Pōhiva blames T$60,000 ceremony bill rejection for cabinet shakeup

Former Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni (left) and former Minister of Finance Tēvita Lavemaau. Images: Kaniva News

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

Tongan interim Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva says he suspected his rejection of a proposal by the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister to spend T$60,000 on the opening celebration of the St George Palace government building had turned the duo against him.

Pōhiva sacked Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni and Minister of Finance Tēvita Lavemaau on Friday before he left for Samoa to attend the Pacific Leaders Forum this week.

His son and personal assistant, Po’oi Pōhiva, told Kaniva News the Prime Minister had submitted the letter of their dismissals to the king on Friday evening.

He said they received a message from the Lord Chamberlain saying that he had handed in the letter to the King.

Po’oi said the Prime Minister was expecting a response from the King yesterday.

Lavemaau and Sovaleni proposed to the cabinet that TP$60,000 be allocated to help fund the preparations for the opening ceremony of the St George Palace on Friday.

Pōhiva said he and some of the ministers who attended a cabinet meeting did not approve the proposal as they thought it was a huge amount of money to be spent on the ceremony.

Parliament dissolved
King Tupou VI, who suddenly dissolved Parliament on August 24 and put Pōhiva and his government in caretaker mode, opened the new multimillion pa’anga St George Government Building on Friday.

He was welcomed by the Prime Minister during the ceremony and they shook hands before the King left the event.

The T$28 million building project was funded by the Chinese government in an agreement signed in 2012.

The fully equipped building with a floor area of around 5745 sq m has housed the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Finance and National Planning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Chambers.

The interim Prime Minister alleged Sovaleni and Lavemaau knew about the plan of the King and Speaker, Lord Tu’ivakano, to dissolve Parliament, but they did not warn him because they were holding a grudge against him after their proposal had been rejected, he told Radio Tonga Broadcom and Tonga Daily News on Sunday night.

Pōhiva said he was disappointed with Sovaleni and Lavemaau’s action in that they should have warmed him about the dissolution.

He implied that if he had been warned of the plan to dissolve the House he might have approached the King first.

He said he found out when he arrived in New Zealand on his way to Samoa last week some people in New Zealand knew the King was going to dissolve Parliament.

Other concerns
Pōhiva said there were other things he was concerned about towards the two ministers but he did not reveal them.

It appeared the dismissals did not go through cabinet before they were made, as they shocked some of the ministers who only found about the decision from Kaniva News on Saturday morning.

It appeared Pōhiva did not approach Lavemaau and Sovaleni about their dismissals and the Prime Minister did not say whether he had proof the ministers knew about the plan to dissolve Parliament.

The two dismissed cabinet members reportedly said they knew nothing about their dismissals.

Dr Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa, who was appointed as replacement Minister of Finance, did not know about his appointment.

He said he only knew about it from Kaniva News and he had not received any message about it.

Pōhiva confirmed on Sunday night he had also appointed Lord Ma’afu as Deputy Prime Minister and oasi Tei to the MEIDECC.

Lord Ma’afu told Radio New Zealand he was unaware of his appointment and the reshuffle.

Pōhiva said he would not appoint new ministers from outside cabinet after the dismissals of Sovaleni and Lavemaau.

Acting Attorney-General ‘Aminiasi Kefu told the radio Pōhiva still held the power to dismiss any of his ministers while the government was in caretaker mode.

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