Tongan Lord Tu'iha'ateiho Resigns As Acting Speaker

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Noble feels incompetent to serve in parliamentary position

By Pesi Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, August 27, 2013) – Lord Tu‘iha‘ateiho resigned as the Acting Speaker of the Tongan Parliament this morning, 27 August.

His sudden decision was met with unanimous opposition from members of the Tongan parliament, who urged Lord Tu‘iha‘ateiho to remain as Acting Speaker of the House.

The House was in a state of a shock with the resignation that happened while the Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano was away sick, and the Speaker was on his way to the airport to go overseas.

Lord Tu'iha'ateiho did not give a specific reason for his resignation but said he felt, "incompetent for the position. The people are demanding that the best people do the job, and that was why I decided to resign because I could no longer continue."

Integrity

The Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards told the House that he believed that the reason for the Acting Speaker's sudden resignation was because of an obvious sense that he did not have the integrity to be the Acting Speaker, while a criminal charge for unlawful possession of firearms had been laid against him.

Lord Tu'iha'ateiho appeared for Committal Hearing in the Magistrate’s Court yesterday, 26 August, and a hearing was postponed to 30 September by the Chief Magistrate Salesi Mafi, who ordered the Crown and the defence to file written documents with the court before 30 September.

Hon. Clive Edwards praised Lord Tu'iha'ateiho for his sense of integrity but he reminded him that under the Tongan law, one remained innocent unless he or she was proven guilty in court.

Many criminal charges

He told Lord Tu'iha'ateiho that many members of the Tongan parliament, including himself had been charged with criminal offences, but they did not resign. He reminded them that following the riots some of them were charged, but they remained in parliament while the hearing was going on for a number of years.

He also reminded the noble that under a recent amendment to the Tongan law, that one would not lose his job as a civil servant or his noble title even if he was found guilty and sentenced to less than two years in jail.

He advised the noble not to resign because the crime that he was charged with, even if he was found guilty, would have a maximum sentence of not more than two years in jail and therefore he would not lose his noble title.

Parliament reduced penalties

The Tonga Parliament last year 2012 passed an amendment to the Arms and Ammunition Bill 2012 and reduced the penalty for the illegal possession of arms from five years to one year or a fine not exceeding TOP$5,000 [US$2,698] or to both fine and imprisonment and for the illegal possession of ammunition from two years to one year or a fine not exceeding TOP$2,000 [US$1,079] or to both such fine and imprisonment.

The former Speaker Lord Tu'ilakepa, who has also been charged with the illegal possession of a firearm, told Lord Tu'iha'ateiho that he had also wanted to resign as a Speaker, but he did not, after he was told by the late King George Tupou V that he was being rebellious to the King’s decision to appoint him as the Speaker of the House.

He told Lord Ha'ateiho to remain as Speaker.

Lord Vaea, the Minister for Internal Affairs told Lord Tu'iha'ateiho to be a brave leader, that he "is the man on the helm" and he should remain there. With a bit of Tongan oratory he told the Speaker to cast out the fishing net because they were ready to fish, and to continue with the proceedings of the House.

Sunia Fili a People's Representative (PR), the Chairman of the Whole House Committee reminded the Acting Speaker that he was officially elected as Deputy Speaker by the House, and it was the king who appointed him as Deputy Speaker. He suggested for the Acting Speaker to remain as Speaker until the return of either the Prime Minister or the Speaker.

Dr. Sitiveni Halapua a PR, suggested that the House take a break while the Acting Speaker talked to the Prime Minister on the telephone. He expressed his hope that the Prime Minister would pressure him to remain as Speaker.

Rushed back from airport

Sione Taione a PR, supported the move for the House to have a break, and for the Acting Speaker to go and talk to the Speaker, whom he heard had rushed back from the airport and was in his office.

Semisi Tapueluelu a PR, was very emotional when he stressed for Lord Tu'iha'ateiho not to resign. He reminded him that under the law a person was innocent until proven guilty.

Lord Tu'ilakepa was dismayed with the going-ons in the House, he said that it was a set-up, and it was like a movie script.

The House broke for morning tea and when they returned, nothing was said about the resignation of the Acting Speaker. The Legislature dissolved into Whole House Committee and the rest of the day was spent debating the Family Bill that was tabled into the House by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

Lord Tu'iha'ateiho remained as Acting Speaker for the rest of the day.

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