22 Aug 2019

Tonga's PM accused of insincerity at Pacific Forum

6:16 pm on 22 August 2019

By Kalafi Moala in Tonga.

Tonga's Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva was praised in some regional media for his emotional reaction in shedding tears of empathy in Tuvalu at the Pacific Forum during discussions on the impact of climate change.

But he has returned home to face much criticism for ignoring the same plight of those that suffered from Cyclone Gita in 2018.

'Akilisi Pohiva

'Akilisi Pohiva Photo: RNZ / Koro Vaka'uta

He has been accused of insincerity and hypocrisy.

The need for assistance for some whose homes were destroyed by Cyclone Gita is still being ignored by Mr Pohiva's government, even after a temporary rally that resulted in cash assistance to those whose homes were damaged.

Damage to school buildings all over the island kingdom has still not been fully repaired even though it has been over a year since the level four cyclone struck Tongatapu.

The New Zealand based Kakalu newspaper reported this week on a complaint from a teacher at a school where classes are still held in tents, with no time set for the fixing of classrooms.

The teacher, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal from the Ministry of Education, said the tents, which are temporary classrooms, are normally hot for lack of ventilation.

"Students have been unusually sick over the past 12 months with conditions ranging from flu to breathing problems," she said.

She also told the newspaper that the problem had been reported to the Education Office, but nothing had been done about it.

Many have taken to social media as well as newspapers and radio to accuse Mr Pohiva of putting on a "Hollywood act" in crying before the leaders of the region.

One of the posts read, "why cry for people in Tuvalu when you've done nothing to fix the problem in your own country?"

An editor of a local newspaper said the Prime Minister was rather hypocritical in expressing sympathy for people in another country while he cannot sympathise with those in his own nation who suffer from natural disasters.

Eliesa Fifita, editor of Tonga Ma'a Tonga newspaper, said "he is not sincere or genuine at all. It is all an act in front of regional leaders. Here at home he is very hard hearted toward the poor and suffering, and is arrogant, and does nothing to ease the difficulties suffered by people.

"Leaders in the region do not know what is happening in Tonga since Pohiva became Prime Minister. The campaign promises to help the poor and needy have been empty words, and Tongans today are much poorer under the Pohiva government."

Mr Fifita said that even Mr Pohiva's mention of West Papua as an issue for Pacific countries to rally together on is a scripted speech to try and draw some attention to himself.

"He talks about freeing West Papuans, yet he is the most dictatorial of any leader we have had in Tonga in recent years," Mr Fifita said.

"Regional leaders and their people should not be fooled by Mr Pohiva's antics."

Mr Pohiva rejected the accusations of insincerity and his spokesperson, Lopeti Senituli, said the government had no control over hold ups with the schools and it was more an issue with multi-lateral agencies that were involved.

However the government later apologised for the delays and said construction and would begin soon.

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama (left) and Tonga prime minister Akilisi Pohiva both spoke on the issue of West Papua at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. August 2019.

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama (left) and Tonga prime minister Akilisi Pohiva both spoke on the issue of West Papua at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. August 2019. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

But Tonga based journalist Ilex Tora, chair of the Pacific Environment Journalist Network, said the impact of climate change in Tonga was a real problem that the government was working to fix.

"The main problem in many places is the erosion happening because of seawater rise," he said. "There are projects in Tonga, like on the Western District of Tongatapu where a seawall is being erected on the foreshore covering three villages. This is an area where over the years, the sea has continually eaten away the foreshore."

Mr Tora said that on the western side of the island, a project for the replanting of mangroves is going on at Fo'ui village, in order to reduce the effect of the foreshore being washed away by rising tides.