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Prime Minister Denies Radio New Zealand Accusation of “Insincerity and Hypocrisy”

Radio & TV Tonga, Nuku’alofa, 26/08/2019

The Prime Minister, Hon Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, denied accusation by Radio New Zealand that the tears that he shed during the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Retreat in Tuvalu were insincere and that he was hypocritical “in expressing sympathy for people of another country while he cannot sympathise with those in his own nation who suffer from natural disasters”. Radio New Zealand’s accusations were made in an article published on the 22 August under Kalafi Moala’s byline.

The Hon Prime Minister said, it was his first visit to Tuvalu. Prior to his visit he had heard the Tuvaluan Prime Minister, Hon Enele Sopoaga, sharing about the devastating impact that the climate change crisis was having on his country and people. Pohiva said, he really did not believe that the impact of climate change on Tuvalu was any different from its impact on Tonga. What he did not appreciate until he got to Tuvalu was how tiny and low-lying the Tuvaluan atolls were and how thin the layer of topsoil is and therefore the visual image of the devastation blew him away. Not only that Pohiva stated that he was also moved by the resolve of the Tuvaluan people, especially the youth, who are determined to fight climate change and as their slogan goes, ‘Save Tuvalu, Save the World!’ he said , broke his heart. And the tears he cried were sincere.”

The Hon Prime Minister also said his expression of sympathy for the people of West Papua’s human rights was genuine and was not hypocritical. He said, “The indigenous people of West Papua are Pacific Islanders. They are our brothers and sisters. Pohiva said, it had been witnessed in recent years how their human rights have been repeatedly violated. Representatives of the West Papua people have asked the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders for help. The Civil Society Organisations of the Pacific and the Pacific Conference of Churches have urged the Pacific Leaders to support the people of West Papua and he thinks it was the right thing to do.

However in Radio NZ’s article – they stated that Pohiva was praised in some regional media for his emotional reaction but was accused of sincerity and hypocrisy – for ignoring the same plight of those that suffered from Cyclone Gita in 2018. Radio NZ International quoted a report by NZ Kakalu Newspaper – 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 said the tents, which are temporary classrooms, are normally hot for lack of ventilation and 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.

The same article by RNZI stated people accusing 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 because Here at home – Pohiva is very hard hearted toward the poor and suffering, and is arrogant, and does nothing to ease the difficulties suffered by people.

He said 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.

Tonga based journalist Ilex Tora, said the impact of climate change in Tonga was a real problem that the government was working to fix. Tora said, maybe the tears shed by Prime Minister Pohiva in Tuvalu concerning climate change is genuine after all. He may have been thinking of his homeland of Tonga.

The Prime Minister was however very critical of Radio New Zealand’s standard of journalism in relation to the article. He said, “Most of the people that Kalafi Moala quoted in his article are biased against him and his government. He used Eliesa Fifita as an example – where he said – Fifita has been an unsuccessful candidate in the parliamentary elections in his electoral constituency in at least the last three elections and his newspaper ‘Tonga Ma’a Tonga’ is financed by people who have constantly petitioned His Majesty to dismiss me from office.

He continued, “The New Zealand based “Kakalu” newspaper which Kalafi Moala also quoted has never published a single favourable story about him or the government that he leads ever since it started publishing in 2015. He said, of course that is their constitutional freedom to publish as they see fit. But he thinks Kalafi should have added some backgrounder on the people and newspapers he quoted as they are not published in the English language and they are politically opposed to everything he stand for”.

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