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Tonga’s new Cabinet awaits the King’s consent

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


Hon. Tevita Lavemaau

The Prime Minister Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva at mid-day today announced a new reshuffled cabinet, which has yet to receive the official consent of King Tupou VI.

He named the new Minister of Finance and National Planning as Hon. Tevita Lavemaau, the former Minister of Revenue Collection and Customs.

Mateni Tapueluelu, the People’s Representative for Tongatapu Constituent No. 4  is a new recruit to the 12-members Cabinet.

Mateni becomes the new Minister of Police and Fire Services. This ministry used to be the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Fire Services but under this new line-up, Mateni Tapueluelu will only be the Minister of Police and Fire Services.

The Prisons will come under the Minister of Justice, Hon. Sione Vuna Fa’otusia, who is the current Minister of Justice.

The former Minister of Police, Hon. Pohiva Tu’I’onetoa will maintain his portfolio as the Minister of Labour, Commerce, Industries and Trade; he will also become the new Minister of Revenue Collection and Customs.

Under this new Cabinet line-up, the Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and Sports will drop his Foreign Affairs portfolio.

The Foreign Affairs portfolio will come under the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, who will be the Minister for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change, Communications and Foreign Affairs.

The Prime MInister since he was elected at the end of 2014 has reshuffled his cabinet a number of times.

No appointments

The reformed Tongan system also allows a Prime Minister to appoint four ministers from outside.

So the question remains why hasn’t he nominated Cabinet Ministers who were not elected members of parliament to take on important portfolios?

At today's press conference Prime Minister appeared to be not very keen on the idea of nominating an unelected member of parliament as a cabinet minister.

Had to go

But what was the real reason that he fired his former Minister of Finance Hon Dr ‘Aisake Eke, taking into consideration that the Motion for the Vote of No Confidence in him was knocked out, and 'Aisake's abstaining from voting did not have any impact on the outcome?

The PM said that ‘Aisake was not a member his party, the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands DPFI. In answering the question, the way the PM moved his hands and his eyes indicated that ‘Eke was floating around within his Cabinet. To make sure that the PM remained in control of his Cabinet, he decided that the Minister of Finance and National Planning had to go.

The Cabinet of the Prime Minister following the election in 2014 was made up of six members of the DPFI and six Independent Members. The number of Independent Members in Cabinet dropped to four in 2016 and now there are only three, including one Noble's Representative.

With regards to his letter and his demand on ‘Eke to resign on a Sunday, the PM was asked if he was aware that it is illegal to make agreements on a Sunday.

The Prime Minister admitted that he "did not check on it."


Having read that the PM fired the Hon Minister of Finance, Hon Dr ‘Aisake Eke, confirms to me that the type of Democracy PM Pohiva is advocating is not true Democracy. It really looks like dictatorship or something worse.  For the PM to fire the Hon Minister without any strong grounds of misconduct or incompetence in carrying out his ministerial portfolio really put things into perspective regarding not only the kind of Democracy that PM Pohiva upholds but also the kind of leadership qualities that he is exercising upon the Tongan Government.
It is really a pity that the Nobles did not go far enough to bring him down from Prime Ministership in the Vote of No Confidence. The reasons they brought against him for being unsuitable to continue on as the leader of our country were, for the most part, pretty sound. But back to the issue: In Democracy, a Cabinet Minister may be deposed or asked to hand in a resignation if he has clearly abused his ministerial authority and privileges or that there are good grounds to charge him of corruption or inappropriate behaviour. None of these are brought forth in the reasons for demanding the resignation of the Hon. Dr Eke.
The basic reason, it seems, was Dr Eke’s abstinence from casting his vote in the deciding ballot for the Vote of No Confidence motion, last week. Dr Eke seems to have been more upfront about his decision to do so than PM Pohiva. He has, according to his account, expressed his intention and his reasons for doing so, to PM Pohiva in a one-to-one consultation, before the motion was decided in Parliament.
But this kind of honesty, on the part of Dr Eke, seems to have been met with characteristic dishonesty from the PM. The PM did not express any hard feelings or disappointments with Dr Eke’s stance on the Vote of No Confidence. He did not even take up the opportunity of the face-to-face consultation to talk to Hon Dr Eke about what only surfaced in the letter demanding his resignation, namely, that there were “discrepancies” over past issues essential for running the Government.
Where are the principles of good governance that the Pohiva Government has been promoting? Where is the good quality leadership that should be in place as a result? Where is the transparency of leaders that is so often propagated by PM Pohiva’s Government? Is PM Pohiva not courageous or honest enough to discuss such discrepancies with one of his Cabinet Ministers? What discrepancies? Where are the evidence of such discrepancies? These so-called discrepancies are at best, unwarranted allegations summoned as a desperate attempt to put weight on the demand for Dr Eke’s resignation
What are we seeing in this case? Is this not PM Pohiva exercising his own individual power driven by his own private interests and the interests perhaps of his own so-called “democratic party”? Are not these the kind of selfish values that he was so up against when the Monarchy was still running the Government? Just the one-man leader deciding to depose or promote a Cabinet minister without any contribution from the people? Didn’t PM Pohiva want the power to be given to the people? Is this not his own personal interests and self-interests holding sway over against the interests of the majority.
If this decision was backed by his own nominal “democratic party”, then it must be recalled that in the previous election, only 34 per cent of voters voted for him and the candidates identified with his “party”. The majority of the voters, the 66 per cent, did not vote for his party. So, this Government, is a minority’s Government.
There is a pressing need for our voting system to be rectified so that the majority of the people are represented in Parliament. So far, one might say that PM Pohiva’s leadership is only serving to confirm to us, that this sense of partisanship that he insists upon, is not worth having. We don’t need the interest of a minority party to shape our Democracy. We need the voice of the people to determine the direction of our Democracy.
Moreover, why was the letter demanding Dr Eke’s resignation written on Sunday? [...And] who wrote the letter to the Publicity Department of China requesting their assistance to rid our country of the authority of the King, the Nobles and our Christian heritage and to abolish the Sabbath law? PM Pohiva does not observe the Constitution of our country which says that deals made on Sundays are not legally binding. That this letter was written on a Sunday implies that the PM’s Office does transactions even on Sundays. Shouldn’t they be taken to task for that? Or does the PM continue to think that he is above the Law?  Perhaps it only serves to show the down-to-earth character of Hon Dr Eke that he did not choose to reject the PM’s letter by rendering it obsolete since it was a ‘contract’ made on a Sunday.
At the end of the day, PM Pohiva is still the leader of our country, the country which we owe much love and devotion. God and Tonga are my inheritance. Indeed, God promotes leaders and depose them too. This is the evidence of world history. PM Pohiva will have his time. Even though he won the deciding ballot on the Vote of No Confidence, it seems not to say much for his leadership qualities. In fact, the allegations/reasons brought against him with the Vote of No Confidence motion show the real discrepancies in his Government. Even Dr Eke confirms the authenticity of most of these charges.
It appears to me that PM Pohiva’s retaining of leadership was due more to the Hon Ministers who voted for him holding on to their portfolios. Were they promised their position for casting their votes for PM Pohiva?
PM Pohiva’s dismissal of Hon Dr Eke confirms that this was the case. Those who voted for him continue on. Those who abstained or didn’t vote for him are out.
Now, if this really is the pattern of PM Pohiva’s leadership, he should, for the rest of his time in office, slowly rid his Cabinet of those “independent” candidates and start to bring in the rest of his party supporters, as a reward for their ongoing support. He has about eighteen months to do that.  A Government in which personal interests and partisanship hold sway over good governance and personal honesty has no lasting legacy but only to remind us that this indeed is not the way in which to run a country.
Soli Deo gloria
Rev Dr Ma’afu Palu

'Aisake Eke's dismissal by PM 'Akilisi Pōhiva was also the quickest way for his son in law, Māteni Tapueluelu, to be become a Minister of the Cabinet. Unashamed Nepotism.

The PM of the kingdom was useful in the cause for democracy, but has shown he is inadequate to the real tasks of ensuring it is practiced and respected in the intricate workings of parliament, and towards nation building. Now, he seems to think the Constitution is irrelevant. There are ample historical examples of third world leaders with this mindset, and always democracy suffers and the people suffer. 
The PM's old age coupled with his self opinionated views about who is in charge is a worrying development, and his petty squabble with his minister of finance is a clear example of him not upholding the constitution in its protections of the freedoms of speech and expression, conscience and assembly.
The catalogue of unethical actions of the PM under the recent motion of no confidence is an outrage, even if only half were true. This pattern of treating government and parliament as a personal piggy bank, and playground are the typical actions of all third world dictators. this is all so tragic for Tonga. The young people of Tonga around the globe deserve better.
Malo 'aupito Valu Popo