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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, ) – Three members of the Public Service Association PSA, Vili Vete, Mele 'Amanaki and Sione Taione presented a Letter of Petition to the Private Secretary of the king, Sateki 'Ahio at the Palace Office at 4 pm this afternoon.

The presentation was low key despite rumours that the PSA was to hold a mass meeting at the Sofele Kala Hala, 'Apifo'ou, Ma'ufanga before a march to present their petition to Sateki 'Ahio.

At about mid-day today when roads leading into central Nuku'alofa were closed, people in town speculated that a protest march was about to take place, a rumour that irritated the Acting Commander of Police, Taniela Faletau. When he was asked about a possible protest march through Nuku'alofa, he responded, "What march? Central Nuku'alofa is a protected area, and no marches are allowed!"

Sateki 'Ahio said that they were expecting five members of the PSA to deliver the Letter of Petition about 12.30pm, but eventually three members Vili Vete, Mele 'Amanaki and Sione Taione delivered it.

Sateki did not want to reveal the content of the petition until after it had been presented to the king.

PSA Executive Pressure

The PSA in previous weeks have been calling for the resignation of the three Public Service Commissioners, the chair person, Mishka Tu'ifua, the general manager of the Westpac Bank of Tonga; and commissioners Taiatu 'Ata'ata, the Marketing Manager of the Tonga Communications Corporation, and Ross Chapman, of Pacific Finance and Investments Ltd.

Yesterday, July 5 the PSA Executive Board called for the beginning of an industrial action against the companies where the Commissioners are formally employed, stating they will continue the boycott until the three Commissioners resign from the PSC and Government..

In a press statement it said that, "the PSA will move hundreds of their members accounts from the Westpac Bank to another bank." The PSA members are also members of the Retirement Fund Board (RFB), who has a TOP$12m [US$5.8m] investment in the Westpac Bank, and they will consider requesting to their RFB not to invest anymore of their money in the Westpac Bank and remove their investment as soon as it matures, "if the General Manager of the Westpac Bank does not resign from the PSC by the end of this month."

The press statement also said that although the Prime Minister chairs the RFB and two Ministers sit on the Board, " Although the Prime Minister chairs the RFB and 2 Ministers sits at the Board, the PSA hopes that they will not jeopardize their retirement fund by refusing to cooperate.

The PSA Executive was concerned that the government had told the Acting President of the PSA, Mr. Vili Vete, to go on leave from work starting today. He had worked in the Ministry of Education for 43 years. The government in February earlier this year had suspended without pay for 11 weeks the Secretary General of PSA, Mele 'Amanaki

It is understood the PSA petitioners want to negotiate with government not to defer or cancel their benefits, and also to rectify the negative impact the 2006 Voluntary Redundancy Policy had had on critical posts in schools.

The PSA executive blamed the PSC for the decisions.

Government Review

Meanwhile the Ministry of Public Enterprise issued their own statement today stating that, "Government has reviewed the PSA's allegations against the Commissioners and found that these are basically without foundation.

"The impact of the redundancy on the schools, teachers and students cannot be blamed on the Commissioners," it stated.

The statement criticised the public servants for not following their code of conduct. "Instead of being the backbone of the executive branch of Government they become pawnbrokers for politicians. There are channels for addressing grievances in the public service and those channels should be used." The statement said the Minister for Public Enterprises will be ready to meet with the Executive Committee of the PSA and discuss their concerns if this can bridge the relationship between the PSA and Government.

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