Kalafi MoalaCalafi Moala
Calafi Moala: Isn' t Tonga's democracy heroes up to the mark?
Akilisi Pohiva, who paid his first state trip to New Zealand a few months ago, was the main pro-democracy leader of Tonga for three decade . In 2014, when he eventually became premier of the archipelago, there were high expectations. The Tongan reporter Kalafi Moala, one of his former press advisors, looks back on the disillusioning achievements of the "Prime Minster of the People".
In 2015, when I was asked to join Tonga's team as a press advisor to Samuela'Akilisi Pohiva, I took the opportunity. It was the first year that I was in any ministry in the United States. I was often at gunpoint with the Tonga administration as journalist for the first Tonga paper, Taimi'o Tonga.
However, Pohiva was a long-time partner and associate and Tonga's first democratic premier. I was very pleased with the issue of good administration, which Pohiva proclaimed to be the operative flag of his new state. That was a phrase that was reiterated in almost every address by the new PM.
This was a key topic in Pohiva's critique of former administrations and his pursuit of authority. However, before I even join the PM's team, two things were happening in the first weeks of the new administration that arose. First Pohiva named his boy his personal aide.
However, he made the plea that his boy was best able to know his needs (e.g. when to give him his medication) - and he flinched the official critique by saying that he was already paid for his own child from his own wages and not from the state.
It became a model when the new regime began to take over the reigns of the state. When he was elected, he was widely regarded as the "Prime Minster of the People". But after 20 month in power, the judges have already come back with a judgement that mainly criticizes the performance of Pohiva and his state.
Now many call him the poorest premier in Tonga's story. Pohiva recently paid a state mission to New Zealand, revealing the kind of issues for which he was criticized. More than a few "lost passports" dotted around the site, but the most serious was his absence from the picket for five Tongans who had been murdered a few months ago in a road accident in the small city of Katikati in Plenty Bay.
Indeed, he is seen on the ground as being of no relevance to governance. Pohiva in his inauguration speech in January 2015 pledged "to close the problems of the past because we still have unsolved questions of our own interest that need to be resolved". One of the dark spots was Pohiva's "Interview" with Forbes in 2015, shortly after he became premier.
Asked why the interviewer was so costly, Pohiva claimed not to know anything about it. Said he didn't know it was going to be a remunerated conversation and tried to put the finger on the Secretary of the Treasury because the individual who was signing the contract with Forbes and approving the pay.
But as it turned out later, the deal and settlement was made with Pohiva's full understanding and consent. As Pohiva took up his post, I suggested that his greatest challenges would be to shift his attitude from an attitude of oppositions to a regimeality. With everything that Pohiva has spoken of in the past about openness, it seems that this was meant for others, not for himself or his regim.
One of these "hard questions" was that Ms. Ulakai barbecued the premier about the supposed participation of his oldest boy and his son's counterpart in a million-dollar drug dealing (with the Education Ministry). Other serious problems to which the PM could not react.
Pohiva's administration has been in power for almost two years and many people's expectations are being called into question. In addition, the absence of openness in the office of Prime Minister and the way the reforms have been implemented in the Education Department, together with the poorly-run restructuring of the Public Enterprise Department, and Pohiva does not need a mastermind to tell him that his administration is in serious difficulty.
We have to let someone else take the helm.