Court hears claims by Tonga’s first independent AG

A case against Tongan government for alleged breach of Employment Contract has begun at the Nuku’alofa Supreme Court Tuesday, November 19.

Seven jurors presided over by the Chief Justice Michael Scott would hear the civil case, in which the plaintiff John Cauchi is claiming over AUD$500,000 in special damages and relief for Breach of Contract, Repudiation of Contract and Constructive Dismissal.

Lawyer for Cauchi, Laki Niu told the court his client was Tonga’s first independent Attorney General.

He was contracted to work for the Tongan Government by the former administration of Prime Minister Feleti Sevele on 28 May 2009.

The contract lays out conditions for both parties to follow including Cauchi’s salary of AUD$250,000 per annum.

The Government of Tonga has to provide him with free accommodation.  He also has to receive the same entitlement and benefits of a Cabinet Minister.

If Cauchi wanted to resign he must notify the government within three-months according to his contract, Niu told the court.

The contract states Cauchi can only be removed from office for reasons of physical or mental incapacity or if convicted with an offence under the Anti-Corruption Commission Act.

No reimbursement

The government attempted to obtain Cauchi an accomodation according to the contract but could not find one.

Cauchi then rented an accommodation for $3000 per month.

The rental price was high and upon agreement between him and the Solicitor General a new contract was written stating that he and the Government each would pay 50 percent each for the accomofation.

Cauchi signed the contract but PM Sevele refused to sign it. The government has not paid him anything up to now.

After returning from Melbourne and Apia in 2009 on a business trip that he paid for all the expenses himself he laid a reimbursement claim before the treasury but they never paid him anything up to now, Niu said.

Niu also told the court Cauchi was surprised when he was told in about late November that the government made a decision that he no longer continued on with his responsibility as attorney general which it was removed and given to someone else.

Royal Commission of Inquiry

In August 2009 the MV Princess Ashika, an inter-island ferry which belonged to the government sank in Tonga killing more than 70 people.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the causes of the tragedy. It was Cauchi’s responsibility to make sure witnesses were called before the commission and that the government could allow all documents required by the commissioners to be given.

The court was told the report of the commission was critical of the Government and the Shipping Corporation company along with  its directors.

Niu claimed that Cauchi informed Government after the conclusion of the Commission to hire two independent prosecutors from overseas to prosecute matters regarding the sinking of the MV Ashika.

Prime Minister Sevele was not satisfied with it and the suggestion to bring in the independent prosecutors was cancelled. 

There were also other matters Cauchi claimed the government interfered with in which his independence laid out by his contract was affected.

Niu claimed that the government breached the contract by terminating Cauchi's office.

Cauchi will take the stand Wednesday 20 before the defence is expected to open its case afterwards.

Neil Adsett, Tonga's Artoney General is acted for the government.

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