AG defends report that exposed fraud and financial disarray in ministries as “independent”

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Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva (L) and Dr. Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa Minister of Customs and Revenue. Photo/Fale Alea 'o Tonga (Facebook)

Tonga’s former Auditor General, Hon. Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, said the report which exposed fraud and financial disarray in government ministries was “independent”.

The report by the current Auditor General’s office revealed some tools belonging to the Ministry of Infrastructure in Vava’u had been sold in secret, while book-keeping at the Ministry of Justice created opportunities for staff to steal money.

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva welcomed the report and said it showed there was huge disarray in the government’s ministries and how they took care of the government’s possessions.

In Tongan he said: “…mahalo ko e lea ko ē ‘oku totonu ke ngāue’aki ki ai fu’u felekeu lahi pehē ‘a e anga ‘etau fakahoko hotau ngaahi fatongia mo e ‘ikai ke tau tokanga ki he koloa ‘a e Pule’anga”.

The Prime Minister told Parliament this was the first time the House had seen a thorough and very transparent report by the Auditor General.

Former Finance Minister ‘Aisake Eke said the report suggested ways for the government to improve the performance of ministries.

He told the House the “weaknesses” reported by the auditor should not be reported again after this financial year 2017/18.

Former Minister of Internal Affairs and Niuas MP Fe’ao Vakata said most of the problems reported by the auditor occurred due to “due process”.

Vakata was concerned at the amount of corruption the auditor had referred to in his report which occurred in the Ministry of Infrastructure in Vava’u.

He said the report should be followed closely by all MPs as it was designed to protect all of them, not just the government.

The report recorded failings in a number of ministries, ranging from records of revenue collected not being kept, over payment of daily allowances and delays in banking revenue.

Dr Eke said he was concerned that the Water Board directors were paid in advance and that the disorganised way the Ministry of Justice kept its record meant staff could easily steal the money it corrected from birth, death and marriage certificates.

He suggested the report should be passed on to the Finance Committee so it could pinpoint the issues the government most needed to improve.

He said in that way the report would then be make used practically and effectively.

The Prime Minister told the House the Ministers should take the Auditor General’s report back to their Ministries and resolve the problems with their CEOs and staff.

However, Lord Nuku argued the report had reported that there were “wrongdoings” and they should be addressed through the proper Parliamentary procedures.

He said it was wrong for the Prime Minister to tell his ministers to go back and try to correct the problems.

The Prime Ministers said the House could decide whether to pass the report to the Finance Committee.

He said it was important for the Ministers to do something about the problems so they did not happen again.

The history

Former Auditor General Hon. Pohiva Tu’ionetoa, who is now the Minister of Customs and Revenue and Labour and Commerce, told Kaniva News when he became Auditor General he was accountable to the Prime Minister, according to the law.

This meant no full report was made available to Parliament because the auditor’s report was made as part of the Prime Minister’s office annual report to the House.

This meant the Prime Minister had full control of what the auditor could put in the report, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said.

He said as a professional auditor who had worked in the office of the New Zealand’s General Auditor office he wanted the auditor to work independently.

It was a difficult task because there were some cultural and traditional beliefs that had influenced how the auditor should be controlled, he said.

When ‘Akilisi Pohiva began pushing for a change to democracy he thought it was the right time for him to  push for the auditor general to be independent.

In 1984 the government passed a bill he submitted to change  the auditor’s title from Auditor for Government into Auditor General.

However, the government rejected his proposal to remove the auditor from the control of the Prime Minister and the cabinet and attach the post to the Speaker of Parliament.

In 2007 the Parliament finally passed a law to allow the Auditor General to come under the Speaker of the House.

In 2012 the House called a special meeting to sack him for allegedly making a false report regarding funding from Australia and New Zealand for Tonga’s political reform in 2010.

Parliament cleared Hon. Tu’ionetoa when it became clear his report was correct. This led to a demand from New Zealand and Australia for the Tongan government to pay back the amount of money the auditor said was unaccounted for.

Hon. Tu’ionetoa said at the time he submitted a private bill through Dr Eke to remove the Auditor General from the Prime Minister and cabinet and bring him under the Speaker so he could do his job independently.

Parliament voted unanimously for the bill with great support from ‘Akilis Pohiva and the Democrats, he said.

“Therefore the independent report by the Auditor today, was the result of what I have explained above. If Eke and ‘Akilisi Pohiva and the Democrats had not supported the bill we could not have reached this stage of good governance where we see the Auditor had performed regarding auditing”, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said.

In Tongans he said: “Koia ko e lipooti tau’ataina a e Atita ‘I he ‘aho ni, ko e ola ia ‘o e ngaahi liliu kuo u lave kiai ‘I ‘olunga. Kapau na’e ‘ikai kau kiai a e Minisita Pa’anga Malolo, mo e poupou ‘a Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, e ‘ikai te tau a’usia a e tau’ataina ‘o e Good Governance ‘o e ‘aho ni, felave’i mo e ngaue faka’atita.”

The main points

  • Tonga’s former Auditor General, Hon. Pohiva Tu’I’onetoa, said the report which exposed fraud and financial disarray in government ministries was “independent”.
  • The report by the current Auditor General’s office revealed some tools belonging to the Ministry of Infrastructure in Vava’u had been sold in secret.
  • It said book-keeping practices at the Ministry of Justice created opportunities for staff to steal money.
  • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva welcomed the report and said it showed there was huge disarray in the government’s ministries and how they took of the government’s possessions.

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