Lavulavu ne ‘asi mai ia hangē kuo li’ekina ‘e he palēmia ‘a e fakakaukau ke ne fai ha tu’utu’uni ma’a e lelei fakalukufua kae kavekavea’u ia hono tu’uaki ‘ene poupou ma’a e ongo Lavulavu kuo ‘osi fakahalaia’i pea tautea ‘e he fakamaau’anga’. ‘Oku ‘ikai ko ha taki lelei ha taha ‘oku veiveiua mo faka’alonga ua ‘ene faitu’utu’uni’. Ta ko ē ‘e iku fakafisi ‘o ‘ikai muimui pau ki he kupu 23 ka kuo hoko ‘o vālau e kakai mo nau loto mamahi ‘o fakatupu ta’emelino ki he nofo’.

1 COMMENT

  1. Before Clause 23 of the constitution was changed some 10 years ago it used to operate [properly in my view] upon the Conviction of a member of parliament not upon the sentencing. So if a person was convicted of an offence where the sentence possible was of a certain length of time then they would automatically be disqualified from membership of the house.

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