Finance, Education Ministers deny PSA head’s accusation against them, saying it was evil-minded

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala faka-Tonga

The Minister of Finance Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa and Minister of Education Penisimani Fifita have denied serious accusation against them which appeared in a recent petition to Parliament.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa described the organiser of the petition’s intention as evil minded, while Hon. Fifita described it as incorrect and an attempt to mislead Parliament and the public.

The petition, which was organized by the PSA head Mele ‘Amanaki, alleged that Hon, Tu’i’onetoa breached the constitution by failing to submit to Parliament annual reports for all the ministries that came under his control from 2015 – 2017.

The Ministers came forward after the Speaker of the House allowed the petition to be aired in public without the seven cabinet members named being given the chance to tell their sides of the story.

Hon. Fifita has denied allegations in the petition that his move to give another two-year contract to international computer consultant Piveni Piukala was unlawful.

Hon. Fifita said the move was lawful and the cost of Piukala’s work was TP$93,000. He said a claim in the petition that the work cost TP$100,000 was incorrect.

He said the work was in accordance with the 2013 Education Act.

He said his Education Management Information System (EMIS) department had requested that their work systems be computerised to the same level Piukala achieved with the Education Department of Curriculums.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa denied allegation in the petition that Hon. Fifita had compelled the Ministry of Finance’s Government Procurement Committee (GPC) to approve the job using the single source  selection process.

Annual ministerial reports

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa claimed not only he has filed and submitted all the annual reports for his Ministries since 2015 – 2017 he also has filed and submitted reports for these Ministries which had not been submitted by the Ministers before him since 2013.

He said he was now the Finance Minister for just seven month but he has filed and submitted to Parliament the Ministry’s annual reports for four years starting from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

He said the petitioners should have petitioned against those Ministers before him who did not file these annual reports.

No Contract with Piukala

The petition alleged there was a contract between Piukala and the Ministry of Education.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva news there was no contractual agreement between the Ministry of Education and Piukala.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said Hon. Fifita and his CEO Claude Tupou asked that the job be approved using the single source selection process in March 2017. It had taken seven months before the Cabinet asked him to look at the issue when he was Acting Minister of Finance last year.

Tupou later withdrew his support for the single source selection process for Piukala after he alleged he had been warned by the Ministry of Finance’s Central Procurement Unit (CPU).

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said the cabinet decision came after Hon. Fifita complained that the process of Piukala’s employment had taken too long.

Wrong advice

The Finance Minister said it took too long for the job to be approved because the Ministry of Education was wrongly advised by the CPU that it was illegal to approve the job using the single source selection process.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said section 34 of the regulations for government procurements allowed the process for Piukala because he fitted the requirement of the section.

He said the CPU did not seek advice from the Government’s Procurement Committee (GPC).

He said the Solicitor General was a member of the GPC and if the CPU had done the right thing by submitting the issue on Piukala’s application to the GPC they would have received the right advice.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said he called meetings to look at the issue and discovered the decision to give the work to Piukala had not been submitted to the GPC.

Petition was wrong

The Minister said the allegation in ‘Amanaki’s petition that the single source selection process could only be used if government expenditure was under TP$3,000 was wrong.

“There was no regulation like that for the government’s procurement policy 2015,” he said.

The correct advice should be that the single source selection process could be used if one of the conditions of Section 34 is fulfilled.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said the CPU spent three months providing incorrect advice about the single source selection process.

Competitive bidding cancelled

He said when the GPC became aware of the issue and advised that single sourcing of Piukala was lawful the government then cancelled the competitive bidding process it had started.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said the government has wasted time on the matter.

The Minister said he thought the process took a long time because the Educatiom CEO Claude Tupou and the Head of the CPU were unwilling to give the job to Piukala.

According to Kele’a newspaper, Tupou told Hon. Fifita he did not want to sign Piukala’s contract because he did not want to lose his job.

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said there was nothing illegal in giving the job to Piukala, but according to minutes of meetings, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance were warned to avoid involving political interests in the process.

Kaniva news had been told one of the minutes read: “We need to protect any political issues raised by this work. It has happened before.”

“My question is what are the political issues. Was there breach of any laws or it was just the hearts that were occupied by malice?” Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said.

‘Amanaki, who openly expressed her disappointment against Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and his government on Facebook after she was dumped by the PTOA party in the November snap election, has continued to campaign against the Prime Minister and the Party.

Her petition also asks that an audit be carried out on some government department’s budgets from 2015 until now.

For more information

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