Tongan Minister Denies Illegal Campaigning Charges

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Lavulavu: Witnesses ‘misinterpreted’ meaning of money he gave

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 9, 2015) – Hon ‘Etuate Lavulavu denied allegations of illegal campaigning and corruption in the 2014 General Election, during his evidence to the Supreme Court in Neiafu on Friday, 4 December.

The trial to hear an election petition filed against him by Viliami Uasike Latu was adjourned to continue Monday, 14 December.

‘Anau Taufa reported from Neiafu that this was because the Chief Justice O.G. Paulsen had to return to Nuku’alofa for an engagement.

Lavulavu, the Minister of Tourism and Vava’u 16 People’s Representative to Parliament, completed his evidence on 4 December. He denied allegations that he gave money to get votes and that he personally carried out road construction in Leimatu’a from September-November last year, as part of his campaign, as alleged by some of the witnesses for the petitioner’s side.

He confirmed that he did give the money as claimed by some of the women witnesses on November 26, 2014, but it was never his thought that the money he gave to the weaving group Sei-‘o-Lepuha and Melekiola was to buy their votes, he said, because he is "not a fool to break the law."

"The witnesses were wrong in interpreting of my giving because the money was intended to be used by them for refreshment for this kind of get together," he said.

Lavulavu added that he did this as his responsibility under a Development and Agriculture Women Council of Lematu’a.

"My campaigning for the election was already completed in the past year as I had visited more than 700 homes in Vava’u 16, and the people had told me not to worry about my campaign because their votes were ready," he said.

Lavulavu said he was already content after his campaign visits because he had visited all churches, schools, kava clubs, weaving groups and went door to door and greeted the people in his constituency, Vava’u 16.

The petitioner’s counsel William Clive Edwards asked him whether he knew that the law prohibited giving any gift or money three-months prior to the election.

Lavulavu answered that he knew the law well and he was not a fool to break it but the money was given was just for refreshment for these women.

He also denied statements by witnesses that he had personally carried out the road construction in Leimatu’a as part of his campaign from around September to November 2014.

Lonnie Waterhouse the General Manager for the roadworks in Vava’u said that Lavulavu had came to ask him about using government’s equipment and trucks for the road construction.

Mateaki Guttenbeil a clerk at the petrol station that filled these trucks for this road construction said Lavulavu came and negotiated the petrol deal and at numerous times paid for the petrol on different dates, and one of the payments was made to UTRI or 'Unuaki-o-Tonga. Institute, which he runs.

‘Anau reported that Lavulavu also denied these allegations saying that Lonnie’s statement was false because he did not negotiate with him nor did he ask to use the equipment for the road construction.

He also said Mateki’s statement was untrue because he negotiated with his wife and not him.

The road construction was carried out by and behalf of the road construction council of Vava’u and was not his own personal initiative, Lavulavu told the court.

The court had heard this road construction program had extended to all 47 roads in Vava’u 16.

The trial by judge alone which is currently hearing witnesses from the defendant’s side is expected to continue next Monday.

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