Auditor General blasts cabinet for withholding decisions, warns of corruption

Tonga’s Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, has blasted the country’s cabinet for refusing to forward him copies of cabinet decisions.

He said a lack of transparency in the executive body’s decision making process would encourage corruption.

According to the Auditor General’s Report for 2012-2013, the government decided not to circulate any cabinet decisions to Dr Tu’i’onetoa.  

The government launched a prosecution against the Auditor General in 2012, accusing him of leaking information about the disappearance of millions of dollars of aid money donated by Australia and New Zealand to promote political reform in the kingdom.

According to the Report, the prosecution was later withdrawn.

Dr Tu’i’onetoa said he believed the information was actually leaked by a Cabinet minister.

Early this month Tonga’s Justice Minister, Clive Edwards, denied in Parliament during a heated debate on the Auditor’s Report that the government had stopped circulating cabinet decisions.

He said the law prohibited the Auditor General from giving his reports to ‘radio’ and ‘television'.

Duty

Dr Tu’i’onetoa said some Cabinet ministers’ interpretation of how the law defined his duties as the government’s chief financial officer was ‘outdated’ and ‘wrong.’

He said the law authorised him to give anybody his report if he thought it appropriate.

The Auditor General said he was legally allowed to release information depending on whether it was a matter of national security or whether it was in the public interest to make the information available.

“I did not know whether a cabinet decision was made in writing for the ban and which clause they based their decision on,” Dr Tu’i’onetoa said.

“I have written many times and asked for copies of cabinet decisions, but the Acting Secretary to cabinet has not responded.”

The Auditor General said he had also telephoned the Acting Secretary and explained that he wanted documents for auditing and been told he would receive a response in writing, but had never received a reply.

Dr Tu’i’onetoa said the decision to stop releasing documents to him may have been made  verbally.

“If there was no decision to stop cabinet decisions from being released, the Acting Secretary should be penalised,” the Auditor General said.

The decision had affected the ability of the Auditor General’s office to do its job properly for the past two years.

He said it was one of the cornerstones of his duty that he receive information that affected the way other government department and ministries’ decision making.   

Suspicion

Tonga’s Minister of Justice, Hon Clive Edwards attacked the Auditor General’s report, saying it had been brought to Parliament to stir up suspicion that fraud had been committed. He described it as ‘incomplete.’

Democratic Party leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva read out part of the Auditor’s Report in which the Auditor General said his prosecution had been part of the government’s attempts to gag him.

Pohiva told Government ministers in the House that he was sorry the report had brought them worries.    

Finance Minister Hon ‘Aisake Eke told the House he had no problem with the report

He told the House the Auditor General’s report had pending clauses, meaning they were recorded for further action to be taken,  like the issue of  multiple passports being issued to a Chinese millionaire.

The Finance Minister also mentioned the payment of US$25.50 million made in June 2012 to Princess Pilolevu and her Tongasat company. In the report the Auditor General questioned the payment, asking why was it made without processing a voucher as per government’s transaction policy.

Eke said he was shocked when he first saw the report. For the Treasury to make such a huge payment without using the proper process was a matter of a huge concern for him, given that he has been Secretary for Finance for many years before he become a Member of Parliament.

The Auditor General was not in Parliament to answer questions about the report,  but was represented by some of his senior officers. The Prime Minister told the House it would be wise for the Report to be returned and wait for the Auditor to be available for questioning.

The main points

  • Tonga’s Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, has blasted the country’s cabinet for refusing to forward him copies of cabinet decisions.
  • He said a lack of transparency in the executive body’s decision making process would encourage corruption.
  • Dr Tu’i’onetoa said some Cabinet ministers’ interpretation of how the law defined his duties as the government’s chief financial officer was ‘outdated’ and ‘wrong.’
  • Tonga’s Minister of Justice, Hon Clive Edwards attacked the Auditor General’s report, saying it had been brought to Parliament to stir up suspicion that fraud had been committed.

 


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