Tonga wants help with new police commissioner

Tonga has asked New Zealand for help appointing a new police commissioner after New Zealander Chris Kelley's contract was cut short.

The issue was raised in bilateral talks between Prime Minister John Key and Tongan Prime Minister Lord Siale 'Ataonogo Tu'ivakano in Wellington today.

Mr Kelley left his post this month after the new Tongan government decided not to renew his three-year contract, which was due to expire on September 22.

He had been introducing reforms with an emphasis on transparency and accountability.

Under Tongan law, the King is the only person who has the power to appoint or terminate the commissioner's contract.

Lord Tu'ivakano told reporters today Mr Kelley had not been fired.

"Chris Kelley didn't do anything wrong, he did a marvellous job. It's just that his term, his contract, was finished so we had to go through the due process of interviewing," he said.

The appointment of a new police commissioner had to be made by the King and the government had nothing to do with it.

The new government wanted more transparency and outside expertise was needed.

Lord Tu'ivakano said he had asked New Zealand and Australia for assistance.

"I think it would uplift the quality of the work done by the police ministry," he said.

The bilateral talks also touched upon Fiji, which has been a touchy issue since Fiji demanded its former army chief Lieutenant Colonel Tevita Mara be extradited from Tonga after he fled there in May facing sedition charges.

Lord Tu'ivakano said the two countries had a "long history of ties" but under Tongan law they could not extradite Lt Col Mara.

"The Fijian people are okay but the regime, we don't recognise that."

Lord Tu'ivakano - the first democratically elected prime minister of Tonga after elections were held in November last year - praised the close relationship with New Zealand.

"We are very fortunate that, as a new government, New Zealand has stood by our side and has been assisting us in a lot of projects, not only with tourism, but also education and also with the policing," he said.

Mr Key said New Zealand had a long-standing and extremely warm relationship with Tonga.

He reaffirmed to Lord Tu'ivakano that New Zealand wanted to work alongside the people of Fiji to restore democracy there after the military coup that installed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as leader.

"We're not anti-Frank Bainimarama per se, but we want to see democracy restored and we want to see the end of the coup culture in Fiji," Mr Key said.

"Outside that it was a warm discussion about the rugby and we very much look forward to the first match against Tonga."

Mr Key said New Zealand took its responsibilities in the Pacific seriously and was looking forward to hosting regional leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland next month.

Economic development, fisheries, climate change and renewable energy would all be up for discussion.

"I'd imagine there'd be some cursory discussion around Fiji, but I wouldn't imagine that would dominate the agenda," Mr Key said.

Lord Tu'ivakano also met Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. He leaves New Zealand on Saturday.



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