Friday, April 09, 2010

The Ashika report

In the Dominion Post this morning, Karlo Mila goes over the utterly damning Tongan Royal Commission report into the sinking of the Process Ashika. As background, the report was presented to the government on March 31st, and was not welcomed by the king - he was reportedly so angry with its findings that he threw it on the floor. And no wonder: rather than an official whitewash, it pointed the finger squarely at the government-owned Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, whose CEO lied about the condition of the vessel (and as a result is currently facing manslaughter charges), and at the Cabinet, which utterly failed to perform proper due diligence on the purchase.

The Tongan government is not happy with being held to account in this way, and so they are suppressing the report. Despite it being handed to the government over a week ago, it has not yet been translated into Tongan or distributed to the public. But the report has been leaked, and is now circulating on the internet (you can download it here). So, people know they are being lied to, and that the government is covering its own arse.

Tongan opposition leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva has said that the report will shake the government to its core, and spell the end of the monarchy. And its not hard to see why. Mila:

Dalgety, Karalus and Jonesse were trusted by the most powerful men in Tonga. They were taken at their word. One could look back over Tongan history and trace an almost pathological mesmerisation with completely untrustworthy white men. We could name it "the Shirley Baker syndrome" after the missionary who ended up as premier. Combined with a culture of deference and submission, blind trust in these men is a disaster waiting to happen; a fatal mistake.

The report opens a huge can of worms for Tonga. It cannot be ignored that many of the wrigglers were hand-picked by the king. The people did not vote any of them into power. Much was made of Feleti Sevele being the people's first democratically elected leader. This conveniently overlooked the fact that he failed to stand for re-election after his appointment. When you bypass the voters, you're not the people's PM any more, you're the head Muppet.

(Emphasis added)

Undemocratic government is unaccountable government. And in this case, that lack of accountability killed 74 people (population-wise, its as if 3,000 New Zealanders died). And even when they've been fingered, the Tongan government are still trying to pretend its nothing to do with them - today they're attacking the inquiry rather than accepting responsibility.

Later this year there will be an election, and a new constitution requiring Ministers to be elected rather than chosen by the king from among his cronies. While it won't necessarily result in better people being elected to power, it will mean the people will be able to do something about it when they screw up. And that makes all the difference in the world.