PM Pōhiva says costs of overseas travel, spending on government vehicles, will be strictly monitored 

Tonga’s new Prime Minister Samuela ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has promised to slash costs in his inaugural speech.

Speaking in the kingdom’s capital of Nuku’alofa last Friday, the Prime Minister pinpointed areas like spending on government vehicles and overseas travel as key areas where money could be saved.

“It must be done with sympathy, it must be started from our tāputa (using the only thing we can afford) and it has to start right from us,” the Prime Minister said.

Pōhiva said costs must be strictly monitored as they contributed hugely to the amount of tax payers’ money the government spent.

He said department heads and senior officials used government vehicles on important tasks, but some civil servants also used them for private matters and they would have to pay for such use.

Overseas travel by government ministers would only be allowed for urgent business, the Prime Minister said.

His statement on budget cuts comes after years of campaigning in opposition for wise management of the kingdom’s finances.

He said if Tonga’s budget was managed properly, the economy could become stable. This would lead to vigorous economic growth and mean  less reliance on overseas donors.

The veteran democratic politician became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister when he assumed the title on December 29.

He had announced that if he was elected he would cut all unnecessary costs and make big reductions in expenses. He said those leading the country must be ready to make sacrifices to ensure the policy succeeded.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Tupoutoʻa, who was also the guest of honour, all cabinet ministers and head of departments and hundreds of public servants.

Lead by example

Pōhiva, whose Kele’a newspaper has regularly reported that he pays back part of his Parliamentary salary, said he would lead the country by example and would commit to performing his duty as Prime Minister with great personal sacrifice.

He did not say exactly what his personal commitment would be, but he and his cabinet ministers have already set the tone.

When he was appointed by the King on December 31, 2014 Pōhiva arrived at the Royal Palace in Nukuʻaofa in his private car and not the luxurious Prime Ministerial vehicle he was entitled to use.

In the afternoon Pōhiva summoned a cabinet meeting to formalise the list of the new ministers before it was taken to the king.

Deputy Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni and Hon. Semisi Fakahau were spotted walking to the cabinet house in Nukuʻalofa without using their ministerial vehicles.

History

In the past Kele’a regularly published pictures of government vehicles spotted driven by the wives or relatives of ministers or heads of departments after normal government working hours and said such  behaviour must be stopped.

In 2010, after Tonga’s first democratic elections, Pōhiva told the New Zealand Herald: “Misuse of Government vehicles is common. Travelling overseas on trivial things is another. Travelling on first class is terrible.”

Former government members argued that ministers and department heads were entitled to use the government vehicles whenever they wanted, but Pōhiva always insisted this was not right as the vehicles and all related expenses were being paid by the Tongan taxpayers.

There have been a number of reports of government officials claiming their overseas travelling costs – which include a first class air ticket – and then downgrading it to economy and keeping the balance.

Pōhiva said former government policies had allowed abuses of expenses by government officials to occur.

Such policies would come to an end during his four years in office.

In January 2013 a report published by Transparency International says “Corruption is still a major problem in Tonga but the government has taken significant steps forward in recent years to fight corruption and improve the country’s governance, making it move up the ladder of “clean” countries”.

“Political corruption and nepotism are prominent issues in Tonga which are rooted in the country’s political and demographic structure, strong sense of kinship, and late democratic awakening”, says the report.

The main points

  • Tonga’s new Prime Minister, Samuela ‘Akilisi Pōhiva, has promised to slash costs in his inaugural speech.
  • Speaking in the kingdom’s capital of Nuku’alofa last Friday, the Prime Minister pinpointed areas like spending on government vehicles and overseas travel as key areas where money could be saved.
  • Pōhiva’s statement on budget cuts comes after years of campaigning in opposition for wise management of the kingdom’s finances.
  • He said if Tonga’s budget was managed properly, the economy could become stable. This would lead to vigorous economic growth and mean less reliance on overseas donors.

For more information

‘Tongan leader Akilisi Pōhiva talks to the Herald’

‘Tricky Road ahead for Tongan PM’

Transparency International report on Tonga

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