Tonga PM On Parliament’s Right To Process The Vote Of No Confidence, "The Leader Has The Final Say"

PM denies constitutionality of parliamentary "no-confidence" motions, hence no need to amend constitution

By Pesi Fonua

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 05, 2017) – Tonga’s Prime Minister Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva disputed parliament’s right to process the motion for a Vote of No Confidence in him, telling the Tongan media that the "Leader [PM] has the final say", during a press conference he called on Friday, 3 March, at the Epworth Hall, Nuku'alofa.

When we were invited to the Press Conference with the Prime Minister, no specific topic was mentioned, but in his opening remarks Hon. Pohiva said that he wanted talk about some very important issues, and he had four other Cabinet Ministers present to help him.

Accompanying the Prime Minister were the Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni, the Minister for Revenue Collection and Custom, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau; the Minister of Health, Hon. Dr Saia Piukala; and the Minister for Public Enterprises, Hon. Poasi Mataele Tei.

Top on the list of the important national issues that the PM wanted to talk about were two videos, which had been produced and referred to in the House as Clauses 6 and 9 of his response to the motion for the Vote of No Confidence.

Deleted paragraphs

These clauses or paragraphs were deleted from his response because the House considered the statements to be defamatory.

Clause 6 referred to a letter he wrote to the King expressing his dislike with a decision that was made by the Acting Attorney General, ‘Aminiasi Kefu.

Clause 9 related to his call for Dr Feleti Sevele to resign as the Chairman and the CEO of the 2019 Pacific Games Organizing Committee. This particular case ended up in the Supreme Court, and the PM was told that he was wrong and he had to pay for Dr Feleti Sevele’s salaries since he was fired, and court costs.

Questions

Questions were asked relating to the PM's response to the motion for the Vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister that was rejected by the House, particularly trying to clarify PM's claim that the House was "trespassing" 

Question: "What is the basis for your claim that the House was trespassing when they accepted, deliberated and then voted on a motion for a Vote of No Confidence in you, the Prime Minister? That right is clearly stated in the Constitution - Clause 50B Votes of No Confidence:

  1. " If the Legislative Assembly passes a motion described as a “Vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister” in accordance with this clause, then upon delivery of that resolution to the King by the Speaker, the Prime Minister and all Ministers shall be deemed to have resigned and their appointments revoked. "

But there was no clarity. The Prime Minister ambiguously said that the Constitution is referring to a different thing.

He then went on to repeat what he told parliament that the four authorities that have the power to dismiss him as Prime Minister are:

  1. Himself
  2. Cabinet Ministers
  3. The voters who elected him into parliament
  4. His Majesty the King who has the power to dissolve parliament.

Question: "How can you deny that the House has the right, after you led a group of Members of Parliament to table a motion for a Vote of No Confidence in Tonga's first elected Prime Minister in 2012 under our new Electoral system?"

Again there was no clear answer.

Question: "So are you going to amend Clause 50 (B) of the Constitution?"

The PM insisted that the Constitution is referring to a different thing.

“I question the right of these people who did not elect me as Prime Minister,” said PM Pohiva.

Question: "What else are you intending to change in our electoral system besides the Nobles’ Representatives being elected by the people and not only by the nobles?"

Instead of answering the question, the PM went on about how the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner are selected by the Privy Council and are therefore answerable only to the Privy Council and not to the Cabinet.

Laumanu Petelo from the Tonga Broadcasting Commission reminded the Prime Minister of his favourite saying, "to leave it for the people to decide". However in the case of the PM's decision as the Minister of Education to replace the Standardized Marking System with Raw Marks, when a majority of the people wanted the marking system to remain with the Standardized Marking System, but the PM proceeded anyway and reintroduced Raw Marks.

"The leader has the final say," said the Prime Minister.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
Copyright © 2017 Matangi Tonga. All Rights Reserved

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