Leading Tongan media figure Kalafi Moala has blasted Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa and called for him to be voted out of office in next month’s election.
Speaking during an election campaign in Kolomotu’a for MP Siaosi Pōhiva on Friday night, Moala accused the Prime Minister of lying to the public.
He said that in 30 years working as a journalist he had never known a Prime Minister who lied to the public like Tu’i’onetoa. He gave as an example the Lulutai airline saga in which he said the Prime Minister was lying when he was questioned about the CEO’s forced resignation.
Documents seen by Kaniva News when the scandal broke in September last year appeared to support the claim that the CEO had been pushed out.
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Moala said a good MP must not lie. They had to tell the truth because of the public.
“This government’s lying is dangerous,” Moala said in Tongan.
He said Tu’i’onetoa abused religion as a political tool, citing the national fasting programme to stop Covid 19. He said this clashed with the Gospel which taught that if people fasted they should put oil on their head and wash their face and never proclaim it.
However, when the Prime Minister fasted he publicly announced it and celebrated it with his staff. They partied after their fast and collected Tongan handicrafts and food from people in the outer islands after their fast programme.
“We shiver and shudder at the thought of this action” Moala said.
The veteran editor rebuked the Prime Minister for his interpretation of the principle of Conflict of Interest. He said the Prime Minister was wrong in saying there was no such thing as conflict of interest as long as no law was breached. He said if Tu’ionetoa’s justification was made in overseas countries people would demonstrate and call on him to step down.
Moala said he felt there was a sense of complacency about corruption in Tonga because of the way the Prime Minister addressed issues like conflict of interest. People thought he was right and accepted what he said.
Moala also accused Tu’i’onetoa of failing to answer journalists directly when they questioned him. He said Tu’i’onetoa’s answers were later released through other media. Moala said the problem was that the prime minister not only did not answer the questions, but he instead diverted the public attention from issues raised by the journalists if they affected him.
Separately, Moala told Radio New Zealand last week that people had become disenchanted with the performance of their parliamentarians.
He said this was shown by the lower number of candidates standing for election, with 75 people standing for election next month, a drop from 86 in 2017 and 104 in 2014.
He said the criticism of MPs by King Tupou the Sixth during the last session over what he said was their failure to tackle serious issues like drugs had tapped into how people view politicians.
Prime Minister Tu’ionetoa has been under constant criticism all year, especially for refusing to deal with convicted criminal and Cabinet Member ‘Akosita Lavulavu.
He has been roundly condemned for having too close a relationship with ‘Akosita’s husband, ‘Etuate, who was also jailed for fraud, but who seems to have maintained an unexplained influence on the Prime Minister.
He has also been the subject of continuing criticism over apparent cronyism in the awarding of road building contracts, with work going to people with close personal, party or political links.
In March the Leader of the Democratic Party (PTOA) Sēmisi Sika accused the Prime Minister of lying when he was interviewed about why the government did not repair damages to the roads after recent heavy raining and flooding.
Tonga will go to the polls on November 18.