Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva’s cabinet passed a resolution yesterday to enquire into a decision by sacked Finance Minister Tēvita Lavemaau to spend TP$80,000 on the opening of the new government house early this month.
Hon. Lavemaau disobeyed a cabinet decision rejecting his proposal to allow TP$22,000 to cover expenses on gifts and a party arranged as part of the ceremony, the Minister of Finance Dr. Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva News yesterday afternoon.
Hon. Lavemaau said in a press release in Tongan last week obtained by Kaniva News that the spending he authorised for the new government house was legal, fair, appropriate and suitable for such a ceremony.
Dr. Tu’i’onetoa alleged that he was told by the CEO of the Ministry of Finance that Hon. Lavemaau said he authorised the money because he has the power to do so when the government was under the caretaker mode.
The Minister of Finance has been directed to lodge a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Dr. Tu’i’onetoa said an organising committee for the launch of the government house, known as St George palace, had requested TP$60,000 for the opening ceremony.
He said Hon. Lavemaau approved the request, but instead of approving TP$60,000 he authorised TP$80,000 to make sure the ceremony was organised successfully.
The committee spent about TP$75,000 of the money, Dr. Tu’i’onetoa said.
The money was used to cover the expenses for the ceremony including landscaping, gardening, the hire of tents, sound systems and a cocktail party.
Dr. Tu’i’onetoa said the money included TP$22,000 which was intended to be spent on cultural activities and stuff such as ngatu, fihu and sila me’a’ofa (envelope of money) to be presented as gifts.
The former Auditor General said because the financial instructions did not say anything about spending on cultural activities and supplies, Hon. Lavemaau then sought the approval of the cabinet.
However, cabinet declined his request, he said.
He said while the policy allowed the minister to approve the TP$60,000 Hon. Lavemaau disobeyed the cabinet decision and paid out the TP$22,000 to the committee.
Dr. Tu’i’onetoa said a report from the Ombudsmen on the inquiries would be significant to his Ministry’s decision while the government was temporarily holding power.
As Kaniva News reported earlier, the Prime Minister said shortly after he sacked Hon. Lavemaau and the Deputy Prime Minister early this month he suspected his rejection of the proposal to spend TP$60,000 on the opening of the St George Palace had turned the pair against him.
In revealing the difference over the money between the cabinet and Hon. Lavemaau Hon. Pōhiva reportedly said if Lavemaau went ahead and authorise the money, it was illegal.
According to the Constitution, “…caretaker Ministers shall not incur any unusual or unnecessary expenditure without the written approval of the caretaker Minister for Finance.”
The main points
- The Tongan Cabinet passed a resolution this morning to enquire into a decision by sacked Finance Minister Tevita Lavemaau to spend TP$80,000 on the opening of the new government house.
- Lavemaau disobeyed a cabinet decision rejecting his proposal to allow TP$22,000 to cover expenses, the Minister of Finance Dr. Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva News this afternoon.
- Lavemaau said last week that the spending he authorised for the new government house was legal, fair and appropriate.
- The Minister of Finance has been directed to lodge a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman.
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