8 Apr 2005

Fiji coup maker's brother becomes government minister

1:14 pm on 8 April 2005

In a surprise move today, the Fiji coup front man George Speight's brother, Samisoni Tikonisau, has been sworn in as the new minister of lands.

In an official statement last night, the ministry of information had said that the deputy speaker, Manasa Tuqia, would be appointed the new minister.

Both men are from the government's junior coalition partner, the pro-coup Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua.

In an unexplained move, the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, has appointed Mr Tikonisau, who is also known as Sam Speight Jnr.

He was sworn in by the acting president, Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi, at Government House this morning.

Mr Tikonisau said the move came as a surprise even to him, but declined to say exactly what was behind the sudden change.

The cabinet position became vacant when the Conservative Alliance leader, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, resigned his portfolio after being jailed for eight months for coup related offences.

Mr Tikonisau says that while his appointment was ultimately up to the the Prime Minister, Lalabalavu would have been consulted about who his replacement should be.

"I acknowledge the sacrifice of the Tui Caka, Ratu Naiqama Lalalabalavu, opening the door for disappointment, disappointment that's transpired basically coming out of recommendations from him personally."

Mr Tikonisau says Lalabalavu will remain as leader of the party and it is hoped he will retain his parliamentary seat.

The new minister holds the Tailevu North seat previously won by George Speight from jail.