Voting against suspended MP Piukala splits Democrats; MP Tapueluelu cites ‘moral conscience’

A ballot in the Parliament before MP Piveni Piukala was suspended last week has divided the democratic bloc MPs and their supporters.

(L-R) MP Piukala, MP Tapueluelu and MP Lanumata. Photo/Supplied

Piukala was initially suspended for seven days which bound him to return to the House on February 28.

His punishment, however, was later reduced to only five days after the Speaker accepted his request for a re-consideration.

A Parliamentary investigation found Piukala was liable for a breach of the Parliamentary code of conduct after he confronted the Prime Minister and told him that the only thing he was at liberty to use whenever he wanted things which were not his was his grandfather’s inheritance.

In Tongan he said: “Ko e koloa pē ho’o kuí ‘oku ke fa’iteliha ki ai”.  While the statement was not swearing, it is contextually classified as offensive and inappropriate.

The suspension meant the MP was barred from entering the Parliament, his district Parliamentary office and using Parliamentary equipment. He was also ordered to have the days’ pay deducted from his salary.

The suspension came after PM Hu’akavameiliku filed a formal complaint against Piukala in August last year following a heated exchange between them. During the stir the MP for Tongatapu 7 alleged that the Prime Minister had spent public funds on buying the Lulutai airlines’ new aircraft which was commissioned in December.

A report on the investigation was submitted for a ballot in the House on Tuesday last week. 

MP Mo’ale Finau told the House he was not happy with the report because Piukala was not given a chance to tell his side of the story.

MP Kapeli Lanumata, for whom Piukala campaigned during the election,  surprisingly told the House he was grateful for the Committee’s report and wanted it passed.

“Ko u fokotu’u atu ke tali e lipootí” he said in Tongan.

Speaking on the Committee’s report before the Speaker made his decision against  Piukala some MPs appealed to the Prime Minister to pardon him.

Piukala also asked for the Prime Minister’s forgiveness but was ignored. 

In Tongan he said: “Sea, ‘oku ou kole fakamolemole atu ki he Palēmiá kapau ‘oku mamahi hono lotó he lea na’a ku fai”.

He said he wished he was called by the Committee to hear his side of the story.

He said he had no personal intention against the Prime Minister when he made the statement.

“This is the first time for me to know that what I was saying was swearing,” he said.

The Speaker said the suspension was not the same as impeachment which would have meant Piukala had to be given a chance to respond to the accusation against him.

The Minister for Trade told the House Piukala had already been given the chance to withdraw his statement against the Prime Minister, but he did not do it.

When the Speaker called for a ballot, all MPs voted against Piukala, including three of the PTOA MPs namely Mateni Tapueluelu, Mo’ale Finau and Kapeliele Lanumata.

Tonga has yet to accept the political party system. However, the Democrats styled themselves as a political party known as the Democratic Party of the ‘Otu Anga’ofa also known by the abbreviation PTOA.

A post following Piukala’s suspension on a PTOA Facebook group, known as Ma’u ‘a e Ma e He Kakava, called on the PTOA MPs who voted against him to front up and explain their actions.

“It is now clear that the PTOA has only one MP in the House”, a commentator wrote, referring to Piukala.

“They spoke in support of Piukala, but when the ballot was called, they voted against him”.

“I do not know whether they still have a brain or not”.

Some commenters argued that the PTOA MPs’ split in the ballot appeared to show bitterness and bad blood among them.

Some called the three PTOA MPs traitors and accused them of crossing the floor to side with the Prime Minister for their own advantages.

Supporters of the trio said there must be a reason for their vote.

Moral conscience

Tapueluelu told Kaniva News he voted against Piukala based on his moral conscience.

He said he put himself in the Prime Minister’s shoes and he could see that if Piukala’s remark was made against him he would experience the same disappointment as the Prime Minister.  

He said he met Piukala and advised him to apologise to the Prime Minister. Tapueluelu also spoke tearfully in Parliament and appealed to the Prime Minister to pardon Piukala.

Tapueluelu also said he reminded the Speaker to allow them after the ballot to speak and express their views on how they wanted Piukala’s punishment to be, according to the law.

Tapueluelu said immediately after the ballot the Speaker went ahead and announced that Piukala must be suspended for seven days without further discussion with the MPs.

He said the Speaker followed the Tongan version of the law which says the Speaker made the decision to punish or not, while the English version says it is for the House to decide the decision.

Here are the two versions:

49 (3) Neongo ‘a e ngaahi Tu’utu’uni ‘oku hä ‘i he Tuʻutuʻuni siʻi (2) ‘e ngofua ki he ‘Eiki Sea ke ne fakahifo fakataimi ha memipa kuo ne fakahoko ‘a e ngaahi maumau lao ‘oku hä ‘i ‘olunga ́ ‘o ‘ikai laka hake ‘i he ‘aho ‘e hongofulu ma fa (14). 

English version:

49(3) Notwithstanding the provisions in sub-rule (2), the Legislative Assembly may order a member who has breached these Rules to be suspended from the Legislative Assembly for a period not exceeding 14 days. 

“The best advice for Piukala must be made clear and honest,” Tapueluelu told Kaniva News.

“He should be told to be selective in the language he uses, considering the atmosphere of the House. If he was given the wrong advice and he received a more severe punishment, who are we going to blame?”

He said there were more complaints pending with the Committee. 

He also said that being on the same political stance did not necessarily mean they had to protect each other in the House no matter what.

He said he wanted to clarify his stance when it came to situations like this.

“I told the Speaker previously I was taking legal action against him after he allegedly breached the renumeration law,” Tapueluelu said.

“He is the noble of my estate. But that’s what my conscience was telling me to do”.

With Piukala’s case, Tapueluelu said it was not an easy choice as they were campaigning together with Piukala.

“That does not mean our relationship had been cut off”.

Piukala told his social media followers the trio’s ballot showed how Parliament really worked.  

Kanva News contacted MP Lanumata and Finau for comments.  

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