Jailed fraudster Akosita Lavulavu has finally resigned as Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism, Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa told Parliament today.
However, the Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, said he has not yet received any formal letter of resignation.
Parliament was awaiting a response from the government today to confirm queries from MPs and media about Akosita’s pay and entitlements.
The Speaker said they relied on information from the Minister of Finance this morning telling the House he had used his power under the Finance Acts and ordered her CEO to stop Akosita’s payment.
The details of the block on her pay and what entitlements she will still receive have not been made public.
“The answer from the government says the minister has resigned from Cabinet,” Lord Fakafanua told the House.
He said he was told a letter of resignation had been handed to Privy Council.
Lord Fakafanua said the House could only act after receiving written documents.
Akosita’s status as a former MP and Cabinet Minister would be confirmed when letters of resignation arrived at the Chief Clerk’s office, Lord Fakafanua said.
The revelation came after the Prime Minister refused to give a clear response to questions in Parliament last Thursday 8.
The Tongatapu 1 MP Siaosi Pōhiva asked the Prime Minister whether Akosita was still receiving her pay and entitlements.
Instead of replying yes or no Tu’i’onetoa again gave conflicting information about her situation.
He said in Tongan: “The government’s policy is if I am on leave I will be paid earned leave when that is being exhausted than I could be on leave without pay. There was no difference and I thought you already understood that.” Akosita was placed on leave on June 17 after she was convicted by the Supreme Court.
However, the Prime Minister repeatedly referred to Clause 23 of the Constitution which he used it to justify his refusal to take action against Akosita.
Because Akosita appealed her sentencing, Clause 23 allowed her to remain as Cabinet Minister until her appeal is heard, either in September 2021 or March 2022.
This meant Akosita would still have been a Cabinet Minister while she was in jail, would still have received her full pay and been able to control her two portfolios.
It is understood the decision for Akosita to tender her resignation was made after her bid for bail was rejected on Friday last week.
A Member of Parliament told Kaniva News he believed her resignation was caused by pressure from the public and the media.
The former Cabinet Minister has been sentenced to six years in prison.
However, the Supreme Court suspended the last 12 months of her sentence for two years on condition that she comply with the probation officer, satisfactorily complete a life skills course and commit no offence punishable by imprisonment.
Her husband, who has a long record of court appearances and convictions, will serve the full six years.
Both defendants were convicted on three counts of obtaining money by false pretences.
They were found guilty of fraudulently obtaining money from the Ministry of Education and Training by lying in applications for money from the Technical Vocational Educational Training Grant about the number of students enrolled at their private college, the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute.
Mr Justice Cooper, presiding, said, he utterly rejected their claims that the money was used for the Institute.
Meanwhile, Radio Australia has reported there is concern that the Lavulavu case could damage Tonga’s international reputation.
The international broadcaster quoted Tevita Motulalo, a senior researcher at Tongan think-tank, the Royal Oceania Institute saying the case could make discussions with the kingdom’s development partners awkward.
“Australia’s been very generous, these are hard-earned taxes from the people of Australia and to abuse it like that this is beyond description,” he said.
“It does affect our reputation and trustworthiness.”
FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA NOUNOU
Kuo fakafisi ‘a Akosita Lavulavu mei hono lakanga minisitaa’ neongo kuo te’eki ai fakahū ha tatau ‘ene tohi fakafisi ki Fale Alea he ‘aho’ ni. Ka kuo fakahā pe ‘e he palēmia’ kuo’ ne fakafisi. Na’e fakahā ‘e he Sea Fale Alea’ Looti Fakafanua ‘oku te’eki ai foki ke ne ma’u ha tohi fakafisi ‘a Akosita ‘i hono lakanga fakafofonga Fale Alea’. Kuo ‘i ai mo hono fakahā kuo ta’ofi ‘a ‘ene vahe’ ka ‘oku te’eki tuku mai ha fakamatala fakapepa ki he mītia’ mo Fale Alea foki ke ne fakamahino papau ‘a e fakaikiiki ki ai’. Ko e me’a ‘oku mahino’ ko e ngaahi nga’unu kotoa ‘eni ne toki fai ia hili ‘a e ‘ikai tali ‘ene tangi ke peila’ he Falaite uike kuo ‘osi’. Na’e talanga’i e vahe ‘a Akosita’ ‘i Fale Alea ‘i he uike kuo ‘osi’ Tu’apulelulu ‘aho 8 na’e ‘ikai pe ha tali mahino ia ‘a e palēmia’ ‘io pe ‘ikai ki hono fehu’i atu pe ‘oku kei vahe pee’. Na’a ne tali’aki ‘e ia ‘a hono fakamatala’i ‘o e founga livi ‘a e pule’anga’ ‘o pehē ‘oku ‘i ai ‘a e livi kae vahe pea ka ‘osi ia pea ‘e hoko atu ki he livi ‘ikai vahe. ‘I he’ene tali ko ‘eni he uike kuo ‘osi’ ne ne toutou ‘ohake pe ai ‘a e kupu 23 ‘a ia ne ne toutou pehē ki mu’a ‘oku makatu’unga ai ‘a e ‘ikai ke ne lava fai ha me’a ‘e taha kia Akosita kae ‘oua leva ke ‘osi ‘ene tangi’. ‘O ‘uhinga ia ‘e kei ma’u kakato pe ‘ene vahe pea kei minisitā pe ia mei Hu’atolitoli. Mei he uike kuo ‘osi’ pe ki he ‘aho ni Mōnite 12 kuo’ ne fakahā kuo fakafisi ‘a Akosita.