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By Pesi Fonua

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Mar. 15) - The Consumption Tax that government will introduce on April 1, is intended to distract the public attention from the corruption that is going on at the wharf, said Dr. Feleti Sevele, the incumbent Tongatapu No. 2 People’s Representative to the Tongan parliament and a candidate for Thursday’s General Election.

Feleti claimed that the attention of senior custom officers will be on the new tax, "while corruption is rife at the wharf."

Feleti also believed that the rushed introduction of the tax was simply to enable Treasury to collect from Consumption Tax because of the removal of the Sales Tax, so that they can work out the duty and what they may deduct, and the income tax regime they will have. So they are working back to front.

"They are not ready. It seems to me in the meetings we have had, that the whole thing is driven by consultants, not our own staff," Feleti said. "I would rather see the tax deferred and for the necessary legislation to be implemented at the same time."

Feleti said that the process of implementing the tax, which they agreed to in parliament, differed from what the Minister of Finance was implementing.

"We were told that the three components of the Taxation System were all going to be launched together. They may come to the House in stages, but the implementation was going to be all at the same time. On that basis we agreed, but that is not what is happening. We are all in support of the reform but not in the way it has been handled. You can’t have an economic reform such as this on a piece-meal basis. If you do it, then do it all at once."

Feleti was pessimistic about the Public Sector and the Economic Reform program that was launched by the Minister of Finance in 2002.

"It has not worked. You look at the Ministry of Finance, and Customs. Those were the areas where this reform was supposed to have taken place."

Feleti’s solution is to overhaul the Customs Department, "my view is that we should get four or five guys from Australia or New Zealand and let them run the Customs Department."

Feleti said that the government’s lack of political will to take action had driven home the message that there is a need for political changes. "Nothing will happen until the ministers know that they are accountable to the people."

With regards to the coming election Feleti expressed his regret that the private life of some candidates had become campaign issues. "Your public performance, yes, but your private life should not be an issue. We should be criticized on things relating to our public performance, not personal."

Feleti said that there was an effort to break the solidarity of the seven incumbent members and the three Tongatapu representatives and so, "the issue of my friendship with HRH and Shoreline came to the surface, but I have explained my point on that."

March 16, 2005

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