The prime minister of Tonga has made an impassioned speech saying the local police force needs to win back the trust of the public and the international community following the killing of an Auckland officer.
Kali Fungavaka died at Vaiola Hospital in August after he was allegedly assaulted while in custody at the Nuku'alofa central police station on August 17. He was in the country for a family funeral and had been arrested for public drunkenness.
A fellow detainee, Semisi Kalisitiane Manu, the police inspector in charge on the night the incident happened, Kelepi Hala'ufia, and four constables - Manu Tu'ivai, Tevita Vakalahi, Salesi Maile and Fatai Faletau- have all been charged with manslaughter over Fungavaka's death.
According to Matangi Tonga Online, Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano, who is also the acting minister of police, told the 43rd Commissioned Officers two-day annual conference this week that they needed a culture change.
"I am glad that you are revisiting working procedures to identify what works well and what does not," he said. "It is only through honest and frank assessment of those current practices and willingness to embrace changes that we will be able to move forward.
"Do not become a victim of doing nothing but become a victor of doing the right thing".
Lord Tu'ivakano told the conference that with the support of Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee and his staff, the force could rise about the incident.
"Government relies on the police to achieve its objective of a safe, secure and stable society by maintaining law and order," Matangi Tonga Online quoted him as saying.
O'Fee told the conference Tonga police had experienced a difficult few months following Fungavaka's death and now needed to regain the public's support.
"Without the public trust and confidence in us, everything we do is nothing - be it traffic, resolving crimes or domestic violence response," he said. "Everything we do is to contribute to that goal of public trust. And if we can do those things right we can achieve it."
Last month O'Fee said the arrests of police staff hadn't affected the operational effectiveness of his police force but described the situation as saddening.
"It has been a terrible state of affairs for me and my staff to realise that five of our co-workers have been charged with manslaughter," he said.
"At the end it does not matter whether they are police officers or not because they are the people we have chosen after evaluating the evidence to face trial on these matters and that is how it should be."
Work was progressing with the Solicitor General's office as it helped to prepare files for the prosecution, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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