Motion is Defeated
The Government has survived a motion of no confidence just seven months into its current term. Opposition parliamentarians mounted a spirited debate but if they were hoping to topple the government it was recognised my many that it was not going to happen. With only five generally recognised members forming the unofficial opposition present in the Chambers and with little hope of attracting any of those in the government caucus the motion was doomed from the start. Members of the Assembly who are not part of the government caucus are Hon Tauveve Jacobsen, Hon Terry Coe, Hon Va’aiga Tukuitoga, Assemblyman Crossley Tatui and Assemblyman Stanley Kalauni. Mrs Tukuitoga is currently overseas. Out of a total of 20 members only 16 were present.
Motions of no confidence are uncommon so when one does come before the House it attracts a great deal of attention and interest. This one should have been more so because, for the first time in the Island’s history, the motion was going to be debated in the absence of its leader. Sir Toke Talagi departed for New Zealand on Friday but it is not known whether he is on government business or he is to receive further medical treatment or both. Premier Talagi had been on the island since mid-October to celebrate 43 years of self-government. He was able to attend one sitting of the Niue Assembly the previous week, where he fielded questions on the state of the island’s finances but he lasted only for the morning; he did not appear for the afternoon sitting.
Whether by design or otherwise the majority of the island’s population were unaware that there was a sitting of the Assembly. However, it was generally known that a motion of no confidence in government was to be debated but there was little or no publicity on the day and time. And so while the members were going through their usual procedure of greeting the Speaker, the Ministers, the Members Assisting the Ministers, the ordinary members, the representative of the New Zealand government and finally the “listening public” – there was really no “listening public” to greet. For the best part of the morning session, the Honourable Members were talking largely to themselves and to the handful who happen to have their radio switched on. This whole affair was so low key that it didn’t even rate a mention on RNZI’s news on the morning after the debate.
Those who were fortunate enough to catch the debate would have heard Terry Coe, who was responsible for introducing the motion, gave a myriad of reasons for the motion. He cited the Premier’s long absence from the island for medical treatment, the state of the country’s finances, the inability of State Owned Enterprises to generate promised income, the woeful lack of maintenance of the roads, the contaminated state of the island’s water supply, the preference in using overseas appointees, to name a few. At times, it read like a shopping list of what is ailing the country.
In his summing up Hon Coe touched on the sensitive issue of the appointment of MAMs – members assisting the minister – and bluntly told the House that the appointment of rookie MPs to the post has lowered accepted standards. Coe told the members that there were far more experienced members supporting the government who are better qualified.
Before the debate got underway the Speaker Hon Dion Taufitu had ruled that he will not tolerate any comments that might be construed as a personal attack on any person. This was in reference to two high profile government employees, the CEO for the State Owned Enterprises and the CEO of Niue Tourism. This was probably as a result of Terry Coe, in the previous sitting, had named Mr Wayne Harris-Daw CEO of SEO as being allowed to wield too much power. In that same sitting Hon Va’aiga Tukuitoga questioned the rationale of having the CEO of Niue Tourism based in New Zealand. Speaker Taufitu was not going to have any of that in this debate.
Mrs Jacobsen said that the people need to have the presence of their leader on the island so people can hear and see him. The Premier’s prolonged absence means that he is not fulfilling the role given to him by the electorate. She again questioned the necessity of having four MAMs in cabinet for the sole purpose of assisting Ministers when the island has a total resident population of 1,600 at any one time. These additional appointments are costing the country an additional $250,000.
Both Mr Tatui and Mr Kalauni expanded on the points raised by Terry Coe. Crossley Tatui put the blame on the out of control government spending on the absence of the Minister of Finance. According to Mr Kalauni if the Island’s underground water is contaminated it will spell the end of a very valuable resource.
In the absence of Premier Sir Toke and Minister Dalton Tagelagi, it was left to the Acting Premier Hon Pokotoa Sipeli to lead the charge for the government. It was not a thunderous charge – there was really no need for it since the motion was lost before it came to the House. Members supporting the government could have left it to the two Ministers and end the sitting early. But this august body has never been known to allow tactics to stand in the way of letting the electorate hear your voice – useful contribution to the debate notwithstanding.
Government supporters in the House highlighted the many achievements of this current administration – the increase in remuneration, the increase in pensions, the removal of subsidies and the adoption of a user pay policy. For the first time, government trading operations have been put on a proper footing. The island has finally managed to keep it’s highly trained and skilled people by rewarding them for their expertise.
On the international and regional stage the island is gaining recognition for being a stable and innovative government. The tourism industry has finally got the assistance it needed to allow it to make a meaningful contribution to the economy. All these achievements, members argue, have all been made possible because of the vision of Premier Sir Toke Talagi.
When the question was put, it was soundly defeated with only four members supporting the motion.