TONGA AGENCY UPHOLDS PUBLISHER’S COMPLAINT

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Maganti Tonga, June 19) - Tonga's Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet has ignored a request by Tonga's Complaints Commissioner to apologize to a Tongan magazine publisher for failing to respond to the publisher's complaints about her office.

Tonga's Commissioner for Public Relations, Mr Siaosi 'Aho, in June decided to release to the press full details of his inquiry into the case, because the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet, 'Eseta Fusitu'a, had not followed his recommendations and had not apologized.

Pesi Fonua, the publisher of the Matangi Tonga Online magazine, lodged a complaint to the Commissioner for Public Relations that the Media laws gazetted on 27 November 2003 had not been made public until after 24 December 2004.

The Commissioner said that in December 2003 Mr Fonua went to great pain to acquire his copies of the media laws gazetted on 27 November 2003 with no satisfactory results from both the printing department and the Information Unit of the Prime Minister's Office.

"He did not receive his copies of the Acts until 29 December 2003. His online release of 4 February 2004 was attacked by [the government] press release of 12 February 2004 as incorrect and when his supporting evidence was submitted to the Information Unit it was ignored," said the Commissioner, who noted that senior government officers had not been given authority to release the Acts.

The Commissioner for Public Relations, confirmed his preliminary finding of 21 April that, "Mr Fonua's complaint is very genuine and can be sustained."

Mr 'Aho said Mr Fonua's complaint could be sustained for the reasons that the Information Unit's action taken was based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact, and it was unreasonable and improperly discriminatory.

Although the Commissioner recommended to the Chief Secretary on 21 April 2004 that, "a letter of apology was in order for the failure of your office staff in their duty as public servants to be responsive and accountable for their action in performing their service delivery to the public," Mrs Fusitu'a had made no attempt to apologize to Mr Fonua.

Later on May 3, the Commissioner told her that, "your letter in trying to maintain your stance has failed to address the issue, which is simply - 'were the media laws made public on 27th November 2003 or not?' Your letter does not shed any new evidence on my preliminary view, rather it confirms my finding that there is a serious systemic problem within your office which requires urgently looking into."

The Commissioner said that the Chief Secretary had confirmed that communication was made with senior officers of her office, well after the date of gazetting because the Acts had not been released to the public.

He did not accept Mrs Fusitu'a's unnecessary deviation from the issue.

The Commissioner recommended to the Chief Secretary to, "seriously look at the communication system within your office to ensure that senior officers are au fait with policies and procedures and also what decisions they can take to avoid the buck-passing unfolded by the exercise; and, "that you should immediately look at establishing as soon as possible a complaints unit to ensure that the delay shown by this exercise can be eliminated."

The recommendations made by the Commissioner followed several weeks of investigation into the complaints lodged by Pesi Fonua on 8 March 2004.

During the investigation the Commissioner told the Chief Secretary that, "I am most disturbed by the sense of apathy in reply", and reminded her that his office was established because of the Prince Regent Tupouto'a's concern at, and wish to eliminate from government departments and organizations, "the high-handed and aloof attitude of public servants in carrying out their duties to the public".

"The matter in our view could have been resolved very simply if someone in your office was prepared or authorized to take a decision instead of awaiting your direction or return from overseas."

The Commissioner also pointed out that a Senior Communication Counsel's Internal Memo to the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet on 18 March 2004 had said, "If Pesi's claims are correct, that the Printing department withheld the Acts, then the [government] press release dated 12 February 2004 is incorrect and remedial action must be taken."

The Commissioner declared, "that, the Information Unit did not address the serious issue Mr Fonua had raised, of withholding legislation from the public from the date of gazetting on 27 November 2003 to the date it was released and 'made public' on 24 December 2003, can be sustained".

Pesi Fonua confirmed on 18 June he had never received a letter of apology from the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet.

June 22, 2004

Matangi Tonga: www.matangitonga.to/nav.html

 

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