Tonga PM announces minor reshuffle, resignations as ‘Utoikamanu moves to Communication

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni (Photo: PM Press)

Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni has confirmed his resignation as Minister of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.

He also confirmed the resignation of Fekita ‘Utoikamanu as Minister of Tourism and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

‘Utoikamanu is now the new Minister of Tonga Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC)

They resigned on 28 March, the Prime Minister told Parliament today.

The two Ministries in question were vacant and the Prime Minister did not provide any detail about it.

The new Minister of Tourism was Dr Viliami Latu Uasike who was also the Minister of Economic Development and Trade.

No reason was offered by the PM today on reasons why he and Fekita ‘Utoikamanu resigned from their portfolios.

He said his conversation with King Tupou VI on the matter was “private”.

When he was asked why his delegation was wearing black (mourning) when they went to Niuafo’ou for an audience with the king in March, he did not give a reason.

He said they were happy to go there.

“It was important for us to go there to talk to His Majesty. We had a prayer session with His Majesty first, then an audience,” he said. “I believe the important thing is that we went to His Majesty and that he spoke to us.”

So why did the King withdraw his confidence in the Ministers?

“When two people have a private conversation we should respect that it just between them,” replied the Prime Minister.

Why did it take so long for the issue to be resolved?

“Everything takes time,” he replied.

Meanwhile, the appointment of two new ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs “will await a future decision,” he told the legislature today.

A thorny issue that remains unresolved is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs currently has two competing chief administrators – one appointed by the King and another appointed by the government.

The administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in a state of confusion since the Secretary to Cabinet and Chief Secretary Paula Mau was appointed as “Acting CEO for Foreign Affairs” by government in October last year, and attended the 52nd Pacific Leaders Meeting in the Cook Islands in that role.

At the same time the Lord Privy Seal, Vilami Malolo, has been Secretary for Foreign Affairs since 2019, as appointed by the King.

When asked how is that situation working, the Prime Minister said he could not comment because the matter was under litigation.

“The situation is that the Foreign Affairs Secretary has sued the Public Service Commission and also the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Fekita ‘Utoikamanu) and the Acting CEO of Foreign Affairs Paula Mau, and it’s still in court. I can’t comment,” said the Prime Minister today.

Since 2010, when Tonga adopted its frail constitution, the kingdom has been a democracy, but one that has been constantly under threat as forces in the palace seeks to reassert their dominance over the country.

His Majesty King George V agreed to relinquish his executive to a government elected by the people. Clause 51 (7) of the Constitution bars the king from making any interference in the daily operations of Cabinet, including nominating the Ministers for the king to appoint.