Lord Tu'ilakepa challenges government "overspending"

The Tongan Parliament was in an upheaval Thursday with the revelation by Lord Tu’ilakepa that the Prime Minister was paying his Media Adviser $500 (US$235) a day, three days a week.

The Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva responded to Lord Tu’ilakepa’s revelation by saying that he would do something about the salary of his media adviser.

However, he told the House that the paying of extremely high salary to advisers has been carried out before in the Prime Minister’s Office. He said that during 2012-13, an adviser in the PM’s Office was paid more than $468,000 (US$220,474) per annum. It was later reduced to more than $364,000 (US$171,480). “It is not new,” he said.

The Speaker, Lord Tu’ivakano, who was the Prime Minister at the time, clarified the remark made by the Prime Minister, that the $468,000 salary for the adviser was paid by the World Bank for work that the adviser was doing on renewable energy. He also pointed out that the adviser had negotiated with the World Bank for the project.

The Minister of Police, Pohiva Tui’onetoa, who was the government Auditor’s General at the time, reminded the House that the money that comes from donors to government, then becomes government funds.

However, the issue was dropped when Legislature turned into the Whole House Committee and the debate in the committee continued with Report No. 7 of the Standing Committee of Privileges relating to a proposal to amend the Rules of Procedure and the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly to differentiate a motion or a petition that is presented by a member of parliament to the House from that presented by a Cabinet Minister.

The Prime Minister Pohiva and the Minister of Justice, Vuna Fa’otusia requested to let Cabinet look at the issue, but the House was closed for the week without a definite decision on the issue discussed.

Earlier, Lord Tu’ilakepa, the Nobles’ Representative No. 1 for Vava’u,  tabled a motion for the impeachment of the Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. ‘Etuate Lavulavu for nepotism and the misuse and manage of government property.

He has since been reporting to the House on what he claimed to be the misappropriating of government money; a high salary for the CEO of the Waste Management Authority, and money owed by a Cabinet Minister to the Friendly Island Shipping Authority.