By Kalafi Moala
Nuku’alofa, Tonga – It is unprecedented, at least for this Prime Minister and his administration, that a call for his resignation awaited him when he arrived in Vava’u last week. He was visiting Vava’u with his usual entourage of Ministers and their wives for the third national prayer and fasting tour, which he leads and spends taxpayer money to fund.
A small group of protesters in Vava’u had banners hung from the sides of trucks, and one of those banners, in Tongan language, calls for him “to resign”. The Vava’u banner spoke loudly representing the voices of many people throughout the kingdom who have been discontented with the Prime Minister’s performance, and are starting to express their views, that he should resign.
He has only been in office just over a year, and he is found wanting, despite the strong propaganda campaign about himself that is carried out by his chief advisor (and by himself), and co-leader of the People’s Party, Mr. ‘Etuate Lavulavu.
The People’s representative from one of the three constituencies of Vava’u is Lavulavu’s wife, ‘Akosita, and she is also the Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism, a portfolio that would have been given to Mr. Lavulavu had he been in Parliament. But obviously there is a split in Vava’u among those who are supporters of the PM and those opposed.
But the most damning banner written up in large letters carries a message for the Prime Minister and everyone else to see: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time but U-cannot fool – Vava’u all the time.”
The banner message reflects the growing distrust by people in a Prime Minister who busies himself with celebratory activities that many regard as pretentious and falsely religious, yet ignores the plight of the poor and needy.
Failing to initiate any plan to build the social (and spiritual) life of the society, he can only steer his illusional rhetoric to the physical – the fixing of roads, and the building of houses.
He is also bitterly defensive of the criticism against him for his frivolous spending of taxpayer money on the national fasting tours. A conservative estimate of $500,000 will be spent before the tours are over.
While supporters of the Prime Minister play down the effect of the Vava’u protest on the scheduled activities for the Prime Minister, witnesses observed his expressed shocked disappointment at the protest. But he could no longer ignore the messages that the banners carry.
In earlier discussions about the excessive expenditure of the fasting tours, the Prime Minister reacted in anger saying that travel allowances for the wives of Ministers and officials is “only $95 per day per wife”. He arrogantly added, “it’s peanuts” compared with the expenses in throwing money (fakapale) for dancers. He justified the spending of money on the wives and the fakapale as “circulating the cash” among the people to build the economy.
But the Prime Minister did not reveal there are laborers working for Government that nets less than $100 a week, while the fasting tours award $95 a day to any wife who accompanies their husbands on the tours.
The Prime Minister was also selective in giving information. He did not reveal that there’s actually over $900 per diem per day paid to each fasting tourist.
With no tourists visiting the country from overseas because of the Covid 19 lockdown, the Government is assisting the tourism industry by creating it’s own brand of tourism at the expense of taxpayers. It’s called fasting tourists.
At least people are starting to see the economic planning of this former Auditor General who now leads the country. He speaks one thing to justify his actions, and then non-transparent about the fact he puts his Constituency Office on his own property, despite requests from Lapaha to place the office there.
The office is out of the way where he lives, but he benefits from it because his wife is being paid rent of $1000 a month for the office. And to top it off, the so-called development promised for Tonga – roads and houses – has started in his area, with his home and surrounding vicinity of Niutao.
A man who had to cross the line in Parliament for what was obviously a betrayal of his former leader and party, was given initially warm support because as one noble said: “at least he replaces ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who was a great disappointment.”
But as one businessman in Nuku’alofa says: “’Akilisi made some mistakes, but they were not as deliberate as this guy. This Prime Minister in only one year has turned out to be the worst we’ve ever had.”
Those who had suffered broken hopes from the former administration of ‘Akilisi Pohiva and his PTOA party were cautiously supporting Rev. Dr. Pohiva Tu’ionetoa, not because he had proven himself as a good leader but because he had become the favored alternative to ‘Akilisi and PTOA.
Most of his supporters were those who hated ‘Akilisi and PTOA in the first place. Their support of him was simply a negative reaction to the former PM and his party. In the same way, the supporters of PTOA stood in opposition to Dr. Tu’i’onetoa, because they claim he entered Parliament because of ‘Akilisi’s endorsement, and then carried out a betrayal to become Prime Minister. But that is politics!
But then this man who is an ordained Minister (where his Rev title comes from), and an assumed academic (where his Bible Doctorate title comes from) turns out to be not only weak and insecure, but also arrogant and a self-promoter listening to no one but himself and his party’s co-leaders, ‘Etuate Lavulavu.
A Church Minister who did not want to be named said that Rev. Dr. Tu’i’onetoa has brought disrepute to those with Rev. titles, because he acts so differently from what his title represents. “He makes a mockery of being a Church Minister!” he says. “We are still waiting for repentance to be featured in this un-Biblical way of carrying out a national prayer and fasting.”
One critic calls him blind and deaf: “blind because he does not see where he is going, and deaf because he does not listen.” The critic was asked why he does not want to be named in this article, to which he responded: “Because there are so many blind people following the blind, and I do not want to end up being attacked by these fanatical and blind supporters of the Prime Minister.”
But the day of accounting is fast approaching for this Prime Minister. And as a former Auditor General, he should understand the pathway of leadership anyone goes through: the auditing has started, and what is known so far is not good at all. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
He is accountable to the people of Tonga; and to His Majesty the King; but more so to the God he often speaks with religious oratory about, but never reflects His character and behavior.
The call for his resignation is neither senseless nor without basis.