Stand a Noble

Collapsed parliament after Cyclone Gita. Photograph: Matangi Tonga.

 

Tonga’s 9 nobles’ representatives to Legislative Assembly must take back our country.  ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s Democratic Party disorder has dragged us down to rock bottom.  There’s no two ways about it: stand a noble for Prime Minister at the second parliamentary ballot.  As for Tongan voters registered on the general roll, they need to go to confession and seek absolution.

For the simple reason that the calibre of leadership expected for the Head of Government does not exist in the 17 people’s representatives elected to the House for the 2017 to 2021 term.  Voted in are the lowest legislators.  And don’t be praying for further reform.  Political redemption doesn’t come for this cut of politician.  In any country.  Ever.

A pathway forward is those who’re capable and willing, drum up support for the constituency seats at the 2021 election now.  That doesn’t mean buying people’s votes by paying them with money, food, and favour.  We mean to say, why wasn’t the 2017 general election scrutinised properly?  TOP $10,000 is the legal limit a candidate is permitted to spend on their campaign under section 24 of the Tonga Electoral Act 2016.  Was this exceeded in some cases?

Tonga’s People’s Representatives. Photograph: MP Lavulavu.

 

 

 

Tongans saw which candidates looked heavy in earnings and expenses but no one contested vote buying.  Because after going through a dissolution of parliament on 25 August 2017, a snap election on 16 November 2017, and a parliamentary vote for a Prime Minister on 18 December 2017 only to get the same result – who could be bothered?

That’s precisely what happened.  ‘Akilisi Pohiva has run the government ship aground twice and failed.  His leadership is disastrous.  His cabinets are deficient.  And people are so sick and tired of chaos they’ve thrown their hands up in despair.

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

 

Two questions for you.  What happens in a small island society when people are repeatedly let down, put down, and kicked down with poverty, crime, and bad government escalating out of control?  What are the consequences of electing politicians that assess how well they’re doing by the number of likes for their social media posts, or the frequency of damning gossip spread about their rivals?

Answer: you get poverty, crime, corrupt politicians, and a volatile public rolled into one mad cocktail – ready to explode.  Into what?  Unresolvable conflict.  And that’s the problem with Tongan politicians and society as a whole.  People have an aptitude for initiating conflict but little sense, if any, for resolving it.  Kalafi Moala said this best.

 

It is often amazing indeed how Tongans treat each other, not only in their families but also even in church where it is supposed to be a place where people can find peace and refuge.  It is not uncommon for fistfights to take place in church, even among women, where swearing and the pulling of hair is the common way of fighting.  It seems there is one thing that has not really yet been learned in our communities and culture – that violence can never be used as a last resort to resolve conflicts.

Kalafi Moala

Tonga’s parliamentarians. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Moala’s insight was “the common way of fighting.”  In Tonga, the common way of fighting is replicated in parliament by the people’s representatives and their common way of politicking.

This social group play dirty politics like no other human species on the planet.  Their fight tactics are sneaky and destructive.  Vilely, some instigate proxy wars by investing information and ideas in social media slanderers who strike at their enemies.

However, the result of parliament’s former speaker Lord Tu’ivakano advising King Tupou VI to dissolve parliament on 25 August 2017 was that it brought about a political reform.  By enacting section 38 of the Constitution of Tonga 2016 the monarch strengthened a constitutional anti-corruption mechanism.  Put simply: if government is provably corrupt and all else fails, dissolve the parliament and call on fresh elections.

Is it weird that Tonga has an Anti-Corruption Commissioner Act 2016 but two Pohiva governments have wilfully obstructed His Majesty in Privy Council appointing a commissioner under section 5 of the act?  Not for this regime.  They’re just plain weird.  Period.

Their strategy is twofold.  First, the Democratic Party government want to appoint an Anti-Corruption Commissioner to have political control over what’s meant to be an independent office.  Effectively it means cabinet can block the commissioner from doing the ministers for corruption.  The second reason is more sinister.  Let us explain.

Lord Tu’ivakano (left). Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Under section 15 of the act, the commissioner is responsible for “Preliminary Investigations” of corruption complaints against the state, including parliamentarians.  The findings of a preliminary investigation determine whether to proceed to a full investigation or court charges through the Police Commissioner.

Now the Police Commissioner is a separate and distinct role from the Anti-Corruption Commissioner.  It’s also intended as an independent office of government.  But it’s not the Police Commisioner’s job to investigate state corruption.  That’s what the Anti-Corruption Commissioner’s supposed to do.  If Tonga had one, that is.

So if an Anti-Corruption Commissioner isn’t appointed by law, then who recommends that corruption investigations are carried out and by whom?  This is where Pohiva’s government demonstrated they’re shrewd opportunists by short-cutting the anti-corruption process.

First, by riling up the public with malicious rumours spiked against Tu’ivakano that he’d peddled passports without proper authorisation.  Second, by demanding an investigation into unlawful passport sales be conducted by Tonga Police.

The worst case scenario of conflict of interest is that the Police Minister who propelled the investigation, arrest of, and charges brought against Tu’ivakano is Pohiva’s son-in-law, Mateni Tapueluelu.

Two more questions for you.  Was Tu’ivakano’s police arrest and charges politically motivated payback for advising the King on parliament’s dissolution?  Were the investigation proceedings and prosecution decisions corrupted by undue political influence?  Answer: tick both boxes.

Next prod.  Tu’ivakano was put on trial as Tonga’s former foreign minister.  Siaosi Sovaleni, Pohiva’s former foreign minister he fired on 4 September 2017, was spared.  Is there a twist in the story?  You bet the plot is distorted.

MP Sovaleni (3rd left) with Pohiva’s government ministers. Photograph: Siaosi Sovaleni.

 

Sovaleni’s 6-month tenure in foreign affairs saw the country run out of passports in August 2017.  Media reported Tongan passports were in high demand and government had ordered more for October.  That was the story, but what were the facts?

Who knows because the contradiction was that despite rumours the Democratic Party government had an impeachment lined up for Sovaleni, there’s been no charges laid against him.  Only Tu’ivakano.

The climax in this political theater revealed a treacherous plan.  A leak from inside Pohiva’s cabinet surfaced in media circles.  It was said the Democratic Party wanted Sovaleni to stand at the first Prime Minister’s election on 18 December 2017 and not a noble, especially not Tu’ivakano.  Sovaleni would lose, but the party was worried the nobleman may get the floor crossers and win.

In terms of regime change, there’s a straightforward jab: how will MP Sovaleni for Tongatapu 3 manoeuvre, anticipating a second vote for a new Prime Minister will be staged if ‘Akilisi Pohiva falls?  To revisit the past, this is the independent MP that switched sides on the nobles in December 2014 by not voting for their Prime Minister candidate, Samiu Vaipulu, MP for Vava’u 15.

In 2014, Siaosi Sovaleni voted for Akilisi Pohiva for Prime Minister to get hold of the Deputy Prime Ministership.  However he gave the nobles the impression that he and other independents would vote for Vaipulu.  They all crossed to Pohiva’s government for the ministers’ salaries they’d haggled for.

MP Sovaleni (left). Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

It looks indefinite that the Nobles will stand Sovaleni a second time at a Prime Minister’s election.  He lost the first ballot 14-12 to his old boss ‘Akilisi Pohiva in December last year.

In these turbulent times, are Democratic Party MPs considering crossing the floor because they have irreconcilable differences with Pohiva and they’re all about acquiring a government ministership, even a Prime Ministership?

Because floor crossers are associated with double-crossers.  If defectors from Pohiva’s party shift sides because they’re assuming the grass is greener over yonder, can we honestly say these political relationships are enduring and sincere.

The only certainty is that taking votes without reciprocating loyalty in an unadulterated relationship is not workable.  Furthermore, the nobility’s 9 votes are not to be trifled with for personal gain.  Different to the people’s representatives elected from the general roll, Tonga’s landed gentry represent a political entity constitutionally bound to the monarch and guardianship of titles, estates, and people.

What’s the social glue holding together the opposition MPs, nobles and people?  If it’s solely about removing the Pohiva regime then it’s not made of the sustainable polity built from a coalition policy platform.  Does it appear to be a relationship of convenience for public show?  Whether the performance is sincere and gets public buy-in is the issue at stake.

The fact remains that Tonga has experienced two catastrophic Democratic Party governments, of which Sovaleni was party to as Pohiva’s former Deputy Prime Minister.  If voters are to politically mature, it is necessary they see through the empty promises of people’s representatives who push populist politics – and that’s Pohiva’s mob down to a T.  How to vote in candidates based on their policies and relevant skills-base for stabilising parliament and government is crucial to Tonga’s development.

Nobles bloc. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

For the record, it’s the nobles not the people prioritising rule of law and anti-corruption in parliamentary work.  Because here’s the thing.  Tu’ivakano was arrested and charged on 1 March 2018 in a highly politicised and disputed passport investigation.  You’d have to be living under a rock not to question motive.  What was Pohiva’s intention pushing for criminal charges against this Noble politician who’d advised on dissolving parliament?

The police investigation on illegal passport sales was carried out two years ago.  Thus, the timing of the Tu’ivakano case wasn’t coincidental.  It stank of a calculated and executed political assassination.  Therefore, we’ve got to ask: how much corroboration went on between the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General, and the Police Minister who’s Pohiva’s son-in-law, plus Pohiva himself?  Save it for the judge.

It is imperative to our country’s wellbeing that Tongans come to their senses about ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s abysmal leadership as Head of Government and the harmful affect it’s had over the people’s psyche and politicking.  A national conversation must turn to strategic politics; the very method for subtracting Pohiva from the Prime Minister’s Office and cancelling his second government.

For a start, forget the people’s representatives; sin-bin the lot of them.  They’re not on any great Christian crusade to save the Kingdom from Dear Leader Akilisi Pohiva.  They’re busy working on their Facebook and Twitter pages to clean up tarnished reputations; which indicates the amount of free time they may have on their hands at the expense of poor Tongan taxpayers remunerating big fat MPs salaries.

The hard truth is the people’s representatives will not unite a divided and discordant Tonga ripped apart by their very own partisan politics.  The people are their own worst enemies; fighting to dominate, dictate, and lord it over others by treating them haughtily, arrogantly, disrespectfully.

There has to be a unifying basis to Tongan state and society.  For all purposes, constitutionally, it is the King and the nobility who are the protectors of land, people, and livelihood.

So get one fact straight: it’s the nobles who’re responsible for taking back the country for the people.  But to successfully oust ‘Akilisi Pohiva and his second squalid government they’ve got to use procedures within the law.  They know that; they actually have a qualified lawyer in the nobles bloc compared to the government who have none.

Nobles bloc. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Section 75 of the constitution looks promising: “Impeachment.”  What does it say?  Stay with us and consider the law because if you only read Tongan social media, you’ll be none the wiser.

 

It shall be lawful for a member of the Legislative Assembly, of his own volition or as the result of a written complaint made to him by any Tongan subject, to move the Assembly, in accordance with the rules of procedure, for the impeachment of any Minister or representative of the nobles or of the people for any of the following offences –

 

Breach of the laws or the resolutions of the Legislative Assembly, maladministration, incompetency, destruction or embezzlement of Government property, or the performance of acts which may lead to difficulties between this and another country.

Constitution of Tonga 2016

 

The second paragraph is verifiable in Pohiva’s case, particularly law breaking, maladministration, and incompetency.  The first paragraph requires a motion passed in parliament to impeach the Prime Minister.  To reinforce the case, written complaints from the public endorsing an impeachment by evidencing the legal grounds in section 75 of the act assist in the process.

Tonga’s Legislative Assembly. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

There’s also section 50B: “Votes of no confidence.”  This can take place “18 months after a general election,” which for this term is June 2019.  If such a strategy is taken, Pohiva looks to face his second vote of no confidence in two governments; the first occurring in February 2017.

 

[F]ollowing a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, the Legislative Assembly passes a motion that recommends the appointment of another elected representative as Prime Minister, then upon delivery of that resolution to the King by the Speaker, the King shall appoint the person so nominated as the Prime Minister.

Constitution of Tonga 2016

 

Similar to impeachment, the vote of no confidence requires the majority of parliament to vote in favour.  If the nobles were successful, as the largest bloc on the opposition bench they can put forward a motion for their replacement Prime Minister to gain parliament’s approval.

The last resort is the second dissolution of parliament in Tongan history under Akilisi Pohiva’s Prime Ministership.  Please clap (sarcasm).  Section 38 of the constitution is named the “King’s relations with Parliament.”  A much politer term for dissolution it’s like saying: this clause is for the King to expel bad governments.  Which it does.  In an instant.  Please clap (sincerely).

 

The King may convoke the Legislative Assembly at any time and may dissolve it at his pleasure and command that new representatives of the nobles and people be elected to enter the Assembly.  But it shall not be lawful for the Kingdom to remain without a meeting of the Assembly for a longer period than one year.

Constitution of Tonga 2016

 

As a conclusive constitutional mechanism for disestablishing government by ending parliament and summoning new elections, it has to be exercised with caution, careful deliberation, and restraint.  Dissolution two is not an option to be treated lightly.

Not singly because of the burden it places on candidates and voters to go to a snap election.  Rather, it’s the fact that two failed governments destabilize the core functioning of state and society, and as a result, weaken the economy by escalating poverty and crime instead of solving it.

Tonga’s Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Tongan social media commentators are not producing quality journalism to educate and inform the public on the laws of Tonga defining and delimiting parliamentary and government procedures.  Destabilizing the Tongan state and society are the people’s representatives during the Pohiva years in government.  They’ve gotten away with tomfooleries because of an overinflated sense of entitlement and self-importance.

Much of social media has intensified the polarisation of Tongan society into loving or loathing Akilisi Pohiva, rather than calling up relevant legislation to hold elected parliamentarians to account.  The reality is the laws of Tonga is what the public has to protect themselves from corrupt regimes and crooked legislators.

On a personal level, we don’t dislike Akilisi Pohiva.  He hasn’t beaten us down with his anti-media freedom whip – yet.  That could well change once his communications advisor as well as his personal assistant, who’s his son, read this opinion of his failing leadership bound for intensive care.

On a professional level, Akilisi Pohiva is undoubtedly the worst Prime Minister in Tongan history.  He deliberately conflates public office with his cult of personality and populist politics.  The bizarre brand we end up with is Trump America in Third World Tonga led by a ranting Communist who read the German philosopher Karl Marx as a 1970s university student and got it unpleasantly confused in his social imagination.

Tonga Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

Would the 9 nobles’ representatives to the Legislative Assembly please stand up to the government?  File an impeachment of ‘Akilisi Pohiva and stand a noble to replace him.  Most Tongans will support a noble Prime Minister, as they did when Lord Tu’ivakano won the parliamentary election for the 2010 to 2014 government.

As a people, it’s become a matter of life and death that the nobles take direct action to protect Tongan citizens from the Democratic Party government.  Political circumstances have grown that serious.  The economy struggles to generate enough cash to feed poor communities in a cyclone recovery period the Pohiva regime purposely ignores.

Post-cyclone trauma has increased the numbers of Tongans dying from meth and alcohol addiction, non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and gout, poverty and violence, road and boating accidents, mental illness and depression.  There are not enough lines here to list what’s gone wrong with us.

Damaging the people’s morale in the cyclone rebuild is ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s Prime Ministership and government.  Where are the updated situation reports and damage estimates for two cyclones, Gita and Keni?  Why didn’t the emergency parliament session in March review the government spending and resource allocation plan of aid donations?

Why did the Speaker of the House, Lord Fakafanua, allow the government to railroad through five tax, revenue, and micro-financing bills to make poor people poorer, instead of steering parliament through cyclone recovery deliberations?  There are too many unrequited questions emerging from an unsafe political chessboard in which the Democratic Party government play all the pieces to achieve a dubious ends, detrimental to the country.

Nobles bloc. Photograph: Fale Alea ‘o Tonga.

The unscrupulous part of this political script?  The Pohiva administration is a Pacific example of a corrupt small island developing state that continues to govern because it has set out to weaken the opposition and ostracise them – the nobles bloc specifically, along with the media.

The nobles bloc of 9 know they are under continuous political assault and battery, but they are not down and out; not by a long shot.  There are four senior politicians who have ministerial experience – Tu’ivakano, Ma’afu, Nuku, Tu’i’afitu – with Tu’ivakano being a former Prime Minister.  One of the seniors must stand for Prime Minister of Tonga.  The other noblemen will gather in support.  And the people’s representatives, if they have any shred of human decency, will do what’s right for our beloved Kingdom, or risk living with their guilt-ridden conscience to the grave.

Authors

Dr Teena Brown is an anthropologist and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Maori and Indigenous Development at Auckland University of Technology.

Melino Maka, chairs the Tongan Advisory Council in Auckland, New Zealand and publishes the news and current affairs website, tonganz.net.

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