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Move to limit pay to one paycheck falters

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Dec. 29, 2008) – Tonga’s members of Cabinet will continue to receive two pay packets, one for their ministerial posts and the other from the House, the Minister of Finance Hon. Afu'alo Matoto said on December 19.

Although the Privy Council had decided in September that the Ministers should have only one salary and not two, it was impossible to implement it now, he told the Tongan press.

There is a legal issue that all members of the House must agree to one salary because they set their own salaries.

"The implementation of a Privy Council decision for Cabinet Ministers to have only one salary will not take place unless all members of parliament agree to be paid only a salary, and not a salary with daily allowances separately," the Minister of Finance said.

Hon. Afu'alo was optimistic that members of parliament would eventually agree to having one basic salary for members of parliament as recommended by Peter Salway and the Higher Salary Revision Committee in 2005, "because under the new Income Tax System Daily Allowances are also taxed, whereas before it was tax free."

He did not think there was any need for a legislation so that the one salary policy for Ministers can be implemented. All that was needed was for the House to accept a salary without daily allowances and for the the Cabinet to have only one salary.

But failing to convince members of parliament to have one basic salary for the House means that under the same rule Cabinet Members will continue to have two pay packets - one for their ministerial posts and the other from the House.

It was also considered that another solution for the two-salary issue might be found in a proposed new system of government with a fully elected parliament.

"The House then will be responsible for setting the salaries of all the members of the House," said Afu. "At the moment Cabinet Ministers are neither Civil Servants nor elected members of the House. They are appointed by the King and that was why the proposal by the Higher Salary Revision Committee and Peter Salway for one salary for the House and one salary for Cabinet Members was acceptable to the Privy Council.

"But the House disagreed, the members wanted their daily allowances to be paid as an addition to their basic salary, and in 2006 they increased it by 60% and back-dated to 2005 to be the same as when the Civil Servants were awarded their salary rise.

"Cabinet Ministers were then left to sort out their own salaries," said Afu.

The legal status of Cabinet Ministers is most unusual because in February 2005 Afu said it was officially declared that they no longer be regarded as Civil Servants.

Cabinet Ministers then are appointees of the King. To make the legal status of Cabinet Ministers even more confusing, consider that in Parliament they are regarded as Nobles of the Crown.

The work on a new single salary for Cabinet Ministers followed Privy Council approval on September 16 of a 2006 recommendation by an independent assessor Peter Salway and the Higher Salaries Review Committee to give Ministers only one salary.

On November 28 Afu'alo said that it was envisaged that the new salary would combine three components, "their salaries from Parliament plus allowances, and their salaries from their ministerial offices."

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