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Pacific News Minute: Tonga Beset by Storm Damage and Political Disarray

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On her first tour of the South Pacific as Prime Minister, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern arrives in Tonga today. She will find much of the country still devastated by Cyclone Gita and the government in disarray. Neal Conan has more in today’s Pacific News Minute.

The prime minister is ill, the deputy prime minister is out of the country, one cabinet member resigned, another threatened to and a third has just been charged with fraud.

A sweeping re-election victory late last year gave Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva a strong hand, but he started his second term in office in the intensive care unit, suffering from an undisclosed illness. Last week, he told RNZ Pacific that he had still not recovered, and had to take a back seat and let his ministers direct recovery efforts after the worst storm to hit Tonga in the past sixty years.

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Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva

Over the weekend, police arrested the Minister of Internal Affairs, ‘Akisita Lavulavu – one of just two women in Tonga’s parliament. That followed the resignation of another cabinet officer, Lord Ma’afu, the only noble in the cabinet, and the attempted resignation of Police Minister Mateni Tapueluelu. The Prime Minister, who’s also his brother in law, refused to accept his resignation.

Oh, and a former Prime Minister became the latest of dozens arrested in a scam where Tongan officials, and, reports say, even the late Queen mother sold passports to foreigners.

All this, as deputy prime minister Semisi Sika accompanies the King of Tonga on a state visit to China.

Prime Minister Ardern’s tour began in Samoa; after Tonga, she continues to Niue and the Cook Islands to promote a policy she calls a Pacific Reset.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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