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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Recent Events Highlight Serious Problems In Tonga

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Aug. 28, 2012) – The events of the past week, with the parliament deferring its deliberation on a motion for a vote of no confidence for a month, and then the death of a New Zealand policeman in the care of the Tonga Police, has highlighted the social, economic and political problems that are engulfing Tonga at the moment.

The political reform that was introduced at the end of 2010, with a new system of government, was viewed as a positive move to produce solutions to these mounting problems but, unfortunately, 18 months down the road it appears that some of our elected members of parliament are more eager to identify problems rather than to find solutions. It is easier, of course, for the public to relate to problems, but it could take a little while for people to come to terms with solutions to those problems.

The decision by the House last week to have a one month break from their deliberation over the motion for a vote of no confidence, came after struggling for more than 24 days to reach a decision on the motion, the longest that any government in the world has spent on a motion for a vote of no confidence. When they resume around September 24, it should definitely be nominated for a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.

A majority of those who supported the motion for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister were the very same people who drafted and implemented our new system of government. They were empowered by the constitution to elect our new Prime Minister, who in turn nominated our new government. But some of those who were in government then resigned to support the motion to topple the government that they had put in place.

The House has only just come to terms with the fact that they do not have in place a procedure to deal with a motion for a vote of no confidence. But the fact that the Speaker has the right to keep the deliberations moving forward, by deciding on a daily basis what they should be doing, most definitely adds some credibility to a growing awareness that the motion is actually a motion for a vote of no confidence by members of the House on the whole house itself.

The unfortunate death of Kali Fungavaka in the care of the Tongan police, came a day after the House had spent a good part of a day hearing all the problems and the difficulties that the former Minister of Police, Hon. Lisiate 'Akolo said he could not deal with.

A shortfall in the police capability and capacity was highlighted during the riot and the destruction of Nuku'alofa on November 16, 2006, when eight lives were lost and about $120 million pa'anga [US$68.4 million] of damage was inflicted on the Nuku'alofa business community. To this day, no one has stood up and claimed responsibility for all that, except for a few wretches who ended up serving time at Hu'atolitoli Prison for looting during the riot.

The police development was identified as a priority and a multi-million pa'anga tripartite development program, jointly funded by Tonga, New Zealand and Australia was launched, and the service was restructured.

But the police, unfortunately, appeared to be one of the government ministries that could not retain a minister long enough to continue the reform that was launched in 2009. During the past 18 months of the new government of Lord Tu'ivakano, the Ministry of Police has had three Ministers. The first was Dr. Viliami Latu, who was moved out because of his involvement in not renewing the contract of Chris Kelley, Tonga's first Police Commissioner. Dr. Latu then became the Minister of Tourism, replacing 'Isileli Pulu who became the Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industries, replacing Lisiate 'Akolo, who was made the new Minister of Police.

Then early this year Lisiate swapped places with Sunia Fili, to become the Minister of Finance while Sunia was made the Minister of Police. Sunia, however, a few weeks later resigned and became a stronger supporter of the motion for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

The Ministry of Police is currently under the Prime Minister's Office until a new minister can be found.

The irony of the situation was that the discussion of the many problems that have been and are still faced by the Ministry of Police will take a very long time to solve, according to Lisiate.

Unfortunately, such an admission has brought us around full circle within 18 months since the launch of Tonga's political reform program, so that we are still blinded by all our problems and out of frustration of not being able to find solutions, have started killing each other politically and physically. The solution then is to review the electoral system and have a new general election.

Matangi Tonga Magazine:
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