TONGA APPOINTS FIRST ‘COMMONER’ PRIME MINISTER

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 31) –Frederick Vaka'uta Sevele, 61, has been appointed as the new Prime Minister of Tonga.

Sevele confirmed [the historic appointment] last night, calling it, "a new era in cooperation with the private sector who will drive the economy".

He said that the official letter of appointment from the Palace Office would be formally presented to him this evening at his home in Ma'ufanga.

Dr Sevele has been the Acting Prime Minister of Tonga since the resignation of former Prime Minister Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata on February 11.

The first non-aristocratic Tongan citizen to be appointed as fully-fledged Prime Minister of the kingdom has begun what he calls, "a new era in cooperation" by making some major changes.

Firstly, he said, he will hold no other portfolios besides that of Prime Minister.

Dr Sevele said that the confirmation as Prime Minister, "Puts me substantively into the position and has the firmest of bases, and...it means the rest of government and the nation will no longer see it as simply a caretaker position."

Commenting on speculation that as Prime Minister he may have his own preferences for the composition of Cabinet, he stressed that, "as the Constitution stands, the appointment of Ministers is the prerogative of His Majesty the King - alone."

In another major change, the new Prime Minister has ended the appointment of Ministers as public service commissioners and has chosen all of his new commissioners from the private sector, "To ensure that the public service is effective, efficient, independent and apolitical. The Commission plays a key role in this," he said.

"By appointing people from the private sector who are both successful and respected leaders in their fields, it means that we will have an open government and greater transparency and reach out to where the best possible talents are and to give a more forward signal to the private sector.

"To me this is a new era of working closer with private sector, and not saying that in theory, but doing it in reality," said Dr Sevele. "I have no doubt that the private sector will drive the economy".

The past 12 months have been meteoric for Dr Sevele in the House. In the March 2005 General Election he was re-elected as the Tongatapu No. 3 People's Representative to the Tongan parliament, then on March 21 he joined Cabinet as Minister of Labour, Commerce and Industry in a royal appointment that chose four ministers from elected members of the house. On February 11 this year he was appointed as the Acting Prime Minister of Tonga following the resignation of the former Prime Minister, Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata.

A Nuku'alofa businessman, Dr Sevele began his high school education at Apifo'ou College in Tonga, then went to school in Fiji at St John's College, 'Ovalau, Levuka, and the Marist Brothers High School, in Suva. He then attended St Bede's College in Christchurch New Zealand, before going to the University of Canterbury where he graduated with a BSc in Math, a BA, an MA and a PhD in Economic Geography.

During a dinner last night at the Waterfront Cafe, hosted by the Prime Minister for the newly appointed commissioners of the Public Service Commission, Dr Sevele confirmed his appointment as the new Prime Minister of Tonga.

Also present was Suva businessman, Ikbal Jannif, chairman of Transparency International in Fiji, who told Dr Sevele that his old class mates from Marist Brothers were very proud of his achievement.

The appointment of Dr Sevele as Prime Minister was warmly welcomed by members of the Tongan business community who last night congratulated him on his appointment.

April 3, 2006

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/

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