COMMENTARY: Parliament has postponed its meeting scheduled for Monday 16 to unseat convicted Cabinet Ministers and MPs who had been found guilty of bribery.
The government has asked for more time to finish work on the budget estimates for the next financial year.
No date has been set for the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly.
It appears that convicted Finance Minister Tatafu Moeaki will stay in Parliament because the Prime Minister wanted him to finish the new budget before putting it to the house early next month. It seems the same thing will apply to convicted Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei. Convicted former Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa will remain as Tongatapu 10 MP due to the deferral.
Lord Speaker Fakafanua has questions to answer
There are many questions here for the Speaker to answer given that the government does not appear to have learned anything from a precedent set for convicted MP and Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu last year. There are also questions about whether the convicted Parliamentarians will continue to be paid.
Last year convicted MP and Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu was told to sit down after she took the floor to announce her Minister of Infrastructure’s new annual budget.
Noble MP wants House to follow their conscience
Lord Tu’iha’angana asked the Speaker not to allow Lavulavu to speak in the House after her conviction as it would have breached the MPs’ oath to fulfill their duties with honesty.
At the time, the then Prime Minister insisted that Lavulavu had a right under Section 23 of the Constitution to remain in the House even after her conviction and she would continue to do so as she was appealing her conviction. As Kaniva News reported, this clause was eventually altered last year.
MPs swear before God
Nobles and people’s representatives have to swear: “I solemnly swear before God, that I will be truly loyal to His Majesty King Tupou VI, the rightful King of Tonga and that I will righteously and perfectly conform to and keep the Constitution of Tonga and zealously discharge my duties as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.”
Ministers have to swear: “I solemnly swear before God that I will be truly loyal to His Majesty Tupou VI the rightful King of Tonga and that I will keep righteously and perfectly the Constitution of Tonga and discharge the duties of my department to the end of my ability for the benefit of the King and his Government.”
Lord Tu’iha’anga told the House at the time of the Lavulavu incident that this was a matter for the MPs’ conscience. He said the constitution was clear, but his conscience was not, to see that the minister was convicted for fraud but was still allowed to speak in the House and debate the budget.
Lavulavu continues receiving payments after conviction
Akosita Lavulavu was convicted on June 4, 2021 and sentenced to jail for six years on July 2, 2021. She officially resigned on July 2. The then Minister for Finance Tevita Lavemaau, told the House Akosita’s pay and allowances were stopped on July 1. This meant she received full pay while she was in court for her court hearings and after she was convicted until her sentence on July 2.
One minister resigns for the sake of his conscience
Of all the Ministers convicted for bribery recently only one minister has resigned and that was Hon. Sangstar Saulala. He said he was advised by PM Hu’akavameiliku to continue in his ministerial post until Parliament formally unseated him, but that he wanted to respect the court decision as well as ministerial posts.
The Parliament’s role includes performing checks and balances on the government’s decision making, especially if there seems to be an issue with the law and constitution. In this case Parliament should ensure that the rules governing Parliamentarian’s behaviour and their right to stay in the House are enforced.
The Parliamentarians convicted of bribery should also think very hard about whether they should follow Hon. Saulala’s example and show respect for the Supreme Court’s decisions and their responsibility as MPs.
For more information
Fraudster Infrastructur Minister Akosita barred from speaking while announcing her 39 million new budget in Parliament