akilisi.png Titled “The Attempted Coup of 16 November 2006″
(This is an updated version of the original response to Lopeti’s report)

(by Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, People’s No.1 Representative to Parliament, Chair-People’s Committee for Political Reform and Secretary- Friendly Islands HumanRights & Democracy Movement Inc )

Lopeti Senituli’s report has raised an issue that has a long historical background of its own and, analysing from a proper historical perspective would render the true picture of why and how the November 16 uprising happened.

In a response to a letter of the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Tevita Tupou, to ‘Akilisi Pohiva requesting for his apology on the ground that his statement published in the Wall Street Journal defamed his Majesty, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. ‘Akilisi says in his reply:

“Hon Minister, I believed there is no ground for me to make an apology as requested as the statements I made were done independently based on factual occurrences [Mr. Minister] The only way for the King to evade criticisms is a total isolation from the law making and the executive position to become an honorary King like the King of Britain and other dynasties in Europe…The only leader in the Universe that cannot be subjected to criticisms is Jehovah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His reign is righteousness and flawless…His leadership is free of prejudice and unchallenged.”

That part of ‘Akilisi’s response to the Minister’s letter was quoted in Justice Finnigan’s decision in Rex vs ‘Akilisi Pohiva in the Supreme Court of Tonga (p/17). Part of Justice Finnigan’s decision reads as follows:

“It is not shown to my satisfaction that the accused said that. (The King is a dictator.) But, if he did then, in their context, those words can only mean, the King is an authoritarian ruler who ignores my repeated requests for accountability by himself and his ministers…If he said that, it appears to me to be the truth. Taking into account of the evidence by the accused during the trial, it appears to me not surprising that his attempts to obtain accountability in a system which does not provide for it are ignored. (p/26)

In the end, ‘Akilisi, the accused was acquitted.

First call for Political Reform
The beginning of the struggle for political reform can be traced back to 1975, when Dr. Hu’akavameiliku, the former Minister of Education, put through to Privy Council a proposal requesting His Majesty to set up a political review commission to review the constitution.

“As long as in 1975 I put up specific proposals to his Majesty for Constitutional change designed to give people a greater voice in the course of their affairs…It was debated in Cabinet in 12 separate meetings, deferred time after time and eventually dropped…It aimed to change to a fully elected system over a period of time not less than nine and not more than fifteen years in a three faced development program…Now (1991) sixteen years later, time may be running out. It is vital in my opinion that the government takes that initiative and announces a Constitutional review. It should just accept the principle of examining these matters and start the process publicly…But, sometimes I don’t know whether we can afford to wait too long.” (Hon. Dr. Hu’akavameiliku: a former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Civil Aviation: The New Friendly Islands: “a Voice from within” Kenneth Bain, 1992; p/152)

Since then, people’s calling for political reform became an on-going struggle up to November 16.

The following paragraphs represent the views, opinions and comments of a wide range of professionals who occupied key positions in government and in non-government organizations and whose first-hand experience provide a true picture and specific examples of how our system of government functions. They also fairly represent the feelings and hopes of most Tongans longing for justice and the creation of a vision of a new society, which is secure, just, peaceful, caring and environment friendly.

“Most monarchies have trodden the path of revolution. It is the usual outcome of autocratic rule. It is always risky to have so much power concentrated in the hands of one human being who is not accountable to anyone. Hence the universal applicability of Lord’s adage that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Editorial by Uili Fukofuka published in Kele’a Newpaper, 1988; currently serving in Ministry of Education as Senior Executive Officer)

“The socio-political and technological conditions of a given period often create an environment for change. When major economic and technological changes do occur social and political changes follow as a matter of circumstance. Our leaders have been conditioned to believe that Tonga can continue to remain an unaffected constitutional monarchial supremacy and at the same time successfully accommodate the existing economic policies of the free market and the need for a wide range of interdependence with the outside world. This is a misconception of reality and there is no room for a mistake. The only choice is to push for an open and accountable government. This will cost less for the country and guarantee a better future for our children. It must be understood that an open market economy can only function effectively and efficiently, with lesser cost, under an open and accountable government. This ensures a fair distribution of opportunities and wealth of the nation and guarantee a long-term national security and peace…”(Editorial by ‘Akilisi Pohiva, published in Kele’a, 1992; Former Editor and Publisher of Kele’a Newspaper; Secretary of Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movement, Chairman of People’s Committee for Political Reform, and is currently Representative of People to Parliament.)

“The Constitution was designed to safeguard the welfare of the country in perpetuity, but many of its provisions were concerned with the specific needs of their day. Some of these needs have changed over the years, as Tonga has become modernized. His Majesty has himself pointed out that land and parliament representation are two matters requiring reform…Those who love Tonga, however, and desire to see the Constitution in its essence preserved, should not shrink from facing them calmly and courageously while time is on our side” (Dr. Sione Latukefu; an Expert on Tongan History; a former Senior History Lecturer, University of Papua New Guinea and former Senior Lecturer in Pacific History, National University of Australia)

“Ultimately, a modified Constitution which gave greater voice to the people and made the executive responsible to the Legislative could provide some effective safeguards for the preservation of the legitimate interests of the Royal lineage” (Dr. Guy Powles, a Constitutional Expert on Tongan Constitution. His research for his thesis for his Doctorate was based on Tongan constitution)

“…As many of my contemporaries do, I have all these years cherished a belief in the integrity of government; that justice, fairness and truth, if not love were its guiding principles; that the loyalty, dedication and sacrifice of each officer were recognized and valued. I have continued to subscribe to these beliefs despite of the recent happenings in government, and story evidence to the contrary…We begin to question the reality we have dedicated our lives to; that in government we serve there is honor, truth, justice and love; that there is a real meaning behind the pledge that God and Tonga are Mine Heritage…The greatest tragedy for my colleagues and me will not be the chattering of our dreams but the knowledge that we have dedicated our best years of our lives to the living of a lie.” (This is part of ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki’s response to Chief Secretary to Government expressing her concern regarding the appointment of a new Accountant-General-Ministry of Finance; Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, a former Deputy Director of Ministry of Education, now a Senior Lecturer at the University of the South Pacific.)

“…I see no need to refer the matter to the officer as there are dangers of doing so. However, I have made certain discreet enquiries here and it appears that what the officer is getting at is probably the employment of labourers paid from the government vote to do his own personal work. It is reported that this practice is widespread in the outer islands and in fact past sub-Treasurers in Niua Fo’ou are guilty of this practice…Why is that Hon. Cabinet Ministers and certain Senior Government Officers are so vindictive with the junior officers? Is there a tolerable limit in the misuse of government funds and also a distinction as who does the misuse? I see so much use of public funds, labourers and other assets in Nuku’alofa and Tongatapu. The government is corrupt but corruption can’t be stamped out only at the lower ranks without applying the same standards starting from the top…” ( This is part of Afu’alo’s letter, 1981, to the Chief Secretary to Cabinet; former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, later served as Managing Director, Tonga Development Bank) and is currently Minister for Public Enterprise”)

“Whatever my fate is going to be I will gladly take comfort in the fact that I have done what I think is right to avoid matters slipping away from known to the unknown due to wrongful exercise of power…The damage has been done and all I wish for is to die…should that reality eventuate with honour and dignity… (This is part of ‘Uhila Leava’a response to Former Minister of Finance, Cecil Cocker, after receiving an official notice informing him of his reprimand; ‘Uhila Liava’a, Former Government Accountant General, 1992, later served as Internal Auditor, Tonga Electric Power Board)

“Human Society should never leave things to work out their own course but should always guide them as to impact and direction. If they are left to their own course there may be long periods where there are only a few insignificant changes taking place, but when real change does come, it will do so, more often than not, with violent and explosive fury, and even if desired goals are achieved, it will certainly effect extensive destruction to property and lives and such social damage that would cost immense resources to redness. Both the French Revolution and the Bolsheviks Revolution are examples of the lack of foresight and the absence of the will to dialogue and plan socio-political change” (This is part of Professor Futa Helu’s paper presented in “the 1992 Convention on Tongan Constitution and Democracy” Futa is the Founder and Director of ‘Atenisi Institute)

“The Christian understanding of sin suggests that it is very difficult for even the finest of human being to resist the temptations of absolute power. Even the most just and fair Constitutions have not being able to completely guard against such abuse of power, but at least they try to provide a remedy, which in our case, does not seem to be present” (Part of Rev Siupeli Taliai’s papper presented in the 1992 Convention on Tongan Constitution and Democracy”, Siupeli, former Secretary of Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and former Principal of Tupou College)

“To be a people of dignity, the democracy that we aspire to, should not be seen as something that conflict with our respect to our King and government. On the contrary it will enhance, respect by making them the King and government of a political adults rather than of political children. Fathers look forward to their children grown into their adulthood. They too bring honour to their children of which he is the Head” (Patelesio Finau-ki-Hihifo, former Bishop of the Catholic Church)

“Much has been written on the merits and demerits, the advantages and disadvantages of democracy. It really perhaps concerns us more to observe the fact that it is the inevitable outcome of the prevalent historical forces, that it has a great function in modern history, and it is the duty of the citizens and the statesmen to do their duty under it, and to adapt it to the material, intellectual and moral improvement of people” (A quotation from Chambers Encyclopedia, by Rev Dr ‘Amanaki Havea, Former President of Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga on: Convention on Tongan Constitution and Democracy, 1992)

Parliamentary motion predicted civil unrest and chaos
In 1993, I put through to Parliament a motion for a legislation to stop the Crown Prince involving himself in business as it might cause social unrest and bring chaos to the nation. The Crown Prince, at that time, was a share-holder and director in many companies and was very much involved in business and commercial deals. The motion warned that the Crown Prince’s involvement in business would leave him open to selfish people exploiting him for their own benefit at the expense of his own people. That was exactly the case since 1993 up to now. His partnership with the Ramanlals, among many others and one of the root causes of November 16 crises is a good example. The said motion was tabled and discussed in Parliament when the Crown Prince was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense. All the Ministers and Nobles’ Representatives voted against the motion.

Letter from People’s Representatives warned Council of Churches:
The letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Churches dated April 14, 2005 signed by seven representatives of the people namely, Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, Dr. Feleti Sevele, ‘Isilelei Pulu, ‘Uliti Uata, Fineasi Funaki, Sunia Fili and Peauafi Haukinima, warned that people’s prolonged frustration and discontent could well lead to civil unrest and upheaval, if no collective effort of all responsible authorities be taken to address people’s grievances. Attached to the letter was a copy of a petition to His Majesty which highlighted the breach of Clause 17 of the Constitution by His Majesty and abuse and misuse of public properties by the Royalties. Lopeti took part in the march to present the said petition to His Majesty in April, 2005.

Kalafi Moala predicted the uprising!
“Tonga will not move forward in the 21st Century without full democratic system of Government, with the Monarch as a social force without political power, and the nobility abolished for good.”
These are direct quotations of Kalafi Moala, written on his book, Island Kingdom Strikes Back, pages 295-297, 2002. Nothing is being altered, deleted or added. This clearly demonstrates the bitter conflict between the Kalafi of yesterday and the Kalafi of today.
My prediction is that things in the island Kingdom will worsen until authorities relinquish their unbalanced hold on power. If they don’t, the people will rise up and take in their own hands the destiny of the island Kingdom.
A major right still denied Tongans is that to choose their own Government. The country should not belong to Tupou and his offspring. Tonga is not their personal property to do with what they will. It needs to and does belong to every Tongan.
The role of Monarch needs to be redefined. A full review and amendment of the Constitution should provide new definitions.
The nobility created by Tupou I at the outset of his reign in the late 1840s should be abolished. It is no longer relevant to today’s Tonga. The nobility is an obsolete, perfunctory aristocratic structure. Putting bluntly, nobles are useless and should join the ranks of everyone else.
…..Tonga will not move forward in the 21st Century without full democratic system of Government, with the Monarch as a social force without political power, and the nobility abolished for good. .
….Leadership selection must no longer be based on inherited birthright, as in the present failed system. Rather it should be the talented, educated and hard working individuals with moral integrity that should be given the opportunity to seek the country’s top political posts.
……I cannot comprehend on what these inherited, false assumptions are based other than lies embraced by our culture through the ages. The sooner such delusions are eliminated from our psyche – young Tongans are no longer beset with these lies – the sooner we can build a civilization we will be proud of.
……For our children to develop these talents, we must not only reform our governmental structure, but also our culture, our families, and our very lives so we can be relevant in this 21st Century. God help us

November Upheaval
The crisis of September 16 was not a coup detat as coined and labeled by Lopeti Senituli in his reply to ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki’s confidential report to the University of the South Pacific. It was rather a people’s upheaval caused and consistently activated by suppressive and dictatorial measures and continuous refusal of government to listen and respond to people’s grievances over a long period of time. The exercise of suppressive methods and delay tactics to avoid the vote on the People Representatives’ proposals in the last session of Parliament for the year sparked people’s anger and discontent.

However, if, it was a planned coup dedat as unwittingly expressed in Lopeti’s report, we would all have witnessed a totally different picture of the situation- something that Lopeti never dreamed could happen.

Lopeti should have mentioned in his report that I was right in front of an angry mob that surrounded the Prime Minister’s Office to stop them from attacking him and from invading the Cabinet room where the Prime Minister, and a few others including the Speaker of the House, remained. They were guarded by a few police officers and one officer from Tonga Defense Force while people were stoning the Prime Minister’s building.

Lopeti also reported that there was a plan to physically assault the Prime Minister and other Ministers and/or even kill them. That was an unfounded allegation which requires solid evidence from Lopeti to support his allegation. If there was such a plan, it could have come from a different group of people unknown to our committee.

Ministers find a way to relieve pressure
Lopeti, in his report, made a misleading statement that there were threats from the people at Pangai Si’i which caused the adjournment of Parliament session to the afternoon. The Parliamentary Select Committee set up to deal with the situation at Pangai Si’i demanded that people should leave Pangai Si’i so that members feeling unsafe in coming to the afternoon session can come to the meeting. In fact, there was no threat and Cabinet Ministers used people’s meeting at Pangai Si’i as an excuse to adjourn the meeting of Parliament to relieve the pressure from Peoples’ Representatives who wanted Parliament to vote on their proposals before the closing of Parliament.

If, however, there was such a threat, some preventive measures could well be done to guarantee the safety of the members while the session was on. I insisted that Parliament should go ahead as there were a lot of important items on the agenda to be discussed and put down for vote before the closing of Parliament. So, I moved a motion in the meeting of the select committee that Parliament should call officers from the army to guard the Parliament House. The majority of the members voted against the motion.

The claim that ‘Uliti Uata and I failed to honor our agreement with the Prime Minister was not true as the agreement was subject to the approval of the members of our executive. Lopeti should have known, as he was a member of the executive before he left the organization; that all agreements require approval of the Committee. It was then the decision of the executive committee of People’s committee for Political Reform to have Parliament vote on the committee’s proposal before closing of Parliament.

Why we called people to come to Pangai Si’i
Lopeti presumed that it was our plan to push Parliament to vote on the proposal with full knowledge that there was no way we would win and that would give people excuse to force Parliament. Lopeti must admit the fact that people’s Representatives are always the minority in our Parliament. And as suggested, there was no way we could have won if we had voted on our proposal. Despite that, why did they want the people, our power base, to leave Pangai Si’i and allow them, as the majority inside Parliament to win the game by default? We appealed to the people to come to Pangai Si’i to show their support to our proposals. And we had the right to do that. And Ministers had nothing to worry about if they were willing to listen to the majority.

Prime Minister’s Political Adviser condemned Tu’i Pelehake’s recommendations
Towards the end of almost three weeks sessions with Dr Halapua, Deputy Chairman of the National Parliamentary Committee for Political Reform on the report, the Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele put through to Parliament an alternative model. A week after, Lopeti Senituli, in a panel discussion on the Tu’ipelehake’s report, broadcast on Radio and Television Tonga, denounced and condemned Tu’ipelehake’s proposed model in the eyes of the public. He strongly criticized the methods employed in the conduct of the ‘Potalatalanoa’ and pointed to inconsistencies in the underlined principles being used as basis for the formulation of the recommendations.

Few days after, the Prime Minister, in a press conference with media, outlined in details the major components of government model and announced the full support of His Majesty. In Suva, during the Forum meeting, a broadcast officer of Radio & Television Tonga relayed from Suva through Radio Tonga a report that both New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers supported the government model.

To further facilitate and solidify the process, Government submitted to Parliament on the last week sessions of Parliament an amended legislation to limit the chance of People’s Representatives from outer islands residing permanently in Tongatapu and provide a platform convenient for the return of the Prime Minister and some of his executive colleagues to Parliament in the next election.

In an informal meeting with Lopeti Senituli, he told me that Government would need extension of the time frame from 2008 election to 2011 election which is a departure from the model designed to facilitate peaceful transition. And His Majesty has probably endorsed this extension.

Hope for peaceful transition breaks down
Given all the above scenarios, the Tu’ipelehake’s proposed model is doomed thus putting all hope for peaceful transition under threat. It was the Prime Minister who did it and Dr. Halapua was right when he said the Prime Minister is fully responsible for the crisis of September 16.

Despite all the above, I made it clear in the same panel discussion with Lopeti that 60% of our proposal was in line with Tu’ipelehake’s recommendations. Hence People’s Representatives called for all members to honor the Tu’ipelehake’s proposal. But, there was strong opposition from Cabinet Ministers who insisted that there are quite a lot of other related issues to be dealt with which require further discussion and deliberation.

Lopeti should recall the appeal made by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Chairman of the People’s Committee for Political Reform, to remain calm and wait for the report of the Tu’ipelehake’s Committee. The general public felt and advised that there was a sense of sincerity and hope in the Prime Minister’s appeal, therefore our committee decided to set aside our proposal actions and wait. But, in essence, Tu’ipelehake’s report failed to meet the expectation of the Prime Minister and Cabinet whose future prospect for the next election shaken and uncertain, if the Tu’ipelehake proposals set out in the Report be implemented.

To save the Prime Minister and his team, Lopeti had to go all the way with Marshall Law in his hand to protect the glory of his master. Such acts are not only suppressive but arrogant and disrespectful. What will happen in the end, the game will be won by default because the seven Peoples’ Representatives lack the capacity to mount their rightful claim against the sixteen Cabinet Ministers and nine nobles representatives who are there, as usual, to serve the interest of His Majesty, but not the people.

Meetings with people in Villages
Six weeks before November 16, the seven Representatives of the People and People’s Committee for Political Reform conducted 35 meetings in Tongatapu. All people were invited to these open forums to discuss the committee’s proposal. Every meeting was broadcast on TV. There was no secret or hidden agenda. (Members of the People’s Committee for Political Reform included Friendly Islands Human Rights & Democracy Movement, Friendly Islands Teachers Association, Public Service Association, Tonga Business Association, Tonga Fionoa etc )

None of the Ministers or Representatives of Government attended in any of these meetings. Comments on incompetence of Government and corruption based on facts truly stated by people in those meetings came out to the public on TV loud and clear. Lopeti should have, at least, made the effort to attend and respond to comments and concerns of the people that came out in all the meetings

Messages on the Wall
All along since the end of last year’s civil servant’s strike up to November 16, fifteen banners were hanging at Pangai Si’i for more than eight months. Writing in one of these banners read as follow. “The rule of law is a fraud.” That banner alone is enough to explain the seriousness of the current situation. As, in the absence of the rule of law, where injustices prevail, people will have no choice but to revert to violence. The said banner together with thirteen other banners were interpreted by Government Legal Authorities as criminal offence against the state. But, the Magistrate Court ruled against each of the fourteen criminal proceedings filed against me and few others who occupied Pangai Si’i since September, 2005.

Messages behind all these banners had gone out to the public without any further response from the Government. People with good minds would take all the writings on those banners as signals to the general public and as warnings to government. Tongan version of writings in one of those banners quotes: “Tupou 1V mo Ho Fale kuo fua kimoutolu pea ‘ilo ‘oku mou ma’ama’a” which equates to “Minemina Tikeli Upasina” in the Bible. That banner was challenged separately in the Magistrate Court and the ruling was in favour of me, the accused.

The Pangai Si’i Committee submitted two separate complaints in February 2006 to the Police Department in Nuku’alofa with well documented evidence in support of the complaints. These two complaints, among others, had so much to do with the Shoreline Group Limited owned by the Crown Prince and the Ramanlals. Since then, no action has been done as to the legality and validity of the complaints.

Emergency meeting in Cabinet Room
When the expected afternoon session was again adjourned, People’s Representatives had to call an emergency meeting with Prime Minister and Speaker of the House. The meeting was held in Cabinet room. The Prime Minister and other five ministers, Speaker of the House and three other Noble Representatives attended the meeting. Part of Lopeti’s report reads as follow. “As soon as everyone was seated, ‘Akilisi Pohiva shouted that the people wanted an immediate answer to their demand for the assembly to be convened immediately and if the Prime Minister did not accede to their demands, the destruction could very well continue. He went on about having warned the government numerous times about what will happen if they kept delaying reform, and now there was no turning back. The government must do what the people wanted or else…”

That part of Lopeti’s report quoted above, is denied, as it was a misinterpretation and misrepresentation of what I actually said in the meeting. I did not shout nor did I said that, if the Prime Minister did not accede to our demands, the destruction could very well continue, nor did I said, the government must do what they wanted or else….. That part of his report is far from the truth. He told me later that it was from his note book taken out from memory, but it’s open to be disputed.

Thy Kingdom come as it is in Heaven

1) On November 16, people had learnt from experience that there is no guarantee that some concrete political reform at the end of the process irrespective of what Tu’ipelehake’s committee recommends. In that regard, Lopeti was right in his proposal action submitted to the executive committee of the People’s Committee on November 2005 in his capacity as Deputy Chairman of Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movements. In his proposal action, Lopeti maintains that the People’s Committee should request the Prince Regent, HRH Crown Prince Tupouto’a to show his good faith in the Tu’ipelehake’s Committee’s work by declaring publicly, that in the next election, all the members of the Legislative Assembly will be elected by the people. If Tupouto’a refuses to do so within two weeks, then the series of actions of civil disobedience will kick in beginning with:
2) The public boycott of the Tu’ipelehake’s Committee
3) The public refusal to pay their electricity bills beginning with the bills of November, 2005.

If the Prince Regent accedes to the committee’s request within the two weeks period, then the people’s committee will actively support the Tu’ipelehake’s committee. But, at the end of Lopeti’s proposal action, he said: “Neither of these likely responses will be comforting to us. And History shows that the most likely response from government will be ‘no’.” Full- stop

The significant point in Lopeti’s action proposal is that his proposed series of actions of civil disobedience reveal his personal commitment and dedication to the cause pursued in our proposals. Unfortunately, he left our committee to serve the Prime Minister’s dreams which gave him no choice but to act accordingly. Let us pray for Thy Kingdom to work on Earth as it is in Heaven.