Is Hon Lavulavu still Minister of Tourism? PM’s office says work still in progress on statement

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UPDATED: Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has still not announced what will happen to outgoing MP ‘Etuate Sungalu Lavulavu’s ministerial post, amid speculation that the PM will try to keep the disgraced politician in government.

Lavulavu became Minister for Tourism after he was elected to Parliament as the Member for Vavaʻu 16 in the 2014 general election.

He was stripped of his parliamentary seat on Monday after the Supreme Court found him guilty of bribery and overspending during the 2014 election.

Some who talked to Kaniva News but did not want to be named said the minister was still seen in his office after the Speaker of the House declared Lavulavu was “unseated” from the House on Monday

Tonga’s Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet Dr Palenitina Langa’oi said work on a statement was still in process.

We contacted Lavulavu for comments and in his response we received this morning he told us to contact the Chief Secretary.

According to clause 51 (3) (c) of Tonga’s constitution the Supreme Court’s conviction of Lavulavu together with the official announcement by the Speaker that he has been disqualified from Parliament means Lavulavu cannot keep his ministerial position.

According to the constitution clause 51 (3)  a minister shall retain his position as Minister until –

(a)     his appointment is revoked by the King on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or in accordance with clause 50B;

(b)     he dies, resigns or is dismissed from office following impeachment under clause 75; or

(c)     he becomes ineligible to hold the office in accordance with this Constitution or any other law.

Tonga’s Acting Attorney General said Lavulavu was appointed to the ministry by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva because he was elected by the people in the general election.

He said Lavulavu no longer belonged to the Parliament or the government. He could return to Parliament if he was re-elected.

He said the captain or vice-captain of a rugby team retained their positions only because they were elected by the team. Once they were dropped from the team they lost their positions.

Lavulavu has indicated he will appeal his sentence however if the Appeal Court will uphold the Supreme Court’s decision against him clause 40 of Tonga’s Electoral Act 1989 stipulates he “may not be nominated as a candidate at any election held within 5 years of the date when he is ordered to be unseated”.

Speculation

Since Lavulavu’s disqualification from Parliament there has been speculation about what will happen to his ministerial position.

Both Pohiva’s supporters and critics have speculated to Kaniva News that the Prime Minister will try to keep Lavulavu in the government.

They based their prediction on the fact that Lavulavu escaped impeachment in Parliament last year because the Prime Minister asked the House to leave it to him to punish the minister.

Lavulavu was accused of misusing his power by ordering works to be done in Vava’u without going through the procurement committee.

Hon Pohiva punished Lavulavu by removing him as Minister of Infrastructure but still retain him as Minister of Tourism. He was also ordered to work without pay for five months  starting in January 2016.

Critics, and even some supporters of Pohiva, thought he would sack Lavulavu, but he did not.

Hon. Pohiva argued that dismissing Lavulavu would be too harsh as he did not misappropriate public funds and he instigated projects for the people of Vava’u.

Kaniva News understands Lavulavu was instrumental in negotiating with the independent MPs to vote for Hon. Pohiva to become Tonga’s Prime Minister in 2014.

He was also one of the most active minister in the current cabinet.

Hon, Pohiva told us in a previous interview that none of his ministers would beat Lavulavu in doing what he wanted to do for the benefit of the nation, apart from doing his normal ministerial duties.

The main points

  • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has still not announced what will happen to outgoing MP ‘Etuate Sungalu Lavulavu’s ministerial post, amid speculation that the PM will try to keep the disgraced politician in government.
  • Lavulavu became Minister for Tourism after he was elected to Parliament as the Member for Vava’u 16 in the 2014 general election.
  • He was stripped of his parliamentary seat on Monday after the Supreme Court found him guilty of bribery and overspending during the 2014 election.
  • Kaniva News has been told the minister was seen in his office after the Speaker of the House declared Lavulavu had been “unseated” from Parliament on Monday.

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