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PM Pohiva: ‘hero for democracy’ doesn't practice what he preached

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


Tonga's current leadership regime reminds me of what famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, once said in 1966, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Prime Minister Pohiva has been an oppositional leader in Tonga's government since 1987, a span of 31 years relentless in challenging the status quo, now that he is the Prime Minister and head of government, he still continues with the same mindset of governing in opposition, undermining his very own government. In addition, he opposes the majority of Tongans who decry his outrageous disregard for following policies, procedures, and the law. A recent petition signed by 3,300 Tongans debated in Parliament bears witness to this reality. The King of Democracy is now wearing a dictator's crown. Simply put, PM Pohiva does not practice what he once preached passionately: democracy.

Prime Minister Pohiva became a heroic national symbol for Tongans at home and abroad for speaking out against the misuse of power by the Monarch and government of the day in the 80s and 90s, a time where the King had absolute power to hang him for treason. He preached reform toward greater democracy for the commoners by espousing transparency, accountability, equality, good governance, and following the rule of law as his mission to change a Monarchial ruling system into a government by the people for the people. This oppositional movement dominated Tonga's political landscape for the last three decades. After the burning of Nuku'alofa in November 2006, Pohiva's mission for democracy took hold in 2010. His Majesty George V gave up most of his executive powers to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the seats for people's representatives increased to 17 members. This was history in the making paved by Pohiva. Many thought this was the beginning of a positive turning point in Tonga's political arena - a huge victory for Democracy.

It is now toward the end of 2018, Prime Minister Pohiva is now the head of government with a party majority that governs Cabinet and has the voting majority in Parliament. Yet, despite having all the powers to unite Tonga together, and build camaraderie among his peers in government - he treats the Nobles and Independent MPs with disdain and fear.  He rewards his friends and allies with lavish contracts, and ignores the rule of law when it stands in his way. Pohiva blames the King for not giving up all his powers so he can rule government with unchecked and unfettered power. Pohiva continues to use his divisive political strategies of the past instead of leading and uniting his government to build hope.

The irony is quite stunning, a champion and hero for democracy has become the national symbol for corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and inefficiencies in all levels of government. As revealed in the recent annual audit by the Auditor General's report, 74 million pa'anga in assets and receipts of payment was unaccounted for in just two years. The Prime Minister's only defense was jokingly saying in Parliament, "they should all go to jail, including himself." Though I think the joke is really on the taxpayers and their hard earned dollars. 

Now is the time for Tonga to have a Prime Minister who has other tools in his toolbox besides a hammer to treat every problem as if it's a nail. Not every problem is solved by using oppositional methods and dividing the country. Tonga needs a Prime Minister that can lead and unite Tonga in the domestic front as well as to be a leader in the Pacific region. A Prime Minister who does not use threats and fear tactics to punish his opponents and subordinates. We need a Prime Minister who reaches across the aisle and bring the best people together to build our economy, lift the poor from poverty, promote education, sports, arts and culture. We need a Prime Minister who stands shoulder to shoulder with Tongans everywhere to usher in an era of democracy that values all Tongans despite their political belief and opinion. That is what a hero for democracy looks like - an inspiration crowned with hope for all Tongans and for Tonga.

Question now is, is it too late for Prime Minister Pohiva to take the lead and do the right thing for Tonga?

Faka'apa'apa atu,

'Ana Tausinga