After months of using Clause 23 of the Constitution to justify doing nothing against jailed Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu, Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa has voted to change the clause.
The amendment means that scenes of the Prime Minister refusing to action against a Cabinet Minister convicted of a serious crime cannot be repeated.
The Speaker, Lord Fakafanua, submitted the bill to change Clause 23 to the House.
The amendment was to stop allowing any convicted civil servants, government representatives and MPs from retaining their office after being convicted by the court for more than three years or sending them to prison as the 2013 amendment allowed.
Lavulavu and her husband ‘Etuate were jailed for six years on three counts of obtaining money by false pretences.
The Supreme Court was told the Lavulavus had committed a carefully executed fraud over several years.
Judge Cooper, presiding, said the Lavulavu’s conduct “would be disgraceful in anyone, but for a member of cabinet, and a man who used his political connections and position to facilitate these frauds, goes beyond just criminally reprehensible.”
Akosita Lavulavu stayed in Cabinet on full pay during her trial. A scandal rapidly developed as the Prime Minister repeatedly defended her and said he would not take action 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 sentenced on July 2. After her conviction Hon. Tu’i’onetoa announced that Clause 23 barred him from removing her from Cabinet until her appeal was heard.
She eventually resigned.
Veteran Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala told the AUT journalism student publication Te Waha Nui the Prime Minister has used Clause 23 “as an excuse for his non-action on his criminal Minister, Akosita Lavulavu.”
He asked why the Prime Minister had suddenly accepted her resignation before her appeal.
In his speech to support the bill, Lord Fakafanua said he did not want an MP to retain their seat in Parliament after they had been convicted by the court.
Lord Fakafanua said convicts should not remain in the House until their appeal was heard. He said this would tarnish the reputation of the king, the Prime Minister and Parliament.
He said that in some circumstances, a person who had their conviction quashed or set aside by the court could apply for compensation for the time they spent in prison as a result of that wrongful conviction
The only addition made to the amendment was to raise the period of more than two-year’s imprisonment to more than three-year’s imprisonment.
Lord Fakafanua said the more than three-year imprisonment term meant serious crimes that could only be dealt with by the Supreme Court and a jury. Criminals convicted and sentenced to two years or less for light offences like traffic offending should be exempted from Clause 23.
The government, including Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa, supported the Bill and he voted for it when it was put to the ballot at the end of the month.
He’ikai toe hoko e kupu 23 ‘o e konisitūtone’ ke ne fakangofua ke kei minisitā, mēmipa Fale Alea pe fakafofonga pule’anga ha taha kuo fakahalaia’i ‘e he Fakamaau’anga Lahi ke ngāue pōpula ta’u ‘e tolu pe laka hake kae tokua ke nofo ‘o tali ki ha’ane tangi ‘i hono tautea’. Kuo paasi ‘e he Fale’ ha lao ke fakalelei’i ‘a e kupu 23 pea ke ne fakamahino ko e mōmeniti e halaia ‘a ha taha he lao’ ni ko ‘ene ‘i tu’a ia mei hono lakanga fakapule’anga’ tatau ai pe ‘oku toe hoko atu ia ‘o tangi’. Na’e fakamahino ‘i Fale Alea ‘e he Sea Looti Fakafanua ‘a ia ko ia ne ne fakahū ‘a e lao fakatonutonu’ ni ko e laumālie ‘o e kupu ko eni ke tuku leva ki tu’a ha taha kuo halaia. Pea ka toki tangi ia ‘o tali pea ‘oku faka’atā ‘e he lao ke ne ‘eke ‘e ia ‘ene totonu mo ha huhu’i mei he pule’anga’ pea ‘oku fea pe ia pea ko e me’a totonu pe ia ke fai. Ka ‘oku mahu’inga ke malu’i e ngeia ‘o e Fale’ mo e Tu’i mo e pule’anga’ ke ‘oua na’a nau faifai ange kuo nau malu’i mo kei fakalaloa’i ha taha kuo fakahalaia’i. Ko e hili foki ‘eni hano fakaanga’i lahi ‘o e palēmia Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa he’ene ngāue’aki ‘a e kupu’ ni, ke fakatonuhia’i ‘aki ‘ene malu’i ‘a Akosita Lavulavu hili hono fakahalaia’i ‘e he Fakamaau Lahi’ ki hono kākaa’i e pa’anga ‘ova he vaeua miliona ‘a e pule’anga’. Ka ne iku ‘o holomui ‘a e palēmia’ mei he’ene taukave ko ia’ ‘o ne fakahā kuo fakafisi ‘a Akosita pea ‘asi kuo ‘ikai ke ne kei muimui ki he kupu 23 ki mu’a hono liliu ko ‘eni’.