Minister of Finance Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has vehemently denied allegations on social media that he threatened his staff and ordered an investigation after information about him and government was leaked.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa denied claims that information regarding his overseas medical expenses were leaked by the Ministry.
He said he was accused of not releasing to the public the information his critics claimed were records of the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
It has been alleged that Hon. Tu’i’onetoa was only working half of each day since he returned from his medical treatment in Australia and that office work had been delivered to him at his home. The Minister has denied this.
The Minister received a surgery for a slip disc at St George Private Hospital in Sydney early this year after a spinal cord injury.
He returned to Tonga on February 28 and began working fulltime on March 1. He said he had sometime worked overtime to prepare the 2018 – 2019 government budget.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa has dismissed the allegations, saying they were made by those who held a grudge against the government.
Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s government is seen as a government which strongly upholds transparency, accountability and good governance since these were the standards he had been campaigning for decades since he was in opposition.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said transparency must be practiced under a code of conduct.
He said the king, ministers and civil servants had the right to keep their names out of any information regarding any financial entitlements to which they were entitled.
He said he held a normal meeting with his divisional heads during which discussed transparency and the importance of releasing information to the public according to the code of ethics.
He said he told his staff they could not release any information about anyone without following the code of ethics.
King and government ministers
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said if critics wanted information about his overseas medical treatment to be made public then the same scenario should be applied to all the Cabinet ministers and the king.
He said he told his heads of department during the meeting it may be unwise to release to the public the cost of His Majesty’s overseas travel. This would include the kind of hotel he stayed in and the number of people escorting him.
He said he asked his senior staff to consider whether it was wise to release the king’s overseas’ travel expenses to the public because of the claim that it was taxpayers money?
He said this would allow the public to form their own views and some might criticise the king.
This would damage the cultural honour Tongans had for the king, he said.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa reminded department heads that information regarding the cost of overseas could be made public, but was generally described in the government’s External Financial Reports or Public Accounts. However, the names of spenders were not included.
He said one Prime Minister in the past was bedridden for about a year and travelled overseas constantly for medical treatment.
He said he told his heads of department he was the one who audited the former Prime Minister’s financial spending while he was the government’s Auditor General.
He said he asked the meeting whether it would be wise to release that information and the name of the Prime Minister to the public.
He said the policy of the government was to release the types of expense, but not the names unless required by a court order.