Video shows ‘Etuate Lavulavu arriving at Hu’atolitolu prison gate as Akosita still serves as paid cabinet minister while in jail

    A video shows jailed ‘Etuate Lavulavu unloading what appear to be luggage and a roll of Chinese floor mat from a prison pickup van.

    ‘Etuate Lavulavu unloading stuff from the trunk of a pickup vehicle outside Hu’atolitolu prison. Photo/Screenshot

    A prison officer can be seen helping ‘Etuate carrying the stuff inside the prison compound.

    The video appeared to have been taken shortly after ‘Etuate and her jailed wife Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu’s bail application had been denied in the Supreme Court in Nuku’alofa this morning.

    The video was uploaded and shared on Facebook this morning.

    Rejecting their bail application, Chief Justice Michael Whitten said:  “I am not satisfied that the applicants have demonstrated reasonable prospects of success on this ground of appeal”.

    He concluded that the court did not consider it fit to admit them to bail pending their appeal.

    “Accordingly, the applications are refused”.

    ‘Etuate told Filokalafi ‘Akau’ola of Talaki Online outside court he was still innocent, and they are appealing their sentencing.

    The appeal meant Akosita is still the Minister of Tourism, Infrastructure and Transport while she is in jail according to clause 23 of the constitution.

    Clause 23 of the constitution says: Disabilities of convict. “No person having been convicted of a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for more than two years, shall hold any office under the Government whether of emolument or honour nor shall he be qualified to vote for nor to be elected a representative of the Legislative Assembly unless he has received from the King a pardon together with a declaration that he is freed from the disabilities to which he would otherwise be subject under the provisions of this clause. (Act 8 of 1961.).

    “Provided that the operation of this clause shall be suspended in any case until the expiration of 42 days after the date of the conviction; and in cases where notice of appeal or leave to appeal is given within 42 days after the date of conviction, until the determination of the appeal; and if the conviction is quashed on appeal or the sentence reduced to no more than 2 years imprisonment then this clause shall not have effect”.

    Clause 51(3)(a) has given the prime minister power to dismiss a Cabinet Minister at his pleasure.

    It said: “A Minister shall retain his position as Minister until – (a) his appointment is revoked by the King on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or in accordance with clause 50B;”

    As we have reported previously, Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa’s insistence, based on Clause 23 of Tonga’s Constitution, that he cannot sack Akosita, was unfounded in many respects.

    In fact, his power given by Clause 51 (3) (a) means he can do something, but he refused to do it and unfortunately, he appears to have attempted to mislead the public about this clause.

    Clause 51 (3) (a) has two independent phrases divided by the conjunction “or” which means it is either the Prime Minister who can recommend to the king that a Minister’s appointment be revoked, or the minister can be revoked according to Clause 50B.

    In his recent response to media in a livestream talk show the Prime Minister appears to have intentionally avoided talking about the first phrase and claimed his power in clause 51(3)(a) can only be exercised according to clause 50B.

    The prime minister told Parliament this week that he was given advice by a legal adviser.

    Asked by Opposition Leader Semisi Sika whether Akosita was still being paid the prime minister did not give a clear response.

    He said he “will stay with Clause 23 of the Constitution”.

    He is being heavily criticised for his refusal to take action against Akosita.


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