PM to clarify 15 Tongan passports issued to Chinese couple

Lord Tu’ivakano’s office is yet to respond to a letter from the parliament’s opposition party asking to clarify why 15 Tongan passports were issued to a Chinese couple.

The guideline for the MPs tabling questions for responses states they must give ministers at least 14 days.

‘Akilisi Pohiva, Leader of the opposition party reportedly tabled his questions over the passport at the Prime Minister’s Office on September 30.

No response had been received as of October 15.

Mr. Sien Lee, the male couple was issued with eight Tongan ordinary passports and Ying Sien Lee, the female was issued with seven.

Audit report listed the dates each passport issued as from June 2001 to October 2012. The expiry dates ranges from 2012 to 2021.

Pōhiva claimed the issuing of the 15 passports was unlawful as the couple do not hold any naturalization certificates, something the law requires before issuing ordinary Tongan passports to foreigners. 

Pōhiva wanted the Prime Minister’s Office to declare the grounds for the issuing and whether allowing of 15 passports be given to a couple is legal or not.

Passport saga

A recent debate in parliament last month has turned the spotlight on the Tongan passport after Pohiva told the House he has information that Tongan blank passports are being abused.

He described the mishandling of the Tongan blank passports as a “net that was thrown outside the circle of the Tongan authorities”.

Pohiva would not tell parliament who was responsible for two blank passports being abused and did not give further comments as the matter linked to a passport case  in court.

In 1989 Pōhiva sued the Tongan government for illegally selling Tongan passport in Asia to more than 400 Chinese. The legal action prompted King Tupou IV in 1991 to call an emergency parliamentary session to alter the constitution and legalise the passport scandal.

The move outraged the nation prompting more than 2500 Tongans to stage a march to the palace office protesting against the constitutional change and the selling of the passports.

The government authorities at the time repeatedly told the people these more than 400 Chinese would not ever come to Tonga. They only bought the Tongan passports to enable their travels around the rich countries of the world.  

Today, about1000 Chinese are living in Tonga. Most of them are Tongans and  became Tongan citizens after purchasing passports in the 1980s passport scandal, legalized by the 1991 constitution amendment.

Opposition concerned

Citizens of Tonga and China who hold valid diplomatic, official and public affairs passports are allowed to enter China and Tonga without a visa.

MP Sunia Fili in August 2012 however questioned the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Samiu Vaipulu in the House regarding the Tongan government allowing the Chinese to use diplomatic, official and service passports.

Fili said the deal for free visas between the two countries allows Tongans to enter China without a visa but when the Chinese come to Tonga they are given the diplomatic passport, official passport and the service passports.

In his response, Hon Vaipulu said the reasons why they are given the three passports is to facilitate  Chinese diplomats, officials and “service providers” along with the  group of architects and planners that come to Tonga for the construction of the St George Palace.

The opposition party said the concern now is over the degree to which the passport will be used only for diplomatic and employment reasons.

It opened a door for the authorities to abuse it.

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