Tongan govt tight-lipped about King’s withdrawal of consent for ministers

Tonga's King Tupou VI
Tonga's King Tupou VI . . . declined Cabinet appointments. Image: Kaniva Tonga

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

Just days after the appointment of Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola as Tonga’s new Minister of Health, King Tupou VI has withdrawn his consent for two other Cabinet appointments.

An undated memo from the Lord Privy Seal, Viliami Malolo, to Chief Secretary of the Cabinet Paula Ma’u seen by Kaniva News details the king’s refusal to accept the appointments.

“His Majety was pleased by and with the advice of his Privy Council to withdraw His confidence and consent to the appointment of the Hon. Hu’akavameliku as Minister or His Majesty’s Armed Forces,” the royal memo said.

The memo said the king was also withdrawing consent for the appointment of the Hon. Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Tourism.

Several Cabinet appointments have yet to be ratified by the king.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku
Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku . . . Cabinet appointments vetoed by the King. Image: Kaniva Tonga/Radio FM87.5

Last year Prime Minister Hu’akavameliku said he had nominated a new Minister to replace former Minister of Fisheries Semisi Fakahau. That nomination has yet to be ratified by the king.

Reports at the time suggested the Prime Minister had also nominated a replacement for the Minister of Police.

The government is remaining tight-lipped about the King’s action.

Kaniva News has asked the Chief Secretary and Prime Minister whether they have received the King’s memo.

‘Repeatedly refused answers’
In an interview with Broadcom Broadcasting, Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu did not deny the existence of the memo. However, he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the King’s withdrawal of his consent to the appointments.

He said Cabinet was working on a response and would release a statement later.

Hon. Vaipulu said the Prime Minister was currently overseas.

The PM’s nomination of a new Minister of Fisheries has yet to be appointed.

The King can only revoke a Minister’s appointment if he has been advised by the Prime Minister according to Clause 51 of the Constitution.

Kaniva comments: Hon. Fekita Utoikamanu was appointed from outside Cabinet. It is unclear how she would be affected by the King’s decision. There appears to be no clause in the Constitution allowing His Majesty to withdraw his appointment of any minister after their appointment.

The question is whether Hon. Utoikamanu would remain as Minister despite the king’s withdrawal of his approval.

The fact that the King withdrew his consent following the advice of the Privy Council will also re-awaken concerns raised as far back as 2017 about the role of the king’s counsellors.

The then Justice Minister Vuna Fā’otusia said decisions made by Parliament were sometimes vetoed by His Majesty because of advice from the Privy Council.

He said the members of the council were not chosen by the people.

It is about a decade since lawyer Peter Pursglove said that Tonga’s 2010 Constitution was the poorest among all Commonwealth countries. He made suggestions to improve it, but progress had been stalled.

Pursglove expressed concern about the role and the establishment of the Privy Council.

Republished in partnership with Kaniva Tonga.

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