PM should heed warnings from the Cabinet Manual and Roman poet as election approaches

    'Oku taupotu 'i lalo ha fakamatala nounou fakaTonga

    COMMENTARY: Writing 2000 years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal famously asked: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

    The phrase translates from Latin into English as  “Who will guard the guardians?” It is generally used to raise the question of how to control the actions of people in positions of authority.

    Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa. Photo/Kalino Lātū (Kaniva Tonga)

    If people have power, who will keep them accountable and ensure that there is no conflict of interest or taint of corruption in government or politics? Or even the faintest hint of such things, for mere suspicion is enough to taint a government and its leaders.

    The Roman poet and his question came to mind this week after Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa appeared on his official Facebook livestream with Radio FM 87.5 and shifted his previous justification about conflict of interest from claiming there was nothing in the Tongan law to stop it into saying that Cabinet Members giving a contract to someone or a member of their family were okay if they were the suitable people to do the job and that  the due process allowed it.

    No doubt he thought it’s timely to raise this issue again before next week’s election in case the electors continue to be troubled by the stink that hangs over the disbursement of funding and jobs in the Prime Minister’s much vaunted road programme.

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    Our readers will be aware that the contacts invariably went to friends of the government and people with close ties to it.

    The financial fall out has still to be accounted for.

    However, the Prime Minister has apparently forgotten that there is indeed a law which specifically prohibits this from happening.

    The official Manual of His Majesty’s Cabinet (2016, revised edition) says quite clearly in  paragraph 93:

    “Ministers must ensure that no actual or reasonably perceived conflict exists (or appears to exist) between their public duty and their private interests. Private interests that could give rise to conflicts could include, for example, a Minister’s business interests, a Minister’s family’s interests, association with non-public bodies, receipt of gifts or fees. Appearances can be as important as reality in conflict of interest issues and must be considered in establishing acceptable behaviour.

    It goes on to say in paragraph 95:

    “In practical terms, Ministers should ensure that any possible conflict of interest is promptly addressed. The Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet should be kept informed and the Prime Minister advised. If in doubt about the appropriate course of action, Ministers should consult the Prime Minister or Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet.”

    This is all well and good, but what happens when the conflict of interest- or even the appearance of it – stems from the actions of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet itself? Or as Juvenal asked, who is keeping an eye on those in power and who can control them?

    In paragraph 96 the manual warns: “There is a somewhat grey boundary between conflicts of interest and corruption. The association between the two means that great care must be taken by Ministers and officials to deal openly with any conflicts of interest.”

    These are warnings that Hon. Tu’i’onetoa should read carefully. He has been very vocal recently in trying to defend his government again from the claims that he was practising favouritism after he declared publicly that his government only prioritised the needs of constituencies of Cabinet Ministers because they were the ones who supported the PM and the government’s policies.

    It is clearly improper for the leader of the government to indulge in such practice. His duty is to provide for the needs of all the people fairly. The payments for these projects come from a national budget funded by overseas donors and all the people in Tonga. It was not only funded by the people in the Ministers’ constituencies.

    Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said the rest of the MPs who were not Cabinet Ministers and did not support his Cabinet did not support his multi million roading project either, so that’s why the roads in these constituencies were not repaired.

    Clearly the Prime Minister has failed to grasp the fact that the MPs were not elected to all become ministers according to the Tongan political system. The MPs who were not selected to government remain in parliament as lawmakers. This means they have no right to hand out favours or government contracts as they see fit, or any obligation to blindly support the government.

    The Prime Minister should also remember that his job is to rule for the benefit of all Tongans and for the good of the kingdom, regardless of whether they voted for him, or support his policies.

    So let him open his copy of the Cabinet manual and turn to page 27, where he will find the reminder he needs of how he is supposed to behave.

    Let him also remember that today, when we ask who will control those in power we have an answer: The voters.

    ——————– FAKAMATALA FAKATONGA ———————–

    Kuo toe hā mai mei he palēmia’ ‘a e palopalema ko e feheke’aki ‘ene faka’uhinga’ ‘o ‘ikai ke pau ki ha me’a. Na’a’ ne fai lahi’i ‘eni ‘i he keisi ‘a Akosita Lavulavu’. ‘Uluaki ‘ai ‘ene fo’i faka’uhinga, pea fakatonutonu atu ngali ‘o ne ‘ilo kuo’ ne hala’ pea hiki leva ‘ene fakatonuhia’ ki he toe ‘uhinga ia ‘e taha koloa pe ke fakatonuhia’i ‘ene tōnounou’. Na’e ‘uluaki fai e tipeiti mo ia he conflict of interest pe ko ‘ene foaki filifilimānako mo hono pule’anga’ ‘a e ngaahi sēvesi mo e faingamālie mei he pule’anga’ ki honau fāmili pe tautonu kau ai mo honau ngaahi vāhenga ‘i ha founga ne mātu’aki fehu’ia lahi. Ko ‘ene tali na’e ‘omi tonu ki he Kaniva’ he ‘aho ko ia’ ne ne fakamamafa’i ‘o pehē na’e ‘ikai ha lao ia ‘e maumau’i. Ka ko e me’a ke ne manatu’i’,  ‘oku ‘i ai pe lao ia ki ai he founga ngāue ‘a e Kapineti’ pe ko e Cabinet Manual peesi 27. Uike kuo ‘osi’ kuo ne liliu ‘ene fakamamafa ko ia’ ‘o pehē kapau ‘oku ‘atā pe ia he founga ngāue pe due process pea ‘oku sai pe ia. Ka ne ‘osi fehu’ia ‘a e founga ngāue due process ‘a e pule’anga’ heni pea ne lāunga lahi ai ‘a e kau piti ki he ‘ū konituleki ko eni’ ‘o pehē ne ‘ikai pe fea hono ‘ofa ‘o e ngaahi ngāue’. Hanu mo e ngaahi vāhenga kehe’ tautefito ki Tt 1 mo Tt 2 ko e mata ia e fonua’ hono li’ekina kinaua’. Ko e fatongia ‘o e pule’anga’ ke ne vahevahe taau e ngāue’ ‘i Tonga kotoa pe ‘oua ‘e hala ha vāhenga tu’unga he pehē tokua ‘oku ‘ikai poupou ange honau fakafofonga’. ‘Uhinga hala lahi ‘aupito ia he me’afua ‘o e pule lelei (good governance) pe fakamaau totonu pea mo hono  fakatonuhia’i ki he kau totongi tukuhau e to’o fatongia ‘oku fai ma’a kinautolu (accountability). Ko e me’a ‘eni ‘oku ui ko hono fakapolitikale’i e ngaahi fatongia tefito ki he kakai ‘o e pule’anga’. ‘Oku tānaki tukuhau tatau pe ngaahi vāhenga ‘e 17 kae filifilimānako e pule’anga’ ni hono tanu honau ngaahi hala’ mo e ngaahi langa fakalakalaka ‘oku’ ne fai’. Ko e pehē ko ē ‘e toki hoko atu kia kinautolu he toenga ta’u ka hoko’ ko e fo’i kemipeini fakapolitikale ia pea ‘oku hala ia ke fakapolitikale’i ‘a e kaveinga ‘o e vahevahe taau o e koloa fakafonua’. Kaekehe, ko e Cabinet Manual pe tu’utu’uni Kapineti ke muimui ai e kau minisitaa’ ‘oku’ ne fakatokanga mamafa ki he kau minisitaa’ ke fakamama’o mei he Conflict of Interest. ‘Oku te’eki ai pe ke mau sio atu kuo ‘i ai ha fo’i faka’uhinga lelei mo ‘ēfika ‘e taha ‘a e palēmia’ ‘e ‘omai ke ne fakatonuhia’i’aki ‘ene founga filifilimānako ‘i hono tufotufa taau ‘o e ngaahi monū’ia mei he pule’anga’ ki he kakai’. Feheke’aki ai pe he taimi kotoa.

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