Tonga police receive wake up call over death in custody | Pacific Beat

Tonga police receive wake up call over death in custody

Tonga police receive wake up call over death in custody

Updated 27 August 2012, 16:57 AEST

A man has been charged with murder, and two policemen with assault, in the wake of the death in custody of a New Zealand policeman in Tonga.

This morning, Semisi Kalisitiane Manu appeared before Police Magistrate Pita Soakimi on a murder charge and Constable Salesi Maile and Constable Fatai Faletau appeared on a charge of common assault.

The Magistrate asked why the two police were not also charged with murder.

He ordered that the pair be remanded into custody although the assault charges are relatively minor.

The case has been deferred to 24 September while work is being undertaken in NZ.

Tongan police commissioner, New Zealander Grant O'Fee, tells Bruce Hill that the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Tony Negus, has agreed to send a senior detective to Tonga to help with the investigation into Constable Fungavaka's death.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker:Tongan police commissioner, Grant O'Fee

O'FEE: I've asked the Commissioner if he would assist us with an experienced Homicide investigator to oversee our inquiry, not because I don't have any faith in our own officer, he's a very capable man, but to give the public of Tonga some confidence that this isn't a closed shop, it's not a old boys club. So the AFP as I say at very late notice very kindly agreed to lend us an experienced officer who we'll probably get over here in the next couple of weeks to just sit over the top of this investigation, to have a look at it, and his own expert opinion to give us his view as to how good our investigation was or wasn't, was it biased, was it fair and that report will ultimately be made public.

HILL: But no whitewash or anything, everyone's going to have confidence that this is done correctly and by the book?

O'FEE: Absolutely, to do it any other way in something like this is you'd have to be an idiot. I mean it's very important that it gets done right.

HILL: How to people in the Tonga police feel about what's happened?

O'FEE: Well, there's 400 of us I suppose, so everyone's got a slightly different tack on it I guess. But I think it's safe to say the general feeling is one of dismay and personally when a prisoner is in custody in any police organisation, you'd like to think that person is going to be reasonably safe. On a case like this, sadly you have to contemplate and look straight down the barrel at the fact that you've failed.

HILL: We have been hearing complaints from some people in Tonga recently, that there had been for sometime a bit of a problem with sometimes acts of violence committed against the public by members of the police. That had been changing. There's a reform program that has been in place for awhile, but we have been hearing that there had been a bit of a culture of violence for sometime. Is that true do you think?

O'FEE: Yeah, that' s been said to be by a lot of people. Some of your colleagues over here as well.

I was a police officer in New Zealand for 40 years and complaints were made from time to time, sometimes quite rightly in New Zealand about excess force just as they're made all around the world and sometimes they're upheld and sometimes they're not. I wouldn't like to say that Tonga is any better or worse. I've got to say I really don't know about that. It's possible that Tonga's worse than other countries. I think it's a bit early for me to make a judgement call on that to be honest.

HILL: What are you as the Police Commissioner doing about this?

O'FEE: We've got a massive reform program going as you may be aware, it covers, I won't bore you with it all, a whole range of policing, from road policing to domestic violence, a building program, a lot of training, so that there is a very big reform program that has had I have to say a very, very positive effect on the Tongan police and we've had great support from the Tongan Government as well, and Australia and New Zealand, who contribute to that progam. But, I mean when you're talking about attitude change in anything, it's not something that money fixes and it's not something that you can do in a few weeks or even a few years really. It's something that you've got be I think in for the long haul on and our leadership, especially at NCO level, we are going to be investing considerable time and more importantly selection and to who we put into those key positions. Because I'm firmly of the view if you select the wrong person, you can send them on as many courses as you damn well like. You're still going to have the same person at the end of it all. So the selection to me is the vital thing and without going into detail, we've changed some key positions in the last couple of weeks that I think are going to have a flow on affect into the reputation of our Ministry. So yeah, it's a long haul, but we'll stick to our reform program and our training and I'm confident that public just stick with us, we'll see some pretty substantial improvements over time.

HILL: As you say, it's a long haul process. It doesn't happen overnight, but does this particular death in custody act as perhaps a bit of a wake up call for people in the police?

O'FEE: Yeah, well that's a really interesting point. I was just talking to our local media here and just saying to them there's going to be no winners out of this at all and we've had a terrible tragic death and we've got two of our own officers in custody and another young man, so nobody's going to come out of this a winner, let alone the Tongan police that's for sure. But I think if there is any good to become of it, I think you may be right that this is a if any officers of mine that are a little bit, shall we say handy when they shouldn't be, they need to look at the two officers that are no longer at liberty and think long and hard on that. So yeah, there may be some good come out of it and if it's as you say, a bit of a wake up call I guess.


Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill


Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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