Tonga Parliament Seeks Clarification On Nuku’alofa Rioting

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Minister motions to probe destruction of central business district

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 12, 2012) – Since Monday, September 10, the Tongan Parliament has been trying to decide what to do with a new motion by the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards for a parliamentary select committee to go and find out why protesters burned the Nuku'alofa Central Business District (CBD) on 16 November 2006. Clive threw the motion into the middle of a debate over the select committee's investigation into the rebuilding of Nuku'alofa.

This was while the select committee led by Dr. Sitiveni Halapua and 'Akilisi Pohiva were presenting their findings on how the Nuku'alofa Development Corporation (NDC) had managed a TOP$119 million [US$67.6 million] loan from China for the reconstruction of the CBD after the riots of 16 November 2006.

Clive's new motion riled up emotional and aggressive comments from members of the House because some of them, including Hon. Clive Edwards himself, had appeared in court charged with sedition and other charges for their alleged involvement in the destruction of the capital's CBD.

Got off

One of them, the former Minister of Labour Commerce and Industries, 'Isileli Pulu, even reminded Clive that he was one of their MCs during some of their protest gatherings in Nuku'alofa leading up to the destruction of the CBD. He warned the Minister that they should forget about the past events of who was responsible and why the CBD was destroyed. He reminded him that there were court cases, and they had got off, but if he wanted to go back to the past they might get caught this time.

Clive Edwards clarified his motion that it was to complete and to make sense out of the report on the NDC that had been presented to the House. He pointed out that on pages 10-11 of the report it reads:

"Was the loan truly made in the public interest? Or was this a magnificent opportunity for a few to profit at the expense of Tonga's taxpayers? To allow the burden to fall on taxpayers who would help repay a loan of TOP$119 million (plus fees, interest and exchange rate fluctuation risks) over the next 20 years?"

He pointed out that to complete the report and for those questions to be answered the writers of the report should find an answer to a fundamental question of 'Why did the protesters burn down the capital?'

The report was prepared by a select committee that was established by the House in June 2011 and its members included Dr. Sitiveni Halapua, 'Akilisi Pohiva, the Auditor General, Tu'i'onetoa Pohiva and a lawyer, Posesi Bloomfield.

The report has been read in the House since August 28.

Who and why?

Clive's new motion was also for the reading of the report to be deferred until the end of October, so that the committee could complete its report by answering the question of why Nuku'alofa was burned. Clive's motion was seconded by Lord Nuku, who also raised more issues for the select committee to answer before their report is resubmitted into the House at the end of October.

The issues that Lord Nuku wanted the committee to clarify included:

Lord Nuku expressed his belief that it was necessary for the committee to identify who destroyed the properties and why.

Before the House closed yesterday, September 11 'Isileli Pulu moved for the Whole House Committee to reject Clive's motion.

Select committee's recommendations

The Minister of Finance, Hon. Lisiate 'Akolo made another point regarding the report of the Select Committee, saying that he would accept the report if they agreed to delete their four recommendations. These included:

He stressed that the four recommendations in the report from the select committee fell outside the Terms of Reference that were given to the committee.

The Chairman of the Committee called for votes on Clive's motion, but Sitiveni Halapua stressed there was a need to correct a few errors. It was then 4:00pm and it was time for the House to close, so the vote was not taken.

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