Tonga's leader says his door is always open to the media
Tonga's prime minister says claims his government is not open and accessible are not true.
The prime minister of Tonga, Akilisi Pohiva, has defended his government's openness and rejected claims that he does not make himself available to the media.
Local news organisations have been grumbling for weeks about a lack of accessibility but Mr Pohiva told Don Wiseman that is not the case.
AKILISI POHIVA: If that is the response from the media here in Tonga there is no merit in it and I can give you an example. just last year our first year in government, I organised three separate media conferences, each one of these conferences lasted more than an hour and they were given more than enough time to ask questions, so the claim, or the allegation against the Prime Minister's Office from the media is not correct. It never happened before, for a Prime Minister to give a journalist more than a one hour interview with the media, so what else do they want? Apart from that we have in the office a media section. Its function is mainly to provide and report to the public on issues and matters of public interest and public importance.
DON WISEMAN: That's fine Mr Pohiva but we are now in April. What happened last year is now irrelevant. I would suggest to you that in most countries that the leaders are available, certainly on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis. I am sure that some journalist in New Zealand speaks to John Key every day of the week. The reason why the journalists want to speak to the people at the top is that the people at the top are the ones who really know, [not a] junior tucked away - they want to speak with the leaders.
AP: I know that but as far as I know only one request from the media, or one of the media people, they wanted the Prime Minister for a press conference. That was the week before last week. Unfortunately one of the senior [staff] responsible for the media did not inform me - I just found out later and I directed our senior officer in the ministry of education to respond, and she has already responded. But as far as I know that was one request. Not only that but our government, my government reports important news items, important matters of public interest and public importance every week, so I must tell you that my government still maintains the principles of good governance and we will continue to uphold all these principles as from now.
DW: I know that you have long professed the importance of good governance and transparency but it is an accusation from none other that Kalafi Moala who has long been a colleague of yours, who says that your government has become the most closed government in Tongan history, the most inaccessible.
AP: [laughs] It is for Kalafi to ask himself because he has been working very closely with Dr Fred Sevele. Just ask him whether, was there a time when Fred gave opportunity to the media for a press conference. Not only that, how about the previous government. I am telling you Don that it never happened before. And I am prepared to respond to any questions, any queries from the public, but it is a matter for the media section in my office to inform me. I am always prepared to answer and be accountable to the media and also to the public, anytime.
DW: It is all very well for you to look back at previous governments and the reality is that [Lord] Fred Sevele, he hasn't been in government for 6 years now.
AP: And I can still recall what happened during his regime.
DW: But things have moved on haven't they? You have got more media in Tonga. There is more interest. It is more open and there are great expectations associated with your government and people feel, whether it is accurate or not, they feel you are not meeting them, in terms of transparency and openness.
AP: Well that is from Kalafi perhaps, but I must tell you now that I am open, I am free. Anytime they want me to respond and to answer questions I am always prepared to do it, but it is very unfortunate if the senior people in the media section of my office fail to inform me of that, but that is a different issue. I will try to make sure that my media section is responsive to the public.
DW: In the end you are the leader, you are in charge aren't you?
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