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Tongan Police Minister Māteni Tapueluelu has clashed with Commander Taniela Tuita of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.
The two have exchanged a barrage of words after Tapueluelu claimed the importations by the Forces after the king dissolved Parliament last year of ammunition was unlawful.
In a statement in Tongan released to Kaniva News and other news media Commander Tuita threatened that the Armed Forces would respond according to the law to anybody who did anything unlawful.
Commander Tuita said the accusation against the Forces has degraded its reputation. He said the Armed Forces was ready if the Minister of Police took legal action against them.
Commander Tuita said claims that the “purchase” (fakatau mai) was unlawful were untrue.
In response, Tapueluelu told Kaniva News, the Armed Forces “was lying” in its statement.
Tapueluelu said he did not say the purchase was unlawful.
“What I have said, and I am saying, and I will be standing by it, was that the ‘importation’ was unlawful,” the Minister said.
The Minister said he did not take the Forces threat lightly.
“It has threatened the public,” Tapueluelu said.
“These are people who suffered after tropical cyclone Gita.” “They are trying to rebuild their homes and help each other in this time of difficulties.”
He said it was imprudent of the Armed Forces to make such threats to people who are living at peace.
Tapueluelu warned that making warnings for the purpose of keeping the peace in the country was his responsibility and that of his Ministry, not the Armed Forces.
Tapueluelu told Kaniva News the only reason the Armed Forces agreed for the Police and Customs to seize the shipments was because the importation was unlawful.
He claimed the Forces Commander in Chief came to his office and apologised for what had happened.
Commander Tuita said: “His Majesty’s Armed Forces has vehemently denied the claim which had been released saying the Forces unlawfully purchased ammunition which arrived in Tonga between August and December 2017.
“This accusation has no legal basis or truth,” Tuita said.
Tuita claimed that after a meeting with the Police Minister to clarify the issue, the ammunition and weapons were returned to the control of the Police.
He said the purpose of returning the shipments was to give the Police Minister the opportunity to confirm the legal basis of the importation.
Tuita claimed the Forces talked to the government’s procurement department in 2016 in an attempt to import the ammunition. The purchase was budgeted in the 2016 – 17 financial year. A total of 80 per cent the payment was processed in January 11, 2017 and the remaining 20 per cent was paid in June 2017.
He said the Forces applied for a permit to import the ammunition on October 2. 2017, the permit was approved on October 6, 2017.
Kaniva News reported on March 3, the approval was signed by Police Deputy Commissioner ‘Unga Fa’aoa. Hon. Tapueluelu said Fa’aoa had no power to do this.
Tuita said the VOEA Neiafu arrived in Tonga with the first shipment from Australia on October 6, 2017. He claimed Cabinet approved the request on October 13, 2017 and after it was cleared by Custom it was delivered to Taliai camp. The second shipment arrived from New Zealand on December 6 2017.
He admitted, the Forces returned the first shipment to Police and the second shipment to the Ministry of Customs. He said the amount of ammunition and weapon imported were far too small for the training and preparation of the army for the next five years.
Tapueluelu said the decision of Cabinet to waive duty to which Tuita referred to, was meant for a request from the king through his Lord Chamberlain to the Minister of Police to allow an importation of firearms and 600 ammunition for His Majesty.
Lord Ma’afu, the then Minister of His Majesty’s Armed Forces, submitted the request to Cabinet. Hon. Tapueluelu said because he was unaware of the controversial importation Fa’ao had approved, he supported Cabinets decision to allow the king’s request.
He said when he returned home for the day his ministerial driver passed him a letter seeking his signature on an application to import ammunition.
It was a letter from the Armed Forces to approve the importation of ammunition. He said he immediately became aware there was something wrong as Cabinet had just approved a request about a shipment of ammunition. He returned to his office the following day and after tracing back documents, it became clear this was not the king’s request.
He said the request related to the importation of 400,000 rounds which had been approved by Deputy Commissioner ‘Unga Fa’aoa. He said he did not know why they sought his signature after it was first approved by Fa’aoa
source: KANIVA TONGA NEWS/PACNEWS
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