The Tu’i’onetoa government faces serious public criticism after the release of an audio recording that appears to show  horse-trading for a deal in exchange for persuading members of Parliament to defect or join the coalition government.

Kaniva news has been unable to independently  verify the audio or identify the speakers. Former member of Parliament, ‘Etuate Lavulavu has not responded to our request for comment on claims that he is the caller in the recording.

It appears that the audio was secretly recorded during a telephone conversation between the caller and a senior government officer who apparently works at the Ministry of Land and Survey.

The caller can be heard telling the officer that he wanted Lord Ma’afu to be the Minister of Land, Survey and Natural Resources. He told the receiver he wanted the lease for the land in which he and his family currently living to be approved.

There is no evidence that Lord Ma’afu was aware of the conversation.

The caller said a previous application had been declined.  

He said he wanted Lord Ma’afu to allow the land to be leased for 99 years, to which the government officer replied that might be possible if he would bring a member of his family to join the nobility in their attempt to form a new government.

The caller also asked for help in resolving an issue with a group of Chinese who leased land from him in Tofoa.

The officer said he could arrange this.

The caller then said they would form the new government and that he wanted the newly appointed cabinet ministers to return to parliament in 2021.

He said he deliberately planned in the weeks before the premiership election to cause chaos during a PTOA (Democrat) party meeting to make them disunited and disorganized so that it would make setting up of the new party and government successful.

Five MPs from the Democrats eventually defected and joined the new party. They were all appointed cabinet ministers today.

Reactions

In the recording the caller claimed he was the engineer (“’enisinia”) of the new coalition government which included MPs from the Democrats, Nobles and Independents.

Online users have called on the Prime Minister to step down.

They also criticised the way how the new government was formed.

Lavulavu

There has been public disquiet about the level of involvement of ‘Etuate Lavulavu in politics in recent weeks.

The Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’onetoa responded to criticism from the public and said last week Lavulavu was not his advisor.

Public concern has centred on ‘Lavulavu‘s criminal record and the fact that his wife, who is also under investigation, is the Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism.

The Supreme Court convicted Lavulavu in 2016 of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign. At his trial the judge said Lavulavu was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.  

He and his wife are waiting another court case in which they aere charged with knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016.

The main points

  • The Tu’i’onetoa government faces serious criticism after the release of an audio recording that appears to show  horse-trading for a deal in exchange for persuading members of Parliament to defect or join the coalition government.
  • Kaniva news has been unable to independently the identities of the people in the audio. Former member of Parliament ‘Etuate Lavulavu has not responded to our request for comment on claims that he is the caller in the recording.

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