Editor’s Comment by Pesi Fonua.
The Tonga government’s foreign relations, its education system and its stance on the rule of law are issues that have suddenly confronted the public with mass confusion during the past few days. The authorities must now clarify where we stand or risk further loss of credibility.
The unanimous support by Cabinet Ministers today to stop parliament from impeaching Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu, makes a mockery of a favourite statement of the Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva and his government about their dedication to the “rule of law” and their promised transparency.
After the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance had both stated that there is a prima facie case for Lavulavu to be impeached, the PM’s Cabinet all voted against going ahead despite the fact that the House’s own Standing Committee on Privileges clearly wanted Lavulavu to be held to account for some very serious allegations about his conduct in office.
Meanwhile, former leaders of the Ministry of Education, teachers and members of the public have petitioned the King for the dismissal of the Prime Minister as the Minister of Education, along with the same Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu as the Acting Minister of Education. They are concerned with an attempt by the two ministers to destroy the education system that has been under construction during the past 12 years, and for loss of integrity citing “conflict of interest” and “nepotism”.
The Prime Minister responded by highlighting disharmony within the Ministry that can trace its roots a long way back to the time when he was dismissed from the Ministry of Education in 1985.
This disharmony resurfaced when Hon. Pohiva became the Minister of Education last year and made a move to change Tonga’s education system, and in particular, the examination marking system.
The public is waiting to hear what HM King Tupou VI will do with the petition that was presented to the Palace Office on Tuesday, 20 October.
The Prime Minister yesterday, 21 October, attempted to take advantage of the live broadcasting of the proceedings in parliament to counter the petition for his dismissal as the Minister of Education, by inviting anyone who wanted to know about the Ministry’s exam system to come to his office for an explanation.
In a sudden change of direction, the PM dropped the education issue and veered into his Foreign Affairs portfolio.
It brought to the surface two sensitive foreign relations issues that previous Tongan governments had been trying to handle carefully.
Prime Minister Pohiva, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has decided to tackle these sensitive issues head on.
The two issues are his apparent commitment for Tonga to become a member of the new Pacific Islands Development Forum; and Tonga taking a definite stance on the struggle of the people of West Papua for their right to self-determination and to become independent from Indonesia.
Tonga has not officially made a declaration on these sensitive foreign relations issues in the past, but the Prime Minister has alluded in the House about how he was actively involved in discussions during the last meeting of the Pacific Islands Development Forum in Papua New Guinea. He then connected it up with his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York in August when he surprised observers by calling on the UN to address what he called the brutal and inhuman treatment of West Papuans by the Indonesian Authority.
Yesterday, the Speaker of the Tongan Parliament, and former Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano, warned Hon Pohiva to be very careful with his dealings with the PIDF because New Zealand and Australia are excluded from that group and there is friction in the relationship between the PIDF and Pacific Islands Forum, of which both Australia and New Zealand are members.
Lord Vaea also reminded the Prime Minister that the correct name for West Papua is “Irian Jaya”, and he warned the Prime Minister of the possible dangers for a small, poor country like Tonga telling a big Muslim country like Indonesia what to do.
The Prime Minister’s response to the two Lords warnings was: “Allow me to be the leader, I am the Prime Minister and I can say what I want to say!”
Of course, the Prime Minister can say whatever he wants to say, it is his constitutional right, but at the same time surely he is obliged to remember that he speaks on the behalf of the nation. After the confusion in Foreign Affairs, Education and Parliament over the last few weeks, a lot more people are questioning if the PM actually knows what he is talking about.