Speaker shares his advise to His Majesty
By STAFF REPORTERS
NUKU’ALOFA-August 30: 4.15pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Former Prime Minister and now Caretaker PM, Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, caused his own downfall, resulting in the indirect show of no-confidence in him and his leadership by His Majesty King Tupou VI.
Mr Pohiva was dismissed as PM last week when King Tupou VI dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections to be held before November 16, 2017.
That brings the general elections forward by one year, as the elections were scheduled for 2018.
In a statement sent to the media this week, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga and Tongatapu Noble’s rep, Lord Tu’ivakano, said he had advised His Majesty on issues that he believed were against the Constitution and the rule of law.
These issues were related to decisions made by Mr Pohiva and his Cabinet.
Lord Tu’ivakano, who had served as Prime Minister up to 2014, said it was apparent to him that Mr Pohiva’s government was working against the rule of law and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Tonga with some of their decisions.
He said Mr Pohiva and his Cabinet had made some decisions that questioned the check and balances of this vested powers.
- Lord Tu’ivakano said he became increasingly concerned by certain decisions of Cabinet that appeared to disregard the rule of law and the check and balances of democracy that was made inherent in the Constitution.
- He said one was the key issues was the move by the Pohiva-led Government to destroy the right of the royal ascent of His Majesty.
This was exercised by the late King Tupou IV when he did not want to grant royal ascent to a parliamentary resolution for Tongans overseas lose their entitlements to land here in Tonga.
- Lord Tu’ivakano pointed to the Pohiva-led government’s decision to ratify CEDAW in 2015, which prompted a public outcry against the decision resulting in a march through Nuku’alofa by members of the Christian faith and the presentation of a petition to Lord Tu’ivakano at the Parliament complex.
- Opposition against the PACER PLUS – the trade agreement pushed through by New Zealand and Australia for the Pacific Island Countries – was disregarded by Mr Pohiva and his Cabinet, who hosted the signing of the agreement here in June.
A petition was also sent to Parliament by local businesses and concerned members of the public.
- Cabinet is attempting to wean away the King and Privy Council’s powers to appoint the Police Commissioner and place that with Cabinet.
The push was already with the Office of the Legislative Assembly, who had received Government’s motion for that to be effected in Parliament.
Lord Tu’ivakano said it was important that the Offices of the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner remained free and independent and not be politicised.
- Lord Tu’ivakano said another issues was the fact that the imporant purpose of the 2010 reforms to have the Legislative Assembly working together to direct Tonga’s growth and development was not happening.
This democratic purpose has not been applied in the legislative assembly, he said.
- Another case highlighted by Lord Tu’ivakano was the case against then Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure, Etuate Lavulavu, who had faced impeachment charges for corruption in 2015.
Despite calls for the impeachment to be effected Mr Pohiva used Clause 75 of the Constitution and requested that he be allowed to discipline the then Minister.
Cabinet Ministers supported the move and Mr Lavulavu escaped being impeached.
Lord Tu’ivakano said that following recent debates in Parliament it was revealed that Mr Pohiva did not in fact penalise Mr Lavulavu, who has been one of his advisors and member of the inner circle of friends he keeps.
Mr Lavulavu is currently the leading man in the construction of the golf course at the Popua site.
Lord Tu’ivakano revealed in his statement that other motions of impeachment against Mr Pohiva and his Cabinet Ministers have been tabled with the Legislative Assembly but he believes these will face similar fates as that of Mr Lavulavu in 2015.
- One of the major issue also highlighted by Lord Tu’ivakano was the cancellation of the 2019 Pacific Games.
He said the Games Act was passed in 2013 with subsequent Acts passed since to help raise revenue for the Games’ funding.
“Since the government came into office they have given assurances that Tonga will host the 2019 Pacific Games,” he said.
“However, in May they announced they were withdrawing from hosting the Games, deceiving and misleading the Parliament and members of the public.”
Lord Tu’ivakano said one of the worrying things is the fact that Government has not waived the collection of taxes that were approved in earlier Bills since the Games has been cancelled.
“I am concerned with the legality of the revenue still being collected,” he said.
- The approval of a 5% COLA for Cabinet Ministers was also another issue pinpointed by the Speaker.
He said that on July 1, 2017 a new income tax threshold was announced.
On August 4 Government announced a 5% COLA for Cabinet Ministers.
“I found this unsatisfactory because the Ministers are not the only ones affected by the tax threshold,” Lord Tu’ivakano added.
He said he had advised His Majesty on the issues to the best of his knowledge and ability.
He also noted the statements made by the late King George Tupou 1, who stated on November 4, 1875 that Members of Parliament should not take pride in their achievements but thank God for his leadership always.
King George 1 said that Tonga’s future hangs on the Legislative Assembly and the decisions made within the noble house.
Lord Tu’ivakano said all Parliamentary business will cease, including all standing committees.
All business that have not been tabled in Parliament and businesses that have not been decided on or resolution agreed to have also lapsed.
However, any resolution passed prior to the dissolution remains effective.
MPs will continue in their respective roles up to the elections in November.
Mr Pohiva will continue as Caretaker Prime Minister along with his Cabinet Ministers until elections take place, King Tupou VI had confirmed earlier.
In a media statement released by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain stated that the King, “having considered advice from the Lord Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, has in accordance with Clauses 38 and 77(2) of Constitution of Tonga dissolved the Legislative Assembly, with effect from Thursday 24 August 2017 at 1700 hours.”
The King commanded that new Representatives of the Nobles and People be elected to enter the Legislative Assembly at Elections to be held no later than 16 November 2017.
The three paragraph statement clarified the interim governance of Tonga.
“Until those Elections take place, the present Government will continue as Caretaker Government. During this time, the administration of Government services especially the Health and Educational services to the People should remain a priority.”
Mr Pohiva had originally planned to retire after one term, but now said he will stand again in the November election.
Meanwhile, Attorney General ‘Aminiasi Kefu says the country is ticking along as normal, despite the King’s decision.
Mr Kefu said the public service will continue to function normally.
However, he said the situation was testing.
“Oh it’s groundbreaking, definitely, quite profound for a sleepy small island country but there’s never a dull moment in Tonga and I’m just glad that the machinery of government continues. This is obviously a testing of the constitutional provision, this is the first time that his majesty has used his personal prerogative power to dissolve parliament.”
Mr Kefu says the King’s decision is final, and the constitution provides no right of appeal should Mr Pohiva feel aggrieved.
He also stated that the Elections Office will be ready for the polls as the structure was already in place.
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