Bribery charges create mayhem in parliament

Tonga is now without three of its cabinet ministers and a by-election has been set for November 3 to fill the seats.

Poasi Tei, Tatafu Moeaki, and Sangster Saulala – who previously served as deputy prime minister, finance minister and internal affairs minister respectively – lost their parliamentary seats after Tonga’s Supreme Court last week dismissed their appeals over bribery convictions.

Tonga’s prime minister Siaosi Sovaleni is adamant that his party will win the seats and he will get to replenish numbers in parliament.

Tongan PM Siaosi Sovaleni at the Pacific Leaders Forum. Picture: Fijian Government

He said it was tough to lose three cabinet ministers at the same time, but his government respects the judgments of the Court of Appeal.

The three were unseated after Tonga’s Supreme Court dismissed their appeals over bribery convictions. All three were found guilty of bribing voters in Tonga’s general election last year.

The incidents were brought to light in May this year causing shock in Tonga. In some of the incidents up to AU$30,000 along with other gifts had been given to voters.

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A total of seven MPs had faced bribery allegations in May, of these four were initially unseated however a successful appeal by former prime minister Pohiva Tuʻiʻonetoa meant he got his seat back while the other three were bound to be kicked out.

According to Transparency Internationals Global Corruption Barometer, 62 per cent of people in Tonga think that corruption in government is a big problem.

The results also showed that 38 per cent of public service users paid a bribe in the previous 12 months and the same amount of people were offered a bribe in exchange for their vote in the last five years.

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