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Nepotism and censorship in Tongan democracy

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


I join Senolita Swan’s oped (Democracy and Nepotism, Saturday 24, 2015) regarding newly elected Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s nepotistic appointment of his son as Personal Assistant. It's a gross misuse of power in a democratic society.

Additionally, last Friday, the Government sponsored newspaper, the “Tonga Weekly” published its last issue, but under the new government's watchful eyes. However, my regular “Totofa ‘o Nuku‘alofa” weekly column was censored off the issue, and replaced by an editorial justifying the hiring of the Prime Minister’s son as AP.

The censored column reviewed the recent elections critically of how Prime Minister Pōhiva arrived “de facto” at the Prime Minister’s Office. It criticized the seven (7) Independents who joined the PTOA minority party ... who deceived their thousands of constituents that voted for them on the Independent platform.


Another feature column under a pen name “Siu ‘a Lulu Mata-tālanga” (Media Review) critical of the “Taimi ‘o Tonga,” a pro-PTOA party weekly, was also censored off the issue. Editor/publisher Kalafi Moala ostensibly wrote a front-page, straight-news article, however, it was a pure editorial piece. No references to his source informants for the editorial article were made.

This "Siu" article was on its second week of publishing. Additionally, the censors deleted photo credits for 10 photographs of mine they published in this issue without my permission.

However, my lead news article of the issue, written from Parliament on December 29, 2014 did survive the censorship committee’s razor blades. It’s headline declared…”Kuo Lava: “Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, ‘Ofa ‘anga ‘o e Mītiá”.


Unfortunately, for this week, the contributors to the “Tonga Weekly” are all fired. The paper was sold to former Minister of Law, Attorney Clive Edwards in December, 2014, but the new government wants to scratch the sale.

The “appearance of impropriety” is at the heart of the nepotism issue:

  • Hiring one’s relative defeats the “equal opportunity” doctrine in a democracy. It defies public trust that the PM will hold family members to the same moral and legal standards as other members of society.
  • Prime Minister Pohiva has slammed former governments on nepotism issues in the past. Why doesn’t it apply to himself?
  • Former Prime Minister Tu‘ivakanō ordered his former Minister of Tourism, Dr. Viliami Uasike, to resend the hiring of his niece as an IT technician in his office in 2011.
  • Although PM Pohiva claims he has the legal authority to hire his son as a personal assistant (AP), the position is subjected to government employment policies; and there are more qualified clerical and medical technicians to perform the AP’s duties than his son.
  • The AP is a salaried position paid through government auspices and benefits.
  • The PM circumvented government policies to hire his son; he cannot arbitrary change government policies to suit his own family members. Anti nepotism rules are employed to prevent the “appearance of impropriety.”
  • The PM’s AP is a government employee who exposes the government to legal ramifications: injuries and deaths on line of duty obliges the government to pay restitutions; the PM cannot guarantee that his family will not sue the government should his son be injured in an accident related to his "duties."

Sione A. Mokofisi

Nuku‘alofa, Tonga