By Kalafi Moala
29 December 2020 – As we look back over the year 2020, other than the global pandemic, the biggest news story, at least in the Kingdom of Tonga, continues to be the Prime Minister and his newly formed political party (PAK), who failed miserably to garner sufficient trust, not only from the public but also from his fellow parliamentarians, resulting in a motion for a Vote Of No Confidence (VONC).
If it were up to the public, it seemed, the Rev. Dr. Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa would have been ousted some time ago. But a Parliamentary VONC planned for 20 January would determine his future as Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister and his co-leader of the People’s Party (PAK), ‘Etuate Lavulavu, have lived in the illusion that they have successfully fooled the people of Tonga by their clever public proclamations and defense of their policies and questionable activities mired in business dealings involving massive conflict of interests of his own Cabinet members and political party advocates.
A national prayer and fasting campaign became a cloak of religious pretentiousness with the Prime Minister and his entourage appear to be on a campaign trail targeting specific villages for his upcoming re-election in 2021. Expensive celebrations and feasting accompanied the breaking of the fasts and became enticements for people to treat him in ways reserved only for the King. But worse of all, fanatical followers start treating him like a god of sorts, ignoring the contradictory evidence at hand about his character and his controversial chief advisor.
To have a weak-minded executive leader who is being spoon fed by an alleged con man and a convicted felon, who is facing more criminal charges in court is simply unfathomable to comprehend by the average thinking person.
Excessive spending of taxpayer funds under the guise of religious activities used to carry out political campaigning; projects worth millions of dollars selectively given to benefit friends and family marked this administration of Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa as the most corrupt of any in recent times.
A media coverage during the year, not only named him as more dangerous for Tonga than COVID-19 19, but also affirms the fact that he has done worse in less than one and a half years, compared with the previous Prime Minister’s five years in office.
He was named as the worse Prime Minister in Tonga’s recent history.
A year with repeat mistreatment of Government employees
In the transition period from 2019 to 2020, on December 30th, a remarkable judgment by the Supreme Court of Tonga concluded a case that has lingered for two years, ruling that the firing of the former head of the Tonga Communications Corporation (TCC) was unfair.
The Court awarded Mr. Rizvi Jurangpathy $US70,000 (about $150,000 pa’anga) for damages and loss of income. Chief Justice Whitten said the corporation failed to act fairly or reasonably towards Mr. Jurangpathy.
A committee of three board members assigned to investigate and interview Mr. Jurangpathy treated him unfairly as they resorted to “yelling, intimidation and belittling”, threatening at one point to throw him out a window.
The Government of late Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva was blamed for the unfair treatment and dismissal of the TCC CEO in 2017. It took two years for this case to be concluded.
When Prime Minister Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa with his new cabinet took over the executive administration of Government in September of 2019, there was hope that they would do better in the treatment of Government employees. There was hope they would be more just in their practices than the previous administration.
But as 2020 unfolded, the new Government continued, even worse in their controlling and unjust treatment of Government workers or employees of Public Enterprises in several cases.
There were two high profile examples covered by Fangongo Media Watch. The suspension and eventual dismissal of TBC station manager, Chief Reporter, and another news reporter became a case and point of unjust mistreatment at Tonga’s biggest media company.
Mrs. Setita Tu’i’onetoa, Ms. Salamo Fulivai, and Mr. Soni Tu’iniua were dismissed for trumped up charges. The facts that unfolded concerning how they were mistreated, implicated the Prime Minister who was Minister of Public Enterprises. Evidence of his communication to the reporters reveals a practice of cyber bullying and intimidation, with Salamo as well as with Setita.
To this day, the Prime Minister has not apologized for his dominating behavior, and as Minister of Public Enterprises his actions seemed to encourage this kind of behavior in the ministry. The three reporters have been dismissed, despite reports they may sue Government for wrongful dismissal.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister and his Government has introduced into Parliament a “cyber bullying” bill, that could soon become an Act.
The story of the suspension of the Acting CEO and three other high-profile staff members of the Tonga Power Limited (TPL) was a case that attracted much attention. It also revealed the state of mind that could be in a Board of Directors, as the Board re-employed a person dismissed by the previous Board for inappropriate sexual behavior; but then used this person to launch all kinds of wild accusations against other staff members.
The stories that covered what went on at TPL became the most read stories of the year at Fangongo Media Watch.
A welcomed outcome was reached whereby the four staff members of TPL were reinstated, despite the attempt to find reasons to dismiss them.
No Covid death but loss of lives seemed to be more so in 2020
There has not been a case of COVID-19 19 in Tonga, yet the deaths from many different causes seemed to make 2020 a “funeral filled” year.
Prominent among those who died in 2020 was the sudden departure of Dr. Netatua Prescott Taufatofua. She was a leading scientist in the environment field, but also a community leader who was going to stand as a candidate for Tongatapu 1 in 2021.
The other prominent deaths of 2020 were the leader of Tokaikolo Fellowship, and Founder of Lavengamalie College and Christian University in the Pacific, Rev. Dr. Liufau Saulala.
Mosese Lavemai, former CEO of Ports Authority, died too young in December from an illness. Others like Rev. Silakivai ‘Ahoafi died of drowing in Ha’apai, and several more too long to list.
Crime during lockdown
Within a month after lockdown curfew on 28 March, total reported crime has dropped by 37%. This did not mean that crime dropped necessarily. It only means those crimes reported. Anyway, within the first month of restrictions, 357 people were arrested for violating the curfew; 77 arrested for drunkenness in public places; 33 arrested for illicit drugs; 28 for domestic violence, including assault, theft, and other crimes.
Violence against woman and children has been on the rise however, and stories covered from Women and Children’s Crisis Center) WCCC) gave much public attention to the problem.
A story based on a talanoa session with Dr. Siaosi ‘Aho, pediatrician from Vaiola Hospital, and ‘Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki of WCCC, who were part of a study survey team, with a shocking report revealing that high maltreatment of children is a problem in Tonga.
Launch of Lulutai Airlines
Government-owned Lulutai Airlines was launched even in the midst of much controversy, in which the Prime Minister played a major role in the mis-communication concerning safety issues, and lying concerning what took place with one of the officials of the airline.
Good coverage on the issues leading up to the launch of Lulutai gave the public a better understanding of what happened.
Lulutai flies to Vava’u, Ha’apai, and ‘Eua.
Business, Watermelon shipments, and Private sector
A shipment of watermelons was discovered to have fruit fly larvae caused a ban on watermelon shipments from Tonga to New Zealand. After 2 and ½ months, the ban was temporarily lifted but a planned shipment was late, and the ship left for New Zealand without the watermelons.
Both incidences were blamed on inadequate service from the Tonga Quarantine Services of MAFF. But a shipment by air organized by Nishi Trading Company was successful, just before Christmas, and growers got paid for their exported watermelons. One of the sweetest stories of 2020.
Calls for Government to support the Private Sector instead of trying to compete with it became a major subject of public discussion.
Safe from Zazu and Yasa
Toward the end of the year, Tropical Cyclone Zazu (category 1) came by Tonga but without incident. And so was Tropical Cyclone Yasa, after devastation in parts of Vanualevu in Fiji with Category 5 wind force, it decreased to a category 3, and went past Tonga, with some rain and stormy weather, but again, without much incident.
Education, Health, and Sports
Ministries that were showing signs of good governance included Health and Education. Health did well with the management of the threat of COVID-19. Communication was generally good, and management of repatriation flights and quarantine services were carried out well despite minor problems.
As for Education, the end of the year graduation and celebrations went very well, and a high standard of achievement for 2020 is highly commendable.
Despite successful performances by Tongan sportsmen and women overseas, like Taniela Tupou of the Queensland Reds and Wallabies, Tonga had to try and make amends for the problems at home. Chief among them were the problems with Tonga Rugby Union, as well as Tonga Rugby League. Both had to do with the administration bodies.
The misdirected Tonga Sports Council was dismantled by Government, and their Chairman, ‘Ikani Taliai is being sued for defamation by Lords Sevele and Tupou.
Thus, ended an uneventful year for professional sports in Tonga.
The Chinese stories and issues
Journalist Filo ‘Akau’ola started running stories critical of the Chinese Government and its policies and started raising questions concerning China/Tonga relations. Former Diplomat and Soldier Siamelie Latu challenged ‘Akau’ola on his views with a strong article that defended and explained what China was doing in Tonga.
A series of two articles on Fangongo dealt with the issues raised by the two men, and a third article will follow in the new year with an illuminating interview with Ambassador Cao Xiaolin.
Looking forward to 2021
As we looked back at 2020, there are mixed emotions as we scan the main stories of the year. Some are good, some bad, and others are deeply concerning. No doubt some of the issues will carry over to 2021. But there’s hope that new leadership, and a new Cabinet will form a new Government of good governance. Otherwise, there will be just more of the same, unless of-course a major visitation from the Holy Spirit as at ‘Utui in 1834 that would make a difference for the future.