Pacific Media Watch

6 March 2018

TONGA: PM 'Akilisi Pohiva names ex-political friend then foe as media adviser

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Lopeti Senituli (left) and 'Akilisi Pōhiva ... clashed following the November 2006 riots. Image: John Pulu/Facebook

By Kalino Latu
AUCKLAND (Kaniva News/Pacific Media Watch): Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has appointed a former political friend who once turned against him and they repeatedly clashed in public to become his new political and media adviser.

Lōpeti Senituli has confirmed to Kaniva News he began on his new posts last week.

Senituli was a press secretary to former Prime Minister Lord Sevele, another political friend of Pōhiva who eventually turned against him and became one of Pōhiva’s fierce political rivals.

Senituli said he saw no problem at all in having to work together again with Pōhiva.

“Although we clashed in public in the past, especially when I played the same role for the former Prime Minister, Lord Sevele, we still talked to each other in private and ensured that there was continuing dialogue going on behind the scenes and I did that with the full approval of Lord Sevele,” Senituli said.

“Remember also that our friendship and commitment to ‘Democracy’ dates back to the days when we were undergraduate students at USP in Suva in the mid 1970s. So I am confident I can do the job with the dedication and the love and the independence that it warrants.”

Senituli said he was asked by Pōhiva to become his adviser.

“He had also asked me last year in preparation for the general elections after the dissolution of the Fale Alea to stand as a candidate for PTOA from Tongatapu 5 but I had turned him down because I wanted to concentrate on my university studies for a law degree which I was doing from the USP Tonga Campus.

“This year was my third year as a law student. When he asked me to become his adviser I felt that I could not turn him down the second time in light of his ill health and the enormity of the task that lies ahead of him as Prime Minister in the wake of TC Gita,” Senituli said.

Senituli returned to Tonga in 2000 because Pōhiva, the leader of the Pro-Democracy Movement at the time, had asked him to return and set up the movement’s office which became legally registered as the “Friendly Islands Human Rights and Democracy Movement”.

“Prior to that I was also instrumental in raising the funds internationally that enabled the first Pro-Democracy Convention to be held at the Basilica in 1992.

Senituli was a press secretary to Lord Sevele in 2006 before and following November 2006 riots, which destroyed up to 80 percent of the Nuku’alofa city’s businesses.

Pōhiva claimed Senituli sent a report to the University of the South Pacific and he labelled the crisis as a “coup detat”.

In response, Pōhiva claimed it was a people’s upheaval  “activated by suppressive and dictatorial measures and continuous refusal of government to listen and respond to people’s grievances over a long period of time.”


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