The temporary release of the jailed fraudster Lavulavu couple last week has opened the Prison Commissioner’s power to make such decisions to criticism.
Critics were seriously concerned about the timing of the release, saying it was too early.
Chief Justice Michael Whitten denied the Lavulavus’ bail bid on July 9 while awaiting their appeal application to be heard either in September this year or March 2022.
Critics were baffled by the release because in sentencing ‘Etuate Lavulavu, the Supreme Court judge said he posed a risk of re-offending as his offences were not out of character and was known to be deceitful.
Some argued that the Prison Commissioner Tapueluelu’s decision has downplayed the seriousness of the couple’s offending.
Tapueluelu’s decision has been blasted as showing lack of respect for the presiding Supreme Court judge and the Chief Justice’s judgement of the case.
The couple did not show any sign of remorse during their trial and persistently insisted that they were innocent. The judge described their crime after plundering more than half a million pa’anga from international-funded government school funding scheme as “the worst sort of dishonesty.”
The judge said ‘Akosita had supplied false references, something the pre-sentence report described as “an act of dishonesty which further proves her true character.”
Fear for another early release
Some fear the decision to allow the Lavulavus to go home might set a precedent for letting them out well before the end of their six-year jail term.
Commissioner Tapueluelu said the release was legal and was part of the prison’s rehabilitation programme for all prisoners. He said the Lavulavus were released for only three hours. He said they were accompanied by two prison officers in a prison vehicle during the visit to their home.
As Kaniva News reported on Friday a member of the public spotted a marked prison vehicle parking at the Lavulavus’ residence before taking a photo of it. It was then uploaded to social media before it was widely shared to Facebook which sparked huge public outrage on social media.
The Lavulavu’s temporary release has drawn concern because there appears to have been no serious grounds on which to release the couple.
The Commissioner said the Lavulavus were released after they asked to go home because they had various commitments which had been left unfinished.
In Tongan he said: ““ngaahi me’a kehekehe pe ‘oku te’eki ai ke tukunga lelei.”
He also appeared to have provided conflicting information about the couple’s situation by saying this was the first time for them to be let out, but he also said they had previously been released to have their Covid-19 vaccination done.
He also appeared to be uncertain about his response before saying that if somebody has evidence that the Lavulavus were previously released they should come forward and prove it.
Tapueluelu said that as Prison Commissioner he could consider allowing a prisoner to take leave and be released unsupervised after serving six months of their imprisonment term.
For the Lavulavu couple, he said they had been allowed to go home, but because they had not spent six months in prison, they were accompanied by prison officers.
Tonga’s Prison Act says the Commissioner “may, by order in writing, grant a prisoner leave to be absent from the prison in which he is being detained for (d) compassionate purposes as the Commissioner thinks fit; or (e) any other purpose as the Commissioner thinks fit.”
Unfortunately, while the Commissioner has relied on the Act to defend his decision, he finds himself in the unenviable position of being in the midst of a political circus.
As a number of former Police Commissioners have found, civil servants are constrained as to what they can say and must stand by while political questions are raised and accusations are made.
In this case some people have argued that the section of the Prison act upon which the Commissioner relied leaves his office open to pressure from politicians.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the Commissioner was influenced by anyone in his decision making. However, as a Cabinet appointee answerable to Justice Minister Sāmiu Vaipulu, there is the risk that the Commissioner will be the subject of political speculation and accusation.
This is, sadly, even more likely given Prime Minister Tu’ionetoa’s earlier behaviour with regards to the Lavulavus. The Prime Minister devoted an enormous amount of time defending former Infrastructure and Tourism Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu.
Hon. Tu’ionetoa even criticised the Supreme Court’s ruling by saying “it is not easy to judge others because that decision was made by a sinner as they have lack of experience and wisdom from God.”
Given his inability to defend himself by commenting publicly, it would help considerably if Vaipulu issued a public statement acknowledging Commissioner Tapueluelu’s absolute integrity in discharging his duties.
It would also help calm down the general atmosphere surrounding this case greatly if the Prime Minister released a statement guaranteeing that there had not been nor would there be any political interference in the Prison Commissioner’s work.
Na’e pehē ‘e he Komisiona Pilisone’ Sēmisi Tapueluelu ‘oku fakalao pe ‘a ‘ene tu’utu’uni ke tuku ange ki tu’a ‘i ha houa ‘e tolu ‘a e ongo mātu’a Lavulavu’ he uike kuo ‘osi’ hili ‘eni ‘a hono ‘ikai tali ‘e he ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi’ ‘ena kole ke na ‘atā pe ki ‘api ‘o tatali ai ki he’ena tangi kuo fai’.
Ko e me’a na’e ‘ikai fakamahino mai ‘e Tapueluelu’ ko e kupu’i lao ko ‘eni’ ne makatu’unga ai ‘ene tu’utu’uni’ kupu 46 ‘o e Lao Pilīsone’ ‘oku’ ne tala mai ko hono tuku ange ‘o ha taha pōpula hangē ko e ongo Lavulavu’ ‘e makatu’unga ia ‘i he fakakaukau lelei pe konisenisi mo’ui’ ‘o e komisiona’. ‘Oku fakalea fakapālangi ‘eni he lao’ ‘o pehē – as the commissioner thinks fit.
‘Oku ‘ekea leva heni ‘a e makatu’unga ‘ene faitu’utu’uni ke tuku ange kei hengihengi toki uike ‘e ua pe nai ‘eni ‘ena ‘i pilīsone’. Na’e fakamatala’i mahino ‘e he Fakamaau Lahi ko Cooper ‘a e mātu’aki mamafa ‘o e hia ne fai ‘e he ongo Lavulavu’ pea toe fai ‘e he ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi Whitten ‘a e fakamatala tatau ‘o tu’unga ai ‘a e ‘ikai ke ne tali ke peila kinaua ki tu’a ‘o tali tangi ai.
Ko Akosita, makehe mei he’ene kākaa’i e pa’anga ‘a e pule’anga’ na’a’ ne toe fa’u ‘a e ngaahi tohi fakamo’oni loi ke taukapo’i’aki ia ‘i ha tala tu’utu’uni ‘a e fakamaau lahi’ pea ne pehē ai ‘e he fakamāu’ kuo toki e’ee’a ai ‘a e lanu totonu ‘o e fefine’ ni.
Ko ‘Etuate na’e pehē ‘e he fakamaau lahi ko e tangata ia ‘e toe faihia pe ia (reoffending) he ne ‘ikai ko ha me’afo’ou ia ki hono sino’ ‘a e loi mo e kākaa’.
Ko e tu’utu’uni’ a Tapueluelu’ ‘oku ava ai e matapā ke fakaanga’i ‘a e lao pilīsone’ he ‘oku’ ne ‘oange ‘a e fu’u mafai faka’aufuli ki he komisiona toko taha ke ne fai ha tu’utu’uni ‘e ala lau ‘oku hangē kuo’ ne ta’etoka’i ‘a e ngāue ma’ongo’onga ‘a e pule tolu ‘o e fonua’ pe fakamaau’anga’ ke fakapapau’i ‘oku tautea’i a’ua’u ‘a e kakai fai hia lalahi ‘o e fonua’.
‘Oku mahino ‘i he tu’utu’uni ‘a Tapueluelu na’e ‘ikai ha ‘uhinga malohi fau mo fefeka ke tuku ange ai ‘a e ongo Lavulavu ki tu’a ‘o ne tala ki he mitia’ ko ‘ena ō ki honau ‘api’ tu’unga pe he ngaahi me’a ne te’eki tukunga mālie.
Na’e ‘osi ‘ave kotoa ‘e he ongo Lavulavu ‘a e ngaahi ‘uhinga ta’e tukunga mālie ko ‘eni’ ki he fakamaau lahi kau ai ‘a e pehē ‘oku ‘i ai ‘ena fānau’ ‘o kole ‘aki ke na ‘atā pe ki tu’a ‘o tali hopo tangi ai. Ka ne ‘ikai tali ia ‘e he ‘e he ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi’. Pehē ‘e he ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi’ na’e tonu ke na ‘uluaki fakakaukau’i ‘ena fānau’i pea ne toki fakahoko ‘a e hia’. He’ikai ke na ō faihia pea na fakamu’omu’a mai ‘ena fānau ko ha paletu’a ke malu’i’aki kinaua.
‘Oku hanga ‘e he tu’utu’uni ‘a Tapueluelu’ ‘i he malumalu ‘o e kupu’i lao pilisone ko ‘eni ‘o fakama’ama’a’i ‘a e tu’utu’uni ‘a e pule tolu ‘o e fonua’ pea ‘e ala lau hangē ha ta’efaka’apa’apa’.
‘I hono tautea’i ‘o e ongo Lavulavu na’e pehē ‘e he fakamaau lahi’ ko e hia na’a na fakahoko’ ko e kovi taha ‘eni ‘o e ngaahi hia ta’efaitotonu kuo faka’ilo he fonua’. ‘Ikai ha’ana momo’i fakatomala pe kole fakamolemole pea na vili kikihi pe ‘ena tonuhia’ neongo e mahulu atu ‘a e ngaahi fakamo’oni ko e hia ko ‘eni ne na fakahoko’ ne na kaungāfai tokoua pe ai.
Ko e toki uike pe ‘eni ‘e ua nai ‘e na ‘i he ‘aofinima ‘o Tapueluelu kuo tuku ange kinaua ia ke na ma’u e tau’atāina ‘o e kakai fai lelei’ neongo ko e houa ‘e tolu.
Ko e hā e me’asivi falala’anga ne ngāue’aki ‘e Tapueluelu ke ne falala ke tuku ange e ongo faihia lalahi ko ‘eni ke na ō ki honau ‘api ‘i he ki’i fo’i uike pe ‘e ua ko eni kuo nau feohi ai?
Kapau kuo’ ne faka’atā kei hengihengi pe ‘a e ongo Lavulavu’ ‘i loto he uike ua ko ‘eni’ pea ‘oku ‘i ai e tui lahi ‘e ‘ikai fuoloa mei heni kuo’ ne faka’atā ‘e ia ke foaki ha livi (leave) ‘a e ongo Lavulavu ke na ‘atā ā ki tu’a. ‘A ia ko e mafai fakalao ‘eni ‘oku ma’u ‘e he pule pilīsone’ hili ha māhna ‘e ono ha ngāue pōpula ‘a ha taha.
‘Oku lelei pe ia ke ‘i ai ha lao pehē, ka ko hono foaki mola ke faitu’utu’uni toko taha ‘a e Komisiona’ ‘oku mōhū fili ia. ‘Oku totonu ke ‘i ai ha pēnolo pea tataki ‘e ha fakamaau pe mataotao he lao’ ke nau fai ‘a e tu’utu’uni ke toki faka’atā ha taha pehē hangē ko e ongo Lavulavu.
‘Oku palopalema ‘a e pikitai ‘a Tapueluelu ki he lao’ ‘o ‘asi mai hanngē ‘oku ne pehē ko e me’afua tonu taha pe ia mo ta’ele’eia ke ne ngāue’aki he ‘oku ‘ikai ke hoko pehē ma’u pe ia. Ko e konisenisi mo’ui’ ‘a e me’afua lelei taha’.
Ko e fiha’i lao ‘eni ‘a e pule’anga’ hono tamate’i pe liliu pe fakatonutonu mai ‘e he fakamaau’anga ‘oku hala pea na’e ‘ikai tonu ke fa’u ha lao pehē.
Na’e toki ‘osi ni e tu’ukaivi mai ‘a e ‘Eiki Palēmia’ ‘o taukave’i e kupu 23 ‘o e konisitūtone’ ‘oku ne ‘oange e totonu ‘a Akosita ke kei minisitā pe mei Hu’atolitoli kae ‘oualeva kuo mahino ‘ene tangi’. Ka ko e hā e me’a ne hoko’ ne iku holomui ‘a e palēmia mo ‘ene kupu 23 kae fekau ke fakafisi leva ‘a Akosita. Ko e taha e ‘uhinga ki heni’ ko e mahino ki he palēmia ‘oku fepaki ‘a e konisitūtone filifilimānako kupu 23 mo hono konisēnisi mo’ui na’e foaki ‘e he ‘Otua’.
Ko ia ‘oku totonu ki he kau taki pule’anga’ ke nau fai fakapotopoto ‘a ‘enau faitu’utu’uni’ ‘o fakatatau mo honau konisēnisi’ he ko e me’afua ia ‘oku haohaoa pea tolonga’.
Neongo hono fakatonuhia’i ‘e Tapueluelu ‘ene tu’utu’uni ‘aki e lao’ ka ‘oku’ fakaava ‘e ia heni foki ‘a e matapā ke sio atu ai ‘a e kakai’ ki hono tu’unga mo ‘ene felāve’i mo e kau politiki ‘a e pule’anga’. He ko e tangata ngāue ia ne fokotu’u ‘i he mafai ‘o e kapineti’. Ko ‘ene komisiona’ ‘oku ne ‘i he malumalu ai ‘o e minsitā polisi’ ‘a Looti Nuku pea mo e ‘Eiki Palēmia ‘o e fonua’.
Ne ‘ikai puli ki he tokolahi ‘a e tu’ukaivi ‘a e palēmia’ ‘i hono tauvake’i mo malu’i ‘a Akosita’.
Neongo ‘oku ‘ikai ha fakamo’oni ki ha kaunga ‘a e palēmia mo minisitā polisi’ ki he tu’utu’uni ko ‘eni ‘a Tapueluelu ka ‘e sio pehē atu ‘a e kau fakaanga’ he ko ‘ene kei ‘i he lakanga’ mo ha’ane toe hokohoko atu ‘e ‘i he mafai ia ‘o e kapineti’ mo e PSC.