New Tonga govt still finding its feet
Two months after he assumed power the prime minister of Tonga says his government is still working through what the previous adminisration had done.
Tonga has had a new government headed by long time democracy campaigner, Akilisi Pohiva, for just over two months.
Mr Pohiva, the first commoner to be elected to the position of prime minister, has spoken of the tight economic times being faced by the country but says they are constrained by the previous government's Budget which runs until the end of June.
He has also called for Tongans to live within their means and the need for the country to lessen its reliance on foreign aid.
Don Wiseman spoke with him about these issues but began by asking about Tonga's stance on the push by Fiji for New Zealand and Australia to be excluded from the Forum.
And he asked if this matter was raised by Fiji's foreign minister in recent talks with Mr Pohiva.
AKILISI POHIVA: He raised that issue but I kept silent. As you know we don't really have time to look into common issues raised in the previous government. Our position is yet to be made clear.
DON WISEMAN: You have been in government for two months now. Are you governing or are you waiting.?
AP: What do you mean?
DW: Well this is one of the key issues facing the region. Does your government not have a view? If Fiji wants to get rid of Australia or New Zealand, do you back that?
AP: Oh no no no. I know that the Fijian government is trying to bring in the Polynesian small states like Samoa and Tonga and Rarotonga of course, but I still have to consider that. Apart from that we have a lot of work to be done. We are still in a process of trying to tap into so many things and works that the previous government had done. These are the things that our new government is doing now. We still don't have time to really look into regional issues. I know they are important issues but we still do not have time. This new government, we have a lot of work to be done. We are engaged in the cleaning up exercise and there are a lot of things to look at. Not only that but we are still in the midst of our preparations for the Budget for the next financial year.
DW: If we could talk about some of these issues then. You have talked about the need, a number of times since the election, the need for Tongans to be able to live within their means. So how do you go about facilitating that as a government?
AP: Well what had been done by previous governments, there is still so much work to be done to complete all development programmes, started or funded by donors, and we are now implementing the current budget prepared by the previous government up until the end of June this year. These are the things that we are doing now.
DW: There is this huge debt. You have spoken about the huge debt to China. There was this hope that the previous government had that the loan might be converted to a grant. You say there is no chance of that happening, so do you have any ideas yet about what you will do with that?
AP: Well our government is committed to the principles of good governance. That is the first priority and we strongly believe that the key for economic development is good governance. And I made it clear to all the teams that visited Tonga last week - IMF, Asian Development Bank and World Bank that numerous analyses that had been carried out by international financial institutions and recommendations had been made, and published and reported. And we have here in our Planning Office so many reports. But the weakness has always been in the implementation. So these are the problems that we are faced with - the translation of our mission into development programmes and activities is something that our new government has to look at. The implementation process is another problem, so these are things our new government is busy [with].
DW: I know you have talked a lot about good governance, but last month what many would see as interference in the judiciary was your quite remarkable attack on the acting Attorney General, Aminiasi Kefu, over the Lord Tu'ilakepa gun possession case. Do you think that constitutes good governance, accountability, transparency?
AP: No no no that is not interference as far as I am concerned. I made it clear in my letter to the acting Attorney General that I had had a meeting with him and at that meeting I advised him to seriously take into account the severity of the case, as advised by the Chief Justice. That was my advice to the Attorney General because he is my principal legal advisor. He completely ignored, undermined my advice. That is part of the responsibility of my job.
DW: It is certainly not how he sees it. It is not how other key parties within the legal fraternity see it. They see what you have done as an attempt to interfere in the judiciary.
AP: Yeah that's how they look at it. They are entitled to make their own comment but this is my position. I think I did my job and that is my duty and it is up to them to respond. And I already read their responses, so it is OK.
DW: Are you going to tell the Attorney General what to do. Part of the reason the Attorney General was moved one step away from government was to introduce independence and you are taking that away again.
AP: No no, I am sorry I do not look at it that way. I still maintain my position as I said earlier. That is my duty and I think I did my job.
DW: Alright I just want to come back to this situation where you say as a government you are hamstrung until the new Budget comes out in July. That you are not able to do anything, that you are still getting your head around what the previous government did, but you are going to have lost 6 months of your term. I would imagine the people are looking for action from their new government.
AP: If you read the news we have done quite a few important works and I think maybe tomorrow or next week you will find we have done a lot of work.
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