TONGA LAWMAKERS DEBATE NUKUALOFA CLAMPDOWN

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Emergency declaration a ‘black cloud over Tonga’

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 15, 2008) - A debate in parliament over the reinstatement of the Emergency Powers sparked off comments over what caused the events of [November 2006] and a concern that a repeat is still possible.

Government argued that law and order remains fragile in Tonga while four People’s Representatives are awaiting trial on sedition charges, and the Prime Minister said there was a belief that a repeat of [the riots] was possible.

The Minister of Police, Honorable Siaosi ΄Aho, told the House on September 9 that his recommendation to government for the Emergency Powers to be reinstated was based on intelligence he received from his officers and from people in the villages that there was an upsurge of crimes, including house-breaking, assaults and drunkenness following the coronation celebrations.

The Minister said that prior to and during the coronation celebrations law and order was not an issue and he was monitoring the situation carefully.

He believed that the public was happy with the decision to reinstate the Emergency Powers and that the opposition expressed in the House was politically motivated. He appealed for the support of the members of parliament while they were trying to fully restore the public trust in the police force.

PR [People’s Representative] ΄Akilisi Pohiva disagreed with the Minister of Police that an increase in crimes rate warranted a recommendation for the reinstatement of the Emergency Powers. He said that armed robberies and the crimes, "are normal occurrences, they happened before, they are happening now and they will continue to take place." He did not think it was right for the Minister of Police to include the state of criminal activities in his recommendation to government because if that was the case then there would be Emergency Powers forever.

He believed that the image of Tonga overseas had been tarnished by the enforcement of Emergency Powers and they should work toward projecting Tonga as a civilized country.

PR Teisina Fuko pointed out that the Emergency Powers had been enforced for nearly two years. He argued that the country was no longer ruled by its constitution but was becoming fearful of the police and the soldiers. He said that domestic violence was unrelated to the Emergency Powers.

The Prime Minister told the House that the reinstatement of Emergency Powers by the Privy Council on Friday September 5 was in accordance with the law and the constitution. He asked the PRs to be conscious about what they were saying. The Privy Council's decision was based on advice they received and a belief that there were still possibilities for a repeat of what had happened. He reminded the House that the country was not under military rule and that the soldiers were called in to help the police because they could not cope with the situation.

Prince Tu΄Akilisi ipelehake said that the Emergency Powers were like a black cloud casting a shadow of uncertainty over Tonga. He wondered when the sedition case of the People's Representatives would be heard in court because a verdict would clear the black cloud that had been hanging over Tonga.

Teisina Fuko insisted that the enforcement of the Emergency Powers Act had removed the freedom that was guaranteed by the Constitution of Tupou I.

΄Akilisi wanted to know why the Prime Minister had a bodyguard.

The Prime Minister replied that it came about because of an article that was printed in the member’s paper that stated there was a plan to assassinate the Prime Minister. He said that the police queried the editor on the accuracy of the report, and he confirmed that they had received reliable information. The PM said that it was not his decision but that of the security services for him to have a bodyguard.

The Minister of Works in support of the Emergency Powers reminded the House that half an hour before the riot broke out on November 16, 2006, the Police had reported that there was not going to be any trouble and everything was under control. They were wrong and it took some time before the police requested assistance from the Tonga Defence Service. He pointed out that with the Emergency Powers in place the TDS were there to help the Police. The question that he wanted to ask the PRs: Was it secure?

΄Akilisi Pohiva said that the trouble of 16/11 “was started by a group of trouble-makers that was allowed by government to hold a meeting at Pangai Lahi.” [opposite the political rally at Pangai Si΄i].

"They started the destruction," he said.

The Speaker told ΄Akilisi to sit down, he sat down and the Speaker thanked him for being so obedient.

He reminded the Member that he was not presiding over a court hearing.

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