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Minister defies Tongan law,names self as acting police chief

Minister defies Tongan reform law, names himself as acting police chief

By Matangi Tonga in Nuku’alofa

August 4, 2011

Tonga’s Minister of Police, Dr Viliami Latu, says he will become become Tonga’s Acting Police Commissioner when Commissioner Chris Kelley vacates his post tomorrow.

The new government has the right to appoint him as the interim Police Commissioner because the new Privy Council had not met, Dr Latu believes.

Making the announcement at the Tonga Police headquarters, Longolongo, in a press conference yesterday, the minister said he had been opposed to the new Tonga Police Act since its inception.

His interpretation of the Tonga Police Act 2010, which came into force in January this year, was that the new government had the right to make a decision not to renew the contract that was signed by the former government.

Human assets
Dr Latu said the decision by the new government not to renew Chris Kelley’s working contract was based on a number of factors. One was that the new government envisaged using the human assets that the country had, and secondly to that, under the new law a police officer retired at 60, and Chris Kelley was 61.

The minister was questioned because it is clearly stated in the Tonga Police Act 2010 that the power to appoint and to dismiss a police commissioner rests with the King in Council and not with the Cabinet.

With regards to the legality of the decision by Cabinet not to renew the contract of Chris Kelley and to appoint the minister as Acting Commissioner of Police, Dr Latu said he was in opposition to the Act since its inception.

He said the government had formed a committee to amend the Police Act so that Cabinet would have the right to appoint a Commissioner.

Dr Latu believed the reason why the king had not formed or called a meeting of the Privy Council was because the king wanted to relinquish all his executive power to the executive, the new government.

The Police Act was one of the reforms put into place during the formation of the new system of government. It makes the police answerable to the courts and gives greater protection to the public. It also separates the police command from the politicians.

The minister was questioned on the notion that by leaving the appointment of such posts as the Police Commissioner for the king in Council would avoid the politicising of such an appointment.

The minister agreed with the suggested metaphor that the reform programme was like a motorboat with its propeller broken off – it was not going anywhere and the new government was adrift. He referred to the fact that with the Privy Council being inactive the application of the law was paralysed.

Later, outgoing Police Commissioner Chris Kelley formally announced his departure from Tonga on August 6.

“No reasons have been given for not offering a renewal of contract, but I acknowledge and accept the right of the government to employ whom they wish,” he said.

‘Great foundation’
Kelly said he would leave Tonga “satisfied that the Tongan Police Development Programme has established a great foundation of reform, re-building and institutional restrengthening.

“The success of this programme to date can be measured in many ways but none more so than in the increase in public trust and confidence in the police,” he said.

He acknowledged that he was the first Palagi to hold the post of commander/Commissioner of Police.

“I am as proud today as I was in September 2008 to be the commander,” he said.

He said it was purely coincidental that August 5 was the second anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Ashika “and my thoughts and prayers are with the 74 victims and their families at this time”.

Commissioner Kelley commanded Operation Ashika, the 16-day search and rescue operation by Tonga police following the sinking of Tonga’s interisland passenger ferry.


Full report on Matangi Tonga


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