Special Report: Part I

[See part II of this special report: Tongan Turncoat No Longer ‘Puppet Minister’]

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 17) –Tonga's former Minister of Police, Clive Edwards, claims he was sacked in August last year after being accused by the King's sons of plotting a coup and leading rebel ministers against their policies.

Clive, after eight years as a cabinet minister, is now campaigning for Tonga's March 17 General Election, hoping to reenter parliament by taking one of the three Tongatapu People's Representative's seats.

During his campaign he has revealed his version of the events that led to his ousting from Government.

Clive told Matangi Tonga Online that in early August, Crown Prince Tupouto'a angrily warned a Privy Council meeting that he had received reports that certain ministers were attempting to carry out a coup, and that he was going to deal with them. Then, on August 27, shortly after the imposition of an unpopular domestic one-airline policy, the Prime Minister, Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, told Edwards to resign, accusing him of leading rebel ministers against government.

Clive said that the four ministers accused were all members of a cabinet sub-committee that had opposed the introduction of a one-airline policy for Tonga. The policy, approved on July 30 by Privy Council, ultimately removed all competition with Prince Tupoutoa's own domestic airline.

Clive said he did not want to resign, because he was wrongly accused, and he believed that the King did not know what was going on.

Clive said that the sequence of events began when his colleagues in Cabinet decided in his absence that he should chair a sub-committee to look into the legality of a "one-domestic airline" policy paper that was opposed by Cabinet.

Before the sub-committee met, the Privy Council, chaired by the Prime Minister's brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a as Prince Regent, went ahead and approved the policy on July 30.

Clive said that later when they met in Privy Council, Tupouto'a as Prince Regent was sitting in the place of the king.

"When we were ready to start, Tupouto'a turned around and said ‘there are certain ministers here that I have received reports who are attempting to carry out a coup.’

"I laughed, I could not restrain myself, because no such information had come before me from the Special Branch. That is what the Special Branch looks at, not only from outside but also from inside government. Tupouto'a looked at me, very upset, and said ‘not funny,’ and I said in English, ‘Sorry, Sir.’ He replied ‘and I am going to deal with them!'."

Clive said that straight away he knew that Tupouto'a was referring to the sub-committee that was appointed to look at the one-airline policy. Clive was the chairman and the other three members were the Minister of Law ‘Aisea Taumoepeau, the Minister of Labour and Commerce Masaso Paunga, and the Minister of Finance Siosiua 'Josh' ‘Utoikamanu.

Then Clive said that in the second week of August, shortly before the one-airline policy was implemented on August 15, the Secretary of Civil Aviation Mapa Faletau was sent overseas to fetch the Prime Minister. On the Prime Minister's return Clive asked him not to implement the policy, "but he was obviously very angry and on that afternoon the licence of the FlyNiu airlines was cancelled."

FlyNiu, [a newly-formed domestic airline in competition with Prince Tupouto’a’s airline, Peau Vava'u] immediately lodged an application with the courts for an injunction because its licence was cancelled before the due date, and William Edwards, a lawyer and Clive Edward’s son, happened to be legal counsel for FlyNiu.

Clive said that later on that day, Tupouto'a's business partner, Sefo Ramanlal, called him and left a message telling Clive to get his son William to pull out from the FlyNiu case. And "if not, I would be booted out on my back side as a Minister. But that was when I said that William is a free man and he could do whatever he wanted to do."

On August 17 the FlyNiu licence was re-instated by the court.

Two days later "a very reliable source rang me and said that Tupouto'a was going to sack me because of my involvement in the committee, and because of William, and that he was going to sack four ministers.

"I felt that I had done nothing wrong and we were still playing the role of trying to protect the Royal Family, and here we were trying to protect them, particularly Tupouto'a, but we were accused of something that has not been proven," said Clive.

The following week Clive was in Vava'u defending government at meetings on fisheries and on tourism issues, relating to the unstable domestic air service. Clive said he had to deal with the issues himself, "because the Governor of Vava'u, 'Akau'ola, and the Minister of Land Noble Fielakepa were ducking for cover."

"A policeman came in with a note - ‘your friend ‘Aisea has been dismissed'. I could not believe it. The note also said that Siosiua ‘Utoikamanu ‘is still meeting with the PM.’ Nothing was said about me, but I knew that that was our committee."

Clive said he excused himself from the meeting, packed his bag and flew back to Tongatapu. He figured that the two ministers who were in Tongatapu had been called, excepting for Masaso who was in ‘Eua and himself who was in Vava'u, "it was just a matter of time."

He expected only three of the four members of the committee to be sacked because although the Prime Minister and Tupouto'a were annoyed with the Minister of Finance they could not remove him, "Josh is indispensable, while the three of us were dispensable. If Josh leaves there will be chaos because he is the only one that can follow what is going on. He is an essential man. He was reprimanded, but they could not remove him," said Clive.

When Clive returned to Tongatapu on 27 August, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was in the VIP lounge at Fua'amotu Airport waiting to get a flight to Vava'u to attend the agricultural shows.

Masaso told Clive that he had been to see the king with his letter of resignation, and that the King handed back his letter of resignation and asked him, ‘Why do you want to resign for? You go and do some work, because I am not accepting your resignation.’

Clive believed that the king did not know what was going on.

I said, "Eh, let's go and see the King." The King was very friendly and said that he was expecting to see me in Vava'u, but since I was back in Nuku'alofa I should stay and look after things because the Prime Minister was going away.

Clive said that while they were talking, the Prime Minister walked in and said goodbye to the king, "and we thought that was it. But back in town about 2 p.m., Masaso called to say that he had been dismissed, and I knew that my time was up too."

At 10 pm, Clive was summoned to the Prime Minister.

"When I got there Cecil Cocker was there, so was the King’s Private Secretary, Noble Ma’afu, and the Chief Secretary to Cabinet 'Eseta Fusitu’a. I said, "What are you doing here? Are you going to act illegally and get rid of us? You are not going to convince me that the King is aware of what is going on. Where is the letter from the King?"

Clive said that no one replied.

"Then I was asked to go in and see the PM. He mumbled, and I could not hear very well what he was saying. He was speaking in Tongan, saying ' ‘Oku ou fiema'u ke ke fakafisi. Ko koe ‘oku taki he kau angatu’u ‘I he pule’anga.' (I want you to resign; you are the leader of a rebel group against the government'.)

"I was surprised. Then the PM said that he was going to give me a letter. The letter was dated 24 August, but today was 27 August. He did not say anything more, then I started talking to him in Tongan.

Clive said that he denied being involved in a coup attempt and denied that he was the leader of rebel ministers. He also elaborated on his advice in Cabinet not to accept the one domestic airline policy, and also how Cabinet was supposed to work for ministers to freely express their opinion. He said that he would not resign because there was no proof that he was about to stage a coup, but he was ready to go home if that was what they wanted.

Clive said he then warned the Prime Minister: " Kae kimu’a ke u ‘alu ki ‘api te u tala atu ‘a e me’a koeni kiate koe. ‘oua te ke toe faihala pehe he oku ‘ikai ko ha’o faihala ki ha fanga ki’I tamaiki, kohai koe ke ke hanga ‘o tuli kimautolu ‘o fekau ke mau malolo, Ko e Konisitutone ‘oku mahino ‘a ‘ene tu’u, kuo ke ala koe ki he me’a, kuo ke angatu’u, ko koe ‘oku angatu’u, ho’o ala ki he mafai ‘o e Tu’I ‘o ke ngaue’aki ta’e ‘I ai ha’o totonu, ko e anga tu’u ia. Te’eki ai ke mau ala kimautolu ia ki ha mafai ‘o e tu’I, mau talanoa ‘uhinga pe kimautolu, pea sai pe ko ho’o fai mai kia te au, ka ke fai ‘a e me’a koeni ki ha tokotaha kehe ‘I he kaha’u ‘e kovi kiate koe. Fe’unga pe ho’o mea mai ‘au kiate au he kou fe’unga au te u ‘alu au ki ‘api. ("But before I go home I'll tell you this, don't ever make another mistake like this, because we are not kids. Who are you to dismiss us from our posts? The Constitution is clear, and you have touched something that you shouldn't. You are the one who has staged a coup. You have taken the power of the king. We never touch the authority of the king; we were just presenting a logical argument. You are lucky you are doing this to me, because it will be bad for you if you do it to someone else in the future. It's fine by me because I am ready to go home.")

"I got up and walked out, he then crossed over and shook my hand and a kiss, then I left," said Edwards.

Edwards last week registered as one of the 31 candidates contesting the three Tongatapu People's Representative's seats in the Tonga's March 16-17 General election.

Clive also spoke about how Tonga's controversial media laws came about last year, and the new political directions he wants to take if elected.

January 18, 2005

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