PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
TONGAN GOVERNMENT DID BEST TO FACILITATE REFORM
By Lopeti Senituli
NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Planet Tonga, Dec. 28) - The primary purpose of this paper is to address the misinformation contained in Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki’s "Confidential Report on the ‘Coup’ in Tonga" that was prepared for the University of the South Pacific management. As such, the focus is on the facts and the facts only. It will not address the range of opinions that are expressed therein including the aspersions cast on the character of the Hon Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet. Wherever possible this paper expresses concurrence with specific parts of Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s Report.
[PIR editor’s note: Dr. 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, a prominent scholar, reportedly accused the Tongan government of "a series of ill-timed and ill-conceived moves, which demonstrated their total inability to read the situation and which served to confirm in the minds of the pro-democracy movement that things will never change. According to a recent article in New Zealand’s Fairfax Media, Taufe’ulungaki said the events of November 16 "were allowed to happen."]
In a personal message to one of the Hon Ministers in His Majesty’s Cabinet, Dr. Taufe’ulungaki stated that her Report was compiled the same week of the tragic events and therefore it contains errors but that was how she had read the events in Tonga. She also intimated that she is certain that the Tongan Government will not be happy with her Report but that it reflects her true opinions and beliefs. Her candour is appreciated.
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki was offered an opportunity to directly assist the Government by joining His Majesty’s Cabinet in the middle of 2006. She declined in favour of "greener pastures".
The hope is that this paper will also be distributed to every recipient of Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s Report and that it will help them gain a better understanding of the attempted coup and the violence and the deaths of 16 November 2006.
Throughout her Report, Dr. Taufe’ulungaki referred consistently to the "pro-democracy movement" as the all-encompassing but amorphous "body" that was somewhat and somehow responsible for the violence and deaths of 16 November. It is important to identify the origin of this generic label and to seek out its main components and key players as it evolved over the years so as to fully grasp who the real instigators and perpetrators of the violence were.
The label "pro-democracy movement" was initially used in the early 1990’s to refer to the members of the "Tonga Pro-Democracy Movement" that was founded in 1992 as a result of a national Convention held in Nuku’alofa that brought together many of the luminaries listed in the beginning of Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s Report.
The Tonga Pro-Democracy Movement changed its name in 1998 to "Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement" as a result of a decision by its members to expand its agenda to encompass ‘human rights" which would in turn make it more attractive for financial support by international development and human rights agencies.
The Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement tried unsuccessfully from the year 2000 until 2005 to be incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act. In 2005, after negotiations with the Government its members agreed to change their organizations name to "Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movement" (FIHRDMT), to enable it to be incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act. That is the name that the organisation uses today.
In April 2005, as a spill over from the internal jockeying amongst its members for organisational support for individual candidature in the March 2005 Legislative Assembly elections, and a very public split amongst some of its leaders, certain members of FIHRDMT, including Professor Futa Helu, the Deputy Chairperson of the organisation, were expelled. The expelled group then formed the "Tonga Democratic Party" which became incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act later the same year.
Amongst those that were drawn to the newly created Tonga Democratic Party was William Clive Edwards, the former Minister of Police and then Acting Deputy Prime Minister who had lost his post in the September 2004 Cabinet re-shuffle together with two other Ministers. He went on to win, in a by-election in May 2005, the seat in the Legislative Assembly that was vacated by the present Hon Prime Minister when he was appointed to the Cabinet in March 2005. As the Minister of Police, Mr. Edwards was never endeared to the agenda of the ‘pro-democracy movement," though he had professed pro-democracy inclinations through his election campaign publicity material, prior to his appointment to the Cabinet, and which he revived in his by-election campaign in May 2005. Other key leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party included Father Seluini ‘Akau’ola, Teisina Fuko, and Semisi Tapueluelu, all of whom were former key players in the Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movement.
Other organisations that worked collaboratively with the FIHRDMT over the years and who can be legitimately be referred to as part of the "pro-democracy movement" included: the Friendly Islands Teachers Association (FITA), with Finua Tutone as its President; the Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC) with Rev. Simote M. Vea as its General Secretary until the end of 2005: and the Legal Literacy Project Team with Betty Blake as its Coordinator. Rev Simote Vea had been the Chairperson and Finau Tutone the Deputy Secretary of the FIHRDMT for quite a number of years. I was elected by the FIHRDMT Executive Committee to replace Professor Futa Helu as Deputy Chairperson when he was expelled. I was re-elected to this position in the organisation’s Annual General Meeting in September 2005, but I resigned in early May 2006 on joining the Hon Prime Minister’s staff. That same AGM also saw the appointment of HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake as the Patron of FIHRDMT.
During the Public servants Strike that started on 22 July 2005, a number of new political actors emerged onto the national stage. These included the Public Servants Association (PSA) Interim Committee; Tonga National Business Association (TNBA); and the Oceania Broadcasting Network Television (OBN-TV).
Some of the key leaders in these emergent organisations were sympathetic to the "pro-democracy movement" agenda. Some were totally opposed to it. Some were formerly opposed to it but had become recent converts. The majority were ambivalent.
Of the key leaders of the PSA Interim Committee that led the strike, most were opposed to mixing the agenda of the "pro-democracy movement" with that of gaining a salary raise of 60–70-80% for their members. In this category were Dr. Pita Taufatofua, Dr. Viliami Fakava, and Maliu Takai and others. Their opposition was based on process rather then on principle and was the main reason for most of them withdrawing their interest in being re-elected into the PSA Executive Committee at the end of the Strike. They were replaced by Dr. ‘Aivi Puloka, Mele ‘Amanaki, and Vili Vete and others, who had also played a leading role in the Strike, but who had no qualms about mixing the PSA support for the "pro-democracy movement" agenda and the improved financial welfare and work conditions of their members. None of these key players had any previous affiliation with the registered "pro-democracy movement" organisations, except for Finau Tutone who was chosen as the President of the PSA Interim Committee, even though he was no longer a Public servant.
The TNBA grew directly out of the Public servants’ strike. Its membership comprised mainly of Tongan small-to-medium business entrepreneurs who offered support to the Public servant strikers through cash and in-kind contributions. As the strike wore on they offered strategic advice to the PSA Interim Committee especially during the final negotiations with the Cabinet Negotiation Sub-Committee. Members of the TNBA were also opposed to the proliferation of Chinese-owned, Indian-owned, and Palangi-owned business ventures in Tonga. They were also opposed to the Government’s plans to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and parts of Government’s strategy to clean up corruption especially in the Customs Department. Key players in this organisation included Dr. Tu’i Uata, ‘Ofa Simiki, and Peseti Ma’afu and others. Some of them were members of either of the two registered "pro-democracy movement" organisations whilst the majority was ambivalent to its agenda or professed to be apolitical.
The OBN-TV was originally established by an American entrepreneur, Christopher Racine, in the early 1990’s as a ‘Christian’ station. Initially it was the main media outlet for the "Tonga Kotoa Movement" whose aims were in direct opposite to the agenda of the "pro-democracy movement". During the Public servants’ strike, OBN-TV underwent a change of heart and abandoned its Tonga Kotoa Movement leanings and provided unedited daily coverage of the speeches and goings-on at Pangai Si’i, the main rallying point for the strikers and their supporters. The key player in OBN-TV is its General Manager, Sangster Saulala, who was a member of the Tonga Democratic Party. The OBN-TV station is now rumoured to be owned by the Tokaikolo Church, and Sangster Saulala is a son of the President of that Church, Rev Dr Lifau Saulala.
By the end of the public servants’ strike on 5 September 2005, these new emergent organisations, together with the more established member organisations of the "pro-democracy movement", and individuals, including the Peoples’ Representatives to the Legislative Assembly and individual members of the clergy and of the legal profession, had formed a loose coalition of political actors looking for a cause. It included a number of people who felt personally aggrieved by some Government policy or decisions and were intent on seeking revenge. It also included a large group of aspiring politicians who had failed in numerous attempts to win a seat in the Legislative Assembly or had lost seats they once held and saw the opportunity to stake early claims for seats in a reformed Parliament.
This loose coalition metamorphosed into the People’s Committee for Political Reform (PCPR). It is this People’s Committee for Political Reform that was responsible for the violence of 16 November 2006. If it is necessary to be more specific about the main instigators and perpetrators from within the PCPR – they were the Peoples’ Representatives to the Legislative Assembly (except Samiu Vaipulu from Vava’u and ‘Osai Latu from Ha’apai); the Tonga National Business Association; the Tonga Democratic Party, the Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movement, the Public Servants Association and the Pangai Si’i Committee (see below).
In summary, it would be a major mistake to presume that the "pro-democracy movement" that Dr. Taufe’ulungaki referred to in the beginning of her Report as having its origins associated with luminaries such as Dr Langi Kavaliku, Rev Dr Siupeli Taliai, the late Rev Dr Sione ‘Amanaki Havea, and the late Bishop Patelisio Finau, is the same "pro-democracy movement" that actively espoused and wreaked violence as a means to achieving political ends on 16 November 2006.
The Significance of the Public Servants Strike of 2005
I concur to a certain degree with Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s assessment of the significance of the public servants strike of 2005, relative to the events leading up to the violence of 16 November 2006. She stated, for example, that during the strike,
"… speakers and strikers, while calling for calm and respect for the rule of law, in fact, behaved and used language of such abuse and disrespect that they gave the impression that to make your views and opposition stand out one must do so in the worst possible language and behaviour. In this national crisis, some cars and buildings were torched or damaged, and threats were made against the national leaders and the Royal family. Similar demonstrations and violence were perpetrated against the King in his residence at ‘Atalanga. Marches and counter marches were held for and against the pro-democracy movement, both in Tonga and in New Zealand. When the strike was settled in favour of the demands of the strikers, in the name of national peace and security, it also gave the message that the pro-democracy movement has won and that violent means and abusive behaviour were legitimate means of political protests."(Page5 and 6)
The use of disrespectful language and abusive behaviour from the strike in 2005 continued in the public meetings that the People’s Committee for Political Reform started holding in the villages once Dr. Sitiveni Halapua began presenting the NCPR Report to the Legislative Assembly on 3 October 2006. According to Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’,
"The abusive language, charges of corruption, and threats, targeting Government leaders and the Royal Family, continued unabated in these public meetings. Their members also continued to protest and occupy Pangai Si’i, and held panel discussions almost every night on OBNTV, which was more of the same kind of content as their public meetings around Tongatapu…." (Pages 6and 7)
However, I beg to differ with Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s assertion that, "…prior to the events (leading up to the violence of 16 November), the pro-democracy movement had also activated a number of moves, which should have given the Government adequate warning of what to expect. The first is the Public servant Strike of 2005…." (Page5)
The pro-democracy movement had nothing to do with the start of the public servants’ strike and certainly did not activate it. The leaders of the PSA, viz the members of the PSA Interim Committee were loathe to involve the Peoples’ Representatives or the FIHRDMT and the TDP in the leadership of the strike because they did not want to politicise their grievance over salary raises for their members. The issue of PSA support for political reform split the PSA leadership after the strike which saw the mass resignations from its Executive Committee of some of its key leaders. Dr. Taufe’ulungaki actually rubbishes any support from PSA for political reform by saying,
"…support from the Public Service was over fair pay and when that issue was settled the Public servants returned to work and got on with their lives." (Page15)
That being said, it is acknowledged that the PSA Interim Committee sought the direct assistance and advice of the Peoples’ Representatives and the TNBA during the negotiations stage towards the end of the Strike.
Other Significant Events
Dr Taufe’ulungaki referred to other events since the public servants’ strike of 2005 that the pro-democracy movement is supposed to have activated which should have alerted the Government to the growing discontent. Amongst these she has included an alleged boycott of the opening of Parliament; the naming of a new Cabinet which was later claimed to be a joke; the plans for protests and civil disobedience during the Forum Leaders Meeting; and the occupation of Pangai Si’i. (Pages5 and 6)
I wish to present a different perspective of these events.
After the striking public servants returned to work on 5 September, most of them applied for casual or sick leave for the next day in order to join the major protest march of 6 September 2005. The purpose of the march was to present two petitions to the Palace Office calling for, amongst other things, the sacking of HRH the then Prime Minister, the entire Cabinet and the Secretary of the Public Service Commission; and the setting up of a Commission to review the Constitution. Later that evening there was a victory party at the Queen Salote Memorial Hall. After the 6th of September 2005 Pangai Si’i returned to normal publican use.
In late October, 2005 Laki Niu, former Peoples’ Representative to the Assembly and President of the Tonga Law Society, launched his own campaign for political reform, by drawing up his own list of Cabinet Ministers, with himself as Prime Minister, and drafting a set of legal documents which required His Majesty to dismiss the current Cabinet forthwith and without ceremony and replacing it with his Cabinet line-up on 4 November 2005, the 130th anniversary of the adoption of the country’s Constitution. He presented his proposal to the Cabinet by simply walking in on their meeting unannounced and seating himself on the floor by the door. He proceeded to outline his proposal and then promptly left the room. In his written proposal was a stipulation that he and his supporters had erected tents at Pangai Si’i and would remain there until the Government implemented his proposal on 4 November. That was the beginning of the new occupation of Pangai Si’i.
Laki Niu was not able to gain the support of the majority of the people he had put in his Cabinet most of whom were members of the PSA or current Peoples’ Representatives in the Assembly. He was also not able to convince the members of the PCPR to endorse his program for the handover of the reins of Government to him and his Cabinet on 4 November. (In fact there were some suggestions behind his back that he needed to get his head checked.) The PCPR instead wanted to target 5 December 2005, the anniversary of the installation of King Siaosi Tupou I as the Tu’i Kanokupolu as the D-Day for Government to respond to its petitions of 6 September. (The actual anniversary date is 4 December but because it was a Sunday it was held on 5 December).
The Government did not carry out Laki Niu’s proposal on 4 November or on 5 December. After the program organised by PCPR on 5 December, Laki Niu declared he and his supporters were withdrawing from the occupation of Pangai Si’i. His handful of supporters however refused to abandon the park and they set up their own Pangai Si’i Committee under the leadership of Siale Fihaki. This was the newest political actor to emerge on the political scene, although Siale Fihaki had been a long time member of the FIHRDMT. The other long term occupants of Pangai Si’i were retired public servants, or gentlemen of "leisure".
The Peoples’ Representatives who were members of the pro-democracy movement did not boycott the official opening of Parliament for its 2006 session on the morning of 1 June 2006. All the Peoples’ Representatives were present at the Queen Salote Memorial Hall when the Princess Regent, HRH Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita arrived. They were present when Her Royal Highness delivered her Address from the Throne. They were present when Her Royal Highness departed. There was no boycott. Of course the Peoples’ Representatives together with one Nobles’ Representative unsuccessfully challenged in the Supreme Court the legality of the Official Opening of Parliament afterwards, but they had all been present on that day.
The naming of the new Cabinet was actually the work of the Acting Secretary of the PSA Executive Committee only and was not endorsed or supported by the other members of the Peoples’ Committee for Political Reform. It was also done before the official opening of Parliament on 1 June and was done at a time whilst the Hon Prime Minister was on his first official visit to New Zealand and Japan in the latter half of May 2006. When the new Cabinet line-up was leaked to the public via Radio Tonga the members of the PSA Executive Committee claimed it was all a big joke amongst themselves and that the list was never meant to see the light of day. It should be noted however that the biggest opposition to the three new Cabinet appointments in early May 2006, including the first ever woman to be appointed Minister, came from the members of the PSA, who in the main felt that all the new appointments should have been from the uppermost echelons of the Public Service as a form of reward for their dedicated service. The Peoples’ Representatives on the other hand resented the Minister proposed from their own ranks saying he was the "laziest" out of their lot.
In July 2006, Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva wrote to the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva informing him that the People’s Committee for Political Reform was planning a program of demonstrations and civil disobedience which would continue up to the scheduled Forum Meeting. He wrote that,
"…because the Tonga Government has been ignoring the will of its people for a considerable number of years, it now feels it can no longer ignore nor tolerate the continuation of the present despotic regime therefore would like to warn the Forum Secretariat that the demonstration cannot be guaranteed to be peaceful."
The Government sought the opinion of the major civil society organisations in the country including the members of the People’s Committee for Political Reform regarding the threat of violence. The Government received eleven responses and ten of those organizations distanced themselves from the PCPR’s planned protests. These organizations included: The Association of Public servants (TAPS); Catholic Women’s League (CWL); Komiti ‘a e Kau Ngoue; Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC); Women in Law Association (WILA); Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC); Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT); Langafonua ‘a Fafine Tonga; Tonga Small Business Association (TSBA); and Tonga Chamber of Commerce.
In summary, the events that Dr. Taufe’ulungaki retails in her Report are examples of bungling jousts at political power by people who like to project themselves as the crčme de la crčme of Tongan leadership.
Political Reform at Centre Stage
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki claimed in her Report that it was not until the event of public servants’ strike of 2005 that political reform took centre stage and hence the establishment of the National Committee for Political Reform (NCPR) (page 3).
I beg to differ. The proposal for the establishment of the NCPR pre-dated the public service strike of 2005 by almost a year and its creation had more to do with the support from His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV and the Government’s own reform program then with the public service strike.
The late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake had first raised the idea of the creation of the NCPR around September 2004 in the Legislative Assembly, as a Noble’s Representative, after all the 9 Peoples’ Representatives, including the present Prime Minister, Dr. Feleti V. Sevele, had walked out of the Assembly en masse.
The Peoples’ Representatives had earlier presented a petition to the Legislative Assembly calling for a national referendum on whether the people should vote for all the 30 members of the Legislative Assembly and then for His Majesty to select his Cabinet of 12 Ministers from that limited field. The petition was voted out without discussion by the Assembly prompting the walkout
.HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake then moved a "Parliamentary Motion" to establish a national committee to review the country’s Constitution and although it was only adopted by the barest of margins it was nevertheless the origin of the NCPR.
Impetus for the creation of the NCPR soon came from an unexpected quarter – The Royal Palace. On the 10th of November 2004, the day in which the Assembly sessions for 2004 was officially closed, the then Prime Minister, HRH Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, announced in a public statement that His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had graciously agreed to a recommendation from the Prime Minister, for the appointment of four additional Ministers from the elected members of the Legislative Assembly with two to be selected from the nine Nobles’ Representatives and two from the nine Peoples’ Representatives.
HRH the Prime Minister went on to state he believed that, "the widening of Cabinet membership will be a natural progression of the Kingdom’s political system" and that it, "will be a reflection of the democratic principles of Tonga’s Constitution." He also declared that, "the changes will be in line with a comprehensive agenda for reform of the Government and the economy and privatisation."
The 2004 Legislative Assembly sessions closed without any concrete action on the creation of the NCPR.
The late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake however did not regain his seat in the Legislative Assembly, first in the general elections in March 2005, then in the by-election in May 2005. He only regained a seat in the Legislative Assembly in the by-election for a replacement for Hon. Vaha’i (Hahano) in July 2005. He immediately revived his campaign for the implementation of his motion for the creation of the NCPR which the Assembly had passed in 2004.
The late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake’s revived campaign for the creation of the NCPR coincided with the public servants’ strike which began on 22 July (and ended on 5 September 2005). In the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Cabinet Negotiation Sub-Committee and the PSA Interim Committee late at night on Saturday 3 September 2005 to resolve the strike was an Addendum. In this Addendum, the Cabinet Negotiation Sub-Committee agreed to consider submitting to His Majesty’s Cabinet a proposal from the PSA Interim Committee, "That a Royal Commission be established immediately to review the Constitution to allow a more democratic Government to be established; and for the Royal Commission to report back to Government and the Interim Committee on 31 December 2005."
No Royal Commission was established by Cabinet. Instead the Legislative Assembly implemented the Parliamentary Motion initiated by the late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake in September 2004 that saw the official establishment of the NCPR in the second week of December 2005. The late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake was given free range by the Legislative Assembly to nominate the non-Assembly members of the Committee, and he obliged by selecting Dr. Sitiveni Halapua and Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki amongst others.
The Essence of the Changes Recommended by NCPR
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki stated in her Report that,
"In essence, there were no changes recommended to the existing political and social structures but there were recommendations for some shifts in the powers of the King and greater participation of the people in political decisions. The reforms would occur at the Constitutional level, not in the political system as such."(page3)
I beg to differ. The changes that the NCPR recommended amounted to the total overhaul of the Constitution and of the country’s political system and turning a uniquely Tongan, and a uniquely tripartite but unicameral Legislative Assembly into a bipartisan Westminster – type Parliament and in the process disenfranchising His Majesty the King.
The existent structure of Tonga’s Legislative Assembly is a replication of its social structure with each of its three pillars – His Majesty and the Royal Family, the Nobles of the Realm, and the People – electing their own Representatives. His Majesty appoints his Cabinet Ministers from amongst the general populace who also sit in the Assembly representing the Government. The 33 Hereditary Nobles of the Realm elect their own representatives from amongst themselves and the People elect their own representatives from amongst themselves as well in general elections that are held every three years.
It is a uniquely Tongan and a uniquely tripartite but unicameral Assembly unmatched anywhere else in the world. The size of each pillar’s representation to the Assembly ensures that no one pillar can monopolise or dictate what goes down. Instead each pillar’s representation must gain the majority support of one of the other 2 pillars in order to have its way.
The NCPR recommended that the Peoples’ Representatives to the Assembly be increased from the current 9 to 17, the number of Noble’s Representatives remains at its current 9, and His Majesty’s long held prerogative to select his own representatives and Cabinet Ministers be abrogated to be compensated by his appointment of the Prime Minister from the 26 Representatives who are elected by the Peoples and the Nobles into the Assembly.
It amounts to the radical overhaul of the country’s Constitution and the disenfranchisement of His Majesty, in direct conflict with Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s repeated assertion in her report that, "There was not a single Tongan in the entire ‘talanoa’ either in Tonga or abroad who wanted the monarchical system removed" (page 4). The disenfranchisement of His Majesty and the Royal Family will ultimately lead to the erosion of their political significance within Tongan society and the implosion of the monarchical system.
The NCPR’s recommendation also amounts to the radical overhaul of the country’s political system in that it sought to turn a uniquely tripartite Legislative Assembly which reflects the structure of contemporary Tongan society, and which has provided peace and stability for the last 131 years, into a bipartisan Westminster-type of Parliament where ultimately the Monarch’s role will be limited to that of a ceremonial nature.
In the civil case Lali Media v ‘Utoikamanu  the then Hon Chief Justice Gordon Ward stated in his observation of the King’s involvement in the Executive,
"What is unusual about clause 30 (of Tonga’s Constitution) when compared with the law in many other constitutional monarchies is that our King is clearly included in the Executive arm of Government. This feature distinguishes it from the position of the Queen in English law and from that of the Governor General as her representative in Australia."(Page 9)
Unwittingly or otherwise, the essence of the changes recommended by the NCPR favours those who wanted the Monarchy to be purely ceremonial, or at worse, totally removed.
Events Leading-up to 16 November 06
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki accused the Government (and the House) of, "… a series of ill-timed and ill-conceived moves, which demonstrated their total inability to read the situation and which served to confirm in the minds of the pro-democracy movement that things will never change. Thus, the tragic events of Thursday, 16 November 2006 were allowed to happen."(Pages 5 and 6)
I beg to differ. His Majesty, King George Tupou V and the Government have always supported the NCPR process and had done their best at every opportunity to facilitate its work. The Government’s own road map for political reform which was presented to the Assembly on 19 October 2006 took into account the NCPR Report and recommendations as well as the political reform measures which His Majesty, the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had implemented since November 2004. At the same time the Hon Prime Minister was in constant consultation with the Peoples’ Representatives via the Tongatapu No. 1 Peoples’ Representative, Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Ha’apai No.1 Peoples’ Representative, ‘Uliti Uata, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the PCPR, in the hope of allowing the political dialogue to continue in peace.
The late HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake’s revived campaign for the creation of NCPR in July 2005 was never plain sailing. When he announced in October 2005 that His Majesty had endorsed the creation of the NCPR, this was publicly contradicted by Hon. Veikune, the then Speaker of the House. It was through the public endorsement by HRH Crown Prince Tupouto’a (now His Majesty King George Tupou V), as Prince Regent, that life was finally breathed into the NCPR and it was officially established in December 2005. Without this endorsement, the NCPR would have been dead in the water.
The then Crown Prince had previously declared publicly that the inclusion of 4 new Ministers in the Cabinet, from those elected by the Nobles and the People in March 2005, was only the beginning, and that eventually all the Ministers will be elected by the People.
On the tragic death of HRH Prince Tu’ipelehake and HRH Princess Kaimana in early July 2006, the Hon Prime Minister convened a meeting on July 21, the day of the joint Royal Funerals, with the Speaker of the House and the remaining members of the NCPR in which he encouraged the Committee to keep to its original work timetable as that is what Their Royal Highnesses would have preferred.
The Legislative Assembly started listening to Dr. Sitiveni Halapua present the NCPR Report on 3 October 2006 and his presentation did not finish until 12 October and the Assembly continued discussions on it until 19 October.
The Peoples’ Representatives are on public record from 5 October, as telling (lying to) the people in their public meetings, that the Government will not vote in favour of the NCPR’s recommendations therefore they should come to Pangai Si’i on the day of the vote so as to intimidate the Legislative Assembly into voting in favour of the Tu’ipelehake Committee’s recommendations.
Although it disagreed with some of NCPR’s recommendations, the Government’s opinion was that the Report’s recommendations should not be voted on in the Assembly, given the disparity in numbers between the three tables in the House. Instead the Government proposed that a Tripartite Committee of the Assembly be set up (with 3 representatives from the Peoples’ Representatives table, 3 from the Nobles’ Representatives table and 3 from His Majesty’s Cabinet’s table) to continue the ‘talanoa’ so as to seek a consensus on the best formula for a restructured Legislative Assembly and reformed Constitution. The Government also proposed that this Tripartite Committee should do its work from the end of November 2006 until the end of May 2007 (when the Assembly is not in session) and to report back to the House at the beginning of the 2007 sessions of the Assembly in June 2007. In its view, Government felt that this was in keeping with the time frame and the continuing process that the NCPR had recommended.
The Government’s own road map for political reform and its opinion on the NCPR recommendations was presented by the Hon Prime Minister to the Assembly on 19 October. It was endorsed by His Majesty in Privy Council on 20 October. In response to what it viewed as the NCPR’s recommendation for the disenfranchisement of His Majesty the King, the Government recommended that His Majesty should still retain the prerogative of appointing one-third (1/3) of a Cabinet of 14 Ministers, with the freedom to appoint them from within the 14 Peoples’ Representatives and 9 Nobles Representatives in the Assembly, or from outside of it. This is the major point of difference between the Government’s road map and that of the NCPR. The other point of difference of import is in terms of the reformed electoral system.
After the session of 19 October, the Assembly adjourned for 2 weeks to allow for the annual Parliamentary Visits to the outer islands, Government departments and statutory bodies. This is an important part of the annual calendar of the Assembly as it allows them to checkout development projects reported to them by Government Departments and to see and hear directly from their constituents, a process not too dissimilar from the ‘talanoa’ process of the NCPR.
The Legislative Assembly resumed its sessions on 6 November and spent most of the day arguing whether it should revoke the salary increase it had adopted just prior to the adjournment. On 7 November, the Peoples’ Representatives complained bitterly to the Speaker that the Government was trying to delay a decision on the NCPR Report by placing it at #8 of the Assembly’s agenda for the last 3 weeks of the Assembly’s 2006 session.
Government’s response was to say that the Draft Bills that preceded the NCPR Report on the Agenda were Bills that must be passed at this year’s session for the essential operation of the Government’s ministries and departments. Government also said that the Assembly had already spent 3 weeks discussing the NCPR Report immediately prior to the Parliamentary Visits.
The Peoples’ Representatives were not sated and they called for a ballot on their motion to move the NCPR Report from #8 further up the agenda. Just prior to the ballot being taken, the Hon Prime Minister requested the Speaker to defer the ballot until he had a chance to consult in private with some of the Peoples’ Representatives and then report back to the Assembly on Thursday, 9 November. This intervention was unanimously agreed to by the Assembly. The main purpose of the Hon Prime Minister’s intervention was to ensure consensus and harmony.
The Hon Prime Minister met with ‘Akilisi Pohiva, ‘Uliti Uata on the afternoon of 8 November at the Prime Minister’s Office. I also participated in this meeting. Amongst the things that were agreed to were:
a) That the NCPR Report would be moved to #1 on the Assembly’s agenda on Thursday, 9 November.
b) That the Hon Prime Minister would move, and the two Peoples’ Representatives would second, a motion on the morning of 9 November for the Assembly to adopt the NCPR Report "in principle" on the understanding that there remains issues in the Report on which there is disagreement between the various tables in the House and that they commit themselves to further dialogue.
c) That an opportunity would be provided during 9 November for the people from Pangai Si’i to present their Petition to the Speaker of the Assembly which included the peoples’ model for an alternative structure of Government.
d) That the Peoples’ Representatives would be given an opportunity on 9 November and the following days to explain their model to the Assembly.
e) That after the Peoples’ Representatives had completed explaining their model to the Assembly, the Assembly would discuss and vote on the Government’s proposal for a Tripartite Committee to continue the ‘talanoa’ to seek a consensus on the most appropriate formula for a restructured Assembly and a reformed Constitution. (The Prime Minister had proposed: 3 x Peoples’ Representatives, 3 x Noble’s Representatives and 3 x Cabinet Representatives. ‘Akilisi Pohiva and ‘Uliti Uata proposed: 4 x Peoples’ Representatives, 3 x Cabinet’s Representatives, and 1x Noble’s Rep. In the end it was agreed that the size of the representation from each table would be left for the Assembly to decide upon.)
On Thursday 9 November, the first four actions agreed to above were carried out. Most significantly, the Assembly voted to adopt the NCPR Report "in principle". The consensus between the Hon Prime Minister and ‘Akilisi Pohiva and ‘Uliti Uata on 8 November was that adopting the NCPR Report "in principle" would pave the way for the establishment of the Tripartite Committee. The Peoples’ Representatives and their supporters from Pangai Si’i then presented their Petition to the Speaker of the House in front of the Hon Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers and other members of the Assembly. The Peoples’ Representatives’ explanation of their model carried on into Monday, 13 November sessions. Unfortunately the Peoples’ Representatives did not deliver on the last action on the list they agreed to on 8 November, which was to support the Government’s proposal for the creation of the Tripartite Committee.
Instead the Peoples’ Representatives called for a ballot on the size of the Assembly. According to their model contained in their petition presented to the Assembly on 9 November, the Assembly should be made of 6 Nobles’ Representatives elected by the Nobles and 17 Peoples’ Representatives elected by the People. By 13 November they changed their figures to 9 Nobles’ Representatives elected by the Nobles and 21 Peoples’ Representatives elected by the people, after realizing that the public did not support their plans to reduce the number of Nobles’ Representatives. (The Governments proposal was for 14 Peoples’ Representatives and 9 Nobles Representatives. The NCPR’s proposal was for 17 Peoples’ Representatives and 9 Noble’s Representatives.) The Government position was still the same i.e. that these figures should be given to the Tripartite Committee to consider together with other figures that had been tabled.
The Assembly session on 13 November did not begin until after lunch to allow the Assembly Select Committee to meet on the complaints by certain Members that they felt insecure as a result of personal threats and insults directed at them from the people gathered at Pangai Si’i.
In its report to the Assembly on the afternoon of 13 November, the Select Committee said that as a result of their first meeting on 7 November, a letter of complaint was sent to the Hon Minister of Police. In response the public road in front of the Legislative Assembly had been closed to the public and Police presence at Pangai Si’i was boosted. In their second meeting on 10 November, they agreed to recommend that the Assembly sessions be deferred indefinitely until there was an assurance from the occupants of Pangai Si’i that all threats and insults would cease. However they also agreed with the request from Akilisi Pohiva for an opportunity for him to have discussions with the Peoples’ Committee for Political Reform about measures to be taken at Pangai Si’i to ensure that the Members of the Assembly will feel more secure. In their third meeting on the morning of 13 November, Akilisi Pohiva reported that,
"…all the Assembly’s concerns were conveyed to them … and a decision was made that all the tents and the occupants and their Public Address system will be relocated to the opposite end of Pangai Si’i and it was ascertained that no voices will be heard from them and that there will be no more disturbance from them."
On the basis of the assurances from ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the Select Committee recommended that there was sufficient reason for the Assembly members to feel secure and to continue with their Assembly sessions. For that reason, the Assembly session was convened after lunch on 13 November.
On 14 November, the Peoples’ Committee for Political Reform and the occupants of Pangai Si’i did not relocate to the opposite end of the park in accordance with the assurances given by ‘Akilisi Pohiva, but the Assembly session for that day went ahead as scheduled. The Peoples’ Representatives continued to insist that a ballot be taken on their proposal for a 30 member Assembly with the people electing 21 Representatives and the Nobles electing 9 Representatives. The Government’s response was that the Assembly had already adopted the NCPR Report "in principle" and that all proposals for the size and composition of the membership of the Assembly should be deferred to the Tripartite Committee to work out based on consensus rather than a ballot. But the Assembly had to agree to the establishment of the Tripartite Committee first.
16 November 2006
On the morning of 16 November, the occupants of Pangai Si’i again did not relocate in accordance with ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s assurances to the Select Committee on 13 November. The Select Committee met again that morning and as a result the Speaker of the Assembly refused to convene the Assembly, unless and until the Peoples’ Representatives ordered the people in Pangai Si’i to return to their homes.
The Peoples’ Representatives simply refused to disperse the people at Pangai Si’i. Instead they informed them that the Assembly would be convened after lunch, even if they had to force the Speaker into doing so. As the hours passed with no Assembly being convened, the Peoples’ Representatives made two desperate appeals to the Speaker who continued to refuse to comply unless the people were dispersed.
A meeting of the National Security Sub-Committee of Cabinet was convened at 2.00pm in the Cabinet Meeting Room at the Prime Minister’s Office and was still in session when the first assault on the Prime Minister’s Office happened shortly after 3.00pm.
According to Dr Taufe’ulungaki’s Report, "The Government, despite all the warning signs, failed to develop a "Plan B" in case of such events as happened on November 16. Apparently, the Police had submitted such a plan but Government failed to see the urgency and did not provide the necessary support resources and funding required." (page4)
No such plan was submitted to the Government. In fact during that day’s meeting the Police, through the Deputy Commander, informed the National Security Sub-Committee that the level of threat was low and that there was nothing to be concerned about. Shortly afterwards the Prime Minister’s Office was stoned.
A meeting was quickly convened in the Cabinet Room by the Hon Prime Minister between the members of the Cabinet that had been attending the National Security Sub-Committee, a number of Nobles’ Representatives, who were within reach including the Speaker of the Assembly, and most of the Peoples’ Representatives who were at Pangai Si’i.
As soon as everyone was seated ‘Akilisi Pohiva shouted that the people wanted an immediate answer to their demand for the Assembly to be convened immediately and if the Prime Minister did not accede to their demands the destruction could very well continue. He went on about having warned the Government numerous times about what will happen if they kept delaying reform, and now there was no turning back. The Government must do what the people wanted immediately, or else.
The Minister of Police then asked ‘Akilisi whether they no longer respected the law. ‘Akilisi immediately responded, "The rule of law is a fraud!" That was the pattern of the exchanges that took place.
At one stage there seemed to be consensus that the Legislative Assembly would be convened in accordance with Peoples’ Representatives wishes but there was still disagreement on whether it would be convened that afternoon or the next day, Friday 17 November. The Cabinet Ministers preferred the latter whilst the Peoples’ Reps preferred the former. At that stage Lepolo Mahe Taunisila and William Clive Edwards decided to leave the meeting.
The Hon Prime Minister then asked the remaining Peoples’ Representatives what they wanted the House to decide when and if it was convened. Akilisi said they wanted a ballot on their proposal on the people electing 21 Peoples Reps and the Nobles electing 9 Nobles Reps. There followed various comments from those present then the Prime Minister said if that was what would disperse the people at Pangai Si’i and bring calm and peace then he was willing to make that concession now subject to endorsement by the Privy Council and the Legislative Assembly. A statement to that effect was then typed up and signed by the Hon Prime Minister.
The People’s Representatives then returned to Pangai Si’i and urged the people to return to their homes as they had achieved victory. By then the central business district of Nuku’alofa had been trashed and looted and black smoke was starting to rise into the evening air. There were additional agendas other than political ones at work that afternoon.
The Alleged Perpetrators
In her Report, Dr. Taufe’ulungaki claimed that the violence of 16 November, have been allegedly linked to certain sections of Tonga’s business community, who had mobilised largely Mormon youths deported from the US who were in turn were supported largely by other Mormon and Catholic youths from villages in the Eastern and Western districts where they predominate. She also claimed that some of the disaffected youths were deportees also from New Zealand and Australia. (Pages 7 and
The Police are continuing their investigations so I would prefer to reserve comment. But as stated earlier, the membership of the Peoples’ Committee for Political Reform must bear the full responsibility for the violence and deaths of 16 November.
The Immediate Impact
I concur with most of Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s assessment of the immediate impact of the violence especially on the business community. (Page 8, 9 and 10)
According to a survey by the Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industries released in the first week of December, the book value of the damage to businesses in Tonga as a result of the violence of 16 November amounts to nearly T$123.5 million, with 153 businesses affected, and 697 job losses.
This figure included: Total Cost of Damages to Stock on Shelf: T$23,187,384 (Includes stolen or destroyed merchandise or supplies that were available for sale during the time of the riot.); Total Cost of Damages to Buildings: T$ 38,230,357 (Includes damages to building, leasehold fixtures, furnishing and equipment.); Total Cost of Damages to Inventories: T$26,674,741 (Includes damages to merchandise or supplies that were not yet sold by the business at the time of the riot.); Total Estimated Trading losses: T$17,740,550 (Includes losses to businesses resulting from deferred reopening of their ventures and fluctuations in sales resulting from the effects of the November 16th incident on customers. These losses are calculated as per November 16th 2006; Total Other costs: T$6,109.042 (Includes losses to businesses that are not categorised in the above stated costs. e.g. damages to personal properties of the owner – residence, vehicle, etc.)
The Long-Term Consequences
I concur with Dr. Tufe’ulungaki’s assessment of the Social Impact (page and the Economic Impact (page 9) of 16 November though I must disagree with her assessment of the Political Impact of 16 November (page 11).
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki, for example, claimed that, "The political roadmap provided by the work of the National Committee on Political Reform and the outcomes of months of ‘talanoa’ with communities have been derailed and new strategies would have to be developed that all sides will respect, accept, and adopt." (page11)
The Government of Tonga is committed to on-going political reform and His Majesty, King Siaosi Tupou V has already clearly set out the directions for the road ahead. In His Speech from the Throne on 23 November whilst officially closing the 2006 sessions of the Legislative Assembly, His Majesty said:
"The events of the last few days have shaken our constitutional foundations. But our cultural and constitutional roots are innately strong. And we have been prepared by more than a century of constitutional government to be able to face the political tasks that lie ahead.
"His Late Majesty was concerned that the Kingdom’s political development was not keeping abreast with its economic development and the aspirations of his people. This led Him to set a precedent, momentous in Tonga, of appointments to Cabinet based on the recommendations of a Prime Minister elected by the people. This was the beginning of a new convention of the Sovereign voluntarily choosing to exercise his constitutional powers on advice of a Prime Minister from those elected to the House.
"We are grateful to the late Prince Tu’ipelehake and the members of the National Committee for Political Reform for the careful report that has been laid before the Legislative Assembly.
"The Government subsequently tabled in Parliament the broad outline of the constitutional changes that it believed should be considered in conjunction with the Tu’ipelehake Report as there is much in common in the two proposals. The Peoples’ Representatives also submitted their own proposals to the Assembly two weeks ago. All the proposals that are now in the public arena have the same ultimate aim - a more democratic form of parliament and government but appropriate for Tonga. The differences among these various proposals are not irreconcilable, and can be resolved through dialogue.
"In 1875, the Constitution was a gift from King George Tupou I to the people of Tonga.
"Today, the Constitution is owned by all the people, and Tongan culture, Tongan traditions, Tongan strength, Tongan singing, Tongan voices, Tongan prayer and Tongan dignity must find new expression and new strength.
"We would urge all Parliamentarians to continue discussion, and table their consensus at the next sitting of Parliament, including a timeframe for implementation."
The violence and the deaths of 16 November 2006 have not derailed the process of political reform in Tonga.
As indicated earlier I do not wish to comment on Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s disparaging remarks on the character and ability of the Hon Prime Minister and (pages 11 and 12) and the implied slur on the ability of the entire Cabinet where she claimed,
"Those of us who left Tonga to seek greener pastures cannot escape an apportion of the blame. We left the country to be run by people of little integrity and competence and even during this worst episode in Tonga’s modern history, we could only lament from a distance and provide academic arguments." (page12)
Where to From Here
Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s call for the dismissal of the current Hon Prime Minister and the appointment of an interim government pending the early dissolution of Parliament in mid-or late-2007 and the newly elected Government to assume leadership by the beginning of 2008 (page13), is not supported by His Majesty, King George Tupou V.
In fact His Majesty in Privy Council had already rejected on 18 November the latest petition by the Peoples’ Representatives for the dismissal of the present Prime Minister and in His Speech from the Throne on 23 November, His Majesty stated:
"We now have a Prime Minister and government, all appointed by His Late Majesty under His constitutional powers. They did not want to be Prime Minister nor Ministers. They were asked to serve our country and they faithfully answered that call.
"As such, they are the legitimate government and they need all of our support. We must allow them time to get on with the task of managing the economy and the country. Let us all help them to achieve and complete the mission to which they have been called."
There is no doubt in my own mind that if the Peoples’ Representatives had kept to their side of the agreement made between the Hon Prime Minister on behalf of the Cabinet and Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva and ‘Uliti Uata on behalf of the Peoples’ Representatives on 8 November, there would not have been any violence and deaths on 16 November 2006. It was the Peoples’ Representatives who had proposed that the NCPR Report should be first adopted "in principle". The Hon Prime Minister on behalf of Cabinet agreed to it on the clear understanding this would pave the way for the creation of the Tripartite Committee which would work out the specific details of a reformed Legislative Assembly, including its size and electoral constituencies through consensus during the Assembly recess between the end of November 2006 and the beginning of June 2007. So the NCPR Report was adopted "in principle" on 9 November by the Legislative Assembly. But instead of supporting the Government’s proposal for the creation of the Tripartite Committee, the Peoples’ Reps then called for a ballot on their proposal for the People to elect 21 Representatives and for the Nobles to elect 9 representatives.
I asked Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva on the evening of 16 December at his home, why he had betrayed the Prime Minister’s trust. His response was that he was personally very happy with the adoption "in principle" of the NCPR Report on 9 November but that he could not convince the members of the PCPR to support the creation of the Tripartite Committee. I then asked him for the names of the key members of the PCPR who were against the creation of the Tripartite Committee. His answer was, "Dr. Tu’i Uata, Clive Edwards and Mele ‘Amanaki." God help us all if these extremists are the new face of the "pro-democracy movement" in Tonga!!
The question that remains unanswered is, "Why would the Peoples’ Representatives (and the members of PCPR) insist on a ballot on their proposal on the size and composition of the Assembly in the full knowledge that they did not have the numbers to see its passage in the Assembly?"
My answer to that question is that the Peoples’ Representatives’ (and the PCPR’s) plan was to call for a ballot anyway which they knew they would lose which would then provide the people in Pangai Si’i with the excuse to storm the Legislative Assembly and inflict injury, if not death, on the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers which would then be the justification for their Petition to His Majesty on the day after, to appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet. (I accidentally witnessed part of the preparation of this Petition on Wednesday, 15 November by ‘Akilisi Pohiva, ‘Uliti Uata and Lepolo Taunisila at the Offices of the Legislative Assembly.)
In an affidavit that Dr. Taufe’ulungaki made for the Supreme Court in the case of Taione v Kingdom of Tonga  in support of the Government of Tonga as the Defendant she argued that "freedom of speech" as a human right must be subjected to the test of "poto". She stated,
"The concept of "freedom of speech"…and its applications within Tongan society are governed by the codes of appropriate behaviour (poto) within the Tongan socio-cultural context and are underpinned by Tonga’s core values that were and are aimed at cementing and sustaining relationships….
"The core values of fe’ofa’aki (mutual love and caring, generosity), faka’apa’apa (respect), feveitokai’aki (reciprocity, cooperation, consensus; maintenance of good relationships), mamahi’i me’a (loyalty, commitment), lototoo (humility, generosity), fetokoni’aki (sharing, cooperation, fulfilment of mutual obligations) are embedded in the socialisation process of all Tongans as the means through which the intact circles of Tongan society and its inter-connected woven mats of relationships are protected and sustained.
"The sustainability of any community, be it a socio-cultural group or an ecosystem, depends on protecting and mending the broken circles of communities. When one component of this circle is weakened or broken, the whole system becomes vulnerable and at risk. Freedom of speech in Tonga must be understood within that context. It must be and is subjected to the test of poto that is behaving appropriately within the socio-cultural context of Tonga, and must operate within the parameters defined by Tongan core values.
I humbly submit that Dr. Taufe’ulungaki’s Report be subjected to the same test.
Lopeti Senituli is Press Secretary and Political Adviser to the Tongan Prime Minister
Planet Tonga: http://www.planet-tonga.com/beta/
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