In the Privy Council Meeting which was held before the vote over the Media Bills were about to come up in Parliament, I alluded to the fact that that this had become a cause célèbre among large sections of the public and I knew that there was dissent within the Cabinet ranks. I did not want this dissent to be made public so I asked the Ministers that they should either be unanimous in their support for the Bill in Parliament or consider withdrawing the measure as had been past practice with such controversial issues. I called for a show of hands. Clive Edwards made an impassioned submission in support of the legislation. There was one Minister who would not agree to give his support and so I suggested that he not turn up in Parliament on the day the legislation came to the vote. His decision, as he explained, was one of conscience but when I had offered him a solution to remain true to his conscience without publicly dissenting from the Government, he chose to vote with the Government anyway.
I had been previously approached by one of my aristocratic relatives in Parliament to see whether I could withdraw or at least delay the measure because he, like me, was disturbed at the way Clive Edwards was attracting unjustified criticism of the King with his unbridled ambition for power. However, the Privy Council presented me with a unanimous front in favour of the legislation, I felt it was not the place of the Regent to go against their wishes. Had the dissenting minister stuck to his guns, I might have felt confident in ordering the entire matter dropped and the legislation withdrawn. But he had his reasons as indeed did I. Anyway, I knew that without the necessary changes in the Judge’s Rules, the measure would not survive its first challenge in the Courts.
The proper solution to media censorship is self-censorship because, drunk or sober, there is no harsher judge of a Journalist than another Journalist. At least that is the way things are with the ones I know. But no one was willing to listen at the time and I was no longer a Cabinet Minister.
While Clive Edwards might now claim to be surprised at the suggestion that he had a personal vendetta against the Taimi Tonga Newspaper and its Editor Kalafi Moala, it comes as no surprise to the rest of the country or even to Kalafi Moala. Are we now to suppose that the Immigration Officers who confiscated Moala’s Tongan passport on the grounds that he had held dual Tongan and American nationality were acting on their own without orders from Clive Edwards? It was a vengeful and unnecessary humiliation. Not our style of doing things!
Edwards goes on in an attempt to muddy the waters by bringing up the single airline policy affair. That is a non issue here however, let me say that I had no problem with the prospect of competition from Fly Niu. The legal and financial advice they received were appalling, they were losing money to the extent that they were unable to pay their charter fees for the aircraft other than by giving the owner more and more shares of their rapidly declining stock, their Tongan pilots and engineers had all dismally failed their type rating examinations to fly and maintain the Dash-8 aircraft as had been their original intention and their fares were uncompetitive with Peau Vava’u. They were never a real threat. I look forward to their next law suit when I shall take much pleasure in trouncing them and their lawyer in court for a third time.
The convention of silence among ministers as to what transpires within the cabinet came about because there are no minutes kept of the meetings. Certainly there are no personal reprecussions for breaking them as Edwards has done and being a Gentleman, by the way, has nothing to do with one’s social origins and everything to do with one’s behaviour. The Tongan proverb Oku te tu’a pe ‘i ho to ‘ulungaanga (only one’s behaviour makes one a guttersnipe) strikes the appropriate chord in this case. For my part, I have met a great many Gentlemen who spring from the humblest circumstances and these have been some of the most inspiring experiences in my life.
The people of Tonga shall ultimately decide for themselves whether Clive Edwards is suitable to represent them in Parliament - his tarnished reputations among the Tongan Community in New Zealand and as Minister of Police in Tonga preceed him. The Sovereign, for his part, has already made his decision.
Of course, Clive Edwards can publicise his opinions about our new political reforms and it is relevant to note that this is the very right of which he had sought so desperately to deprive the country with his media control legislation. Nobody, thank God, shall ever be permitted to make a similar attempt again. It is interesting also to note that no such attempt had been made before Clive Edwards’s unfortunate appointment to the Cabinet.
The new reforms represent the appropriate political change demanded by Tonga’s social changes which are themselves the product of economic progress. Indeed, it has become common to charge that the Tongan economy is stagnant. This is not true. Thirty years ago, the top ten companies in the country were foreign owned. Today, with the exception of two banks, one of which has a substantial Tongan holding, the top ten companies are Tongan owned. Privatisation has extended to our main export industry and the salaries of the top Executives in our larger companies are in line with the international standards. The old practice of paying low salaries to Senior Management on the grounds that they are Tongan is no longer tenable. Today, in our economic environment, if you pay peanuts you will only get monkeys.
It would come as a big surprise to me if any more appointments, other than that of the Prime Minister, shall be made directly by the King. In time, as Ministers voluntarily retire or resign (now that we have gotten rid of our rotten eggs there should no longer be any need to ask anyone to leave), I suspect that Grace and Favour appointed ministers from the ranks of the elected representative should replace them. Eventually, when all the ministers are elected representatives, their numbers in parliament shall maintain the proportions traditionally maintained in the past ie a minority in the house. Neither the People’s Representatives nor the Nobility should alone have the ability to out vote the government but the government, alone, should never be permitted to out vote the Nobility and the People’s Representatives should they decide to vote together. This is necessary because Tonga does not have an Upper House and is a natural non-legislative restraint on the use of Executive power. Among the virtues of these reforms is that they can be implemented immediately without Constitutional change.
This balance has served Tonga well for a century and a half. To change this formula would mean an alteration in the terms of the social contract which ended our Civil Wars and which manifests itself in our land tenure system. This is a subject of a different debate but I remember that when a measure was passed by the Parliament to deprive those Tongans living abroad of their land in Tonga, it was the Sovereign himself who intervened by not applying the Sign Manual to the law.
This is the view of those of us who had been priviledged to be appointed directly by the King. Once the Grace and Favour ministers are in the cabinet, they should be in a good position to advise the Sovereign according to their views and beliefs. By granting the Grace and Favour measure, His Majesty acknowledges that he shall act upon the advice of his Ministers and this, to me, is the heart of our political reform.
Contrary to Clive Edwards’s claim, and the grapes of power must look awfully sour when you are standing in the gutter, the reforms are neither desperate nor appeasing. They are timely.
HRH Crown Prince Tupouto’a