Tonga’s Pohiva Faces Suspension For Allegedly Swearing In Parliament

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Tonga’s Pohiva Faces Suspension For Allegedly Swearing In Parliament Opposition Leader read letter from former PM with offensive language

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept.30, 2012) – People's Representative 'Akilisi Pohiva who is accused of swearing in the House on Wednesday, September 26, is now facing a possible suspension from parliament.

The problem arose during a rambling incoherent argument over who had said what.

After a screening committee, of which he was a member, had decided that certain offensive words would not be allowed to be read in the House, 'Akilisi went ahead and stated them anyway.

The words were uttered as part of a long-standing argument that 'Akilisi has with the former Prime Minister Lord Sevele.

On September 27 the matter was referred to Parliament's Standing Committee on Privileges to make a decision on whether or not his words constituted an offence.

During a debate in the Whole House Committee, the previous day, September 26, 'Akilisi, who has been in parliament for 26 years, interrupted the reading of an amended letter to the House from the former Prime Minister, Lord Sevele. He objected that the clerk was not reading the original letter.

The chairman of the Whole House Committee, Hon. Sifa Tu'utafaiva, reminded 'Akilisi, who is a member of the House's screening committee, that the original Tongan version of the letter had been returned to the former Prime Minister to amend what the screening committee had considered to be offensive words, and that the clerk was reading an amended version of the letter.

'Akilisi, however, insisted that the House was hiding the truth of what Lord Sevele had originally wanted to say. He said that the House had cheated by deleting the exact words that the letter writer had used.

Again, the chairman reminded 'Akilisi that he was a member of the committee that had sent the letter back to the former Prime Minister to be amended.

'Akilisi requested to be allowed to make a correction, and when the chairman gave him the floor, he said that the exact words that were deleted from the letter were: " 'e.. fakalao."

(The words, which are offensive in Tongan, translate to mean "legally rotten" or "filthy/stinking law").

'Akilisi insisted that the last sentence was wrong and that was not what the former Prime Minister said in his letter.

The chairman told the member that he would not allow him to make any more corrections. He called on the clerk to continue reading the letter.

Sevele's letter

Dr Feleti Sevele in his letter had pointed out that the report was wrong when it referred to Procurement Procedures as being illegal. He explained that Procurement Procedures set out the process of how some of these big contracts were implemented, but the procedures were not legally binding.

"This is a good example of an attempt in the report to defame government and those who work for the NDC. This is what we referred as being legally wrong," he stated.

Alleged offence

It was not until the following day, September 27 that 'Akilisi's alleged offence was tabled with the Parliament Standing Committee on Privileges for its deliberation.

If 'Akilisi is found to have committed an offence he could be suspended from parliament for a number of days, or even for the remainder of the 2012 parliamentary session. (During a suspension period, an offender will not be allowed to enter parliament; he will lose his salary, and he cannot use any of the rooms and the facilities allocated for members of parliament.)

It was another twist in the ongoing saga of debate on a Report by the Parliamentary Select Committee that 'Akilisi chaired to investigate how the government of the former Prime Minister Lord Sevele, had administered the spending of a TOP$191 million loan from the Exim Bank of China for the reconstruction of Nuku'alofa.

The former Prime Minister's letter was submitted to the House in response to allegations contained in the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee that has been debated in the House during the past weeks.

Lord Sevele considered some of the facts and figures in the report to be wrong, and alleged that they were defamatory against him and others who were involved in administering the loan money for the reconstruction Nuku'alofa after it was burnt during a protest on 16 November 2006.

Sione Tekiteki, the Chief Clerk of the House, said that Lord Sevele's letter was in Tongan and English. In the Tongan version there were words that the screening committee had considered to be offensive, so the letter was returned to Lord Sevele to be amended.

Translation

Lord Sevele had explained that he had written the original version of his letter in English, and that one of his staff had translated it into Tongan. He said he overlooked the Tongan translation of the expression, which he admitted was not appropriate and it was amended before the letter was resubmitted into parliament.

Lord Sevele challenged the committee, and specifically its chairman, 'Akilisi Pohiva, and Sitiveni Halapua to take him and the others who were involved in the construction work financed by the Chinese loan to court, if they really believed in what they stated in their report. He accused them of abusing their parliamentary privileges, which sheltered them from legal action for their accusations, blaming and defaming of members of the public.

Lord Sevele concluded his letter with five suggestions:

For the House to accept the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

For the House to reject the conclusion of the report, because it was in contrast with fairness and justice.

For the House to consider impeaching the chairman of the committee and his assistant for misleading the House.

For the House to remove the legal protection, or Parliamentary Privileges, that protect members of the select committees, "so that we can either take them to court, or they can take us to court."

For government to establish a Royal Commission to find out why, what and who started the destruction of Nuku'alofa. "The findings of the Royal Commission should enable us to avoid such a destruction so that we can embrace the future."

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