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Lawmaker mom takes part in appointment of son

By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 15, 2009) – The reappointment of Vaitoti Tupa to the national environment service this year was clouded by strong political interference and political interest says the audit office.

In a report made public this week, audit questions the credibility of Tupa’s appointment in the face of his mother Takuvaine MP Ngai Tupa’s influence on the decision.

"Of particular concern is the fact that Ngai Tupa, who is the mother of Vaitoti Tupa was present in two cabinet meetings when the appointment of the NES director was discussed and deliberated by cabinet. There is strong evidence that Ngai Tupa pressured other cabinet ministers and influenced Ngamau Munokoa to appoint her son," says the report.

The report on Tupa’s reappointment process says audit is certain that MP Ngai Tupa had a conflict of interest by taking part in cabinet’s deliberation on a matter concerning her son.

Audit says further failure by government to eliminate political interference from the process of HoM appointments will result in corrupt practices and lead to public scrutiny.

It was prime minister Jim Marurai who spilled the beans on the extent of Ngai Tupa’s pressure applied to cabinet to reappoint her son.

Audit said it was appalled at the appointment process and the situation set a precedent.

Its investigation was initiated as a result of complaints and the fact that it was a matter of public interest.

The complainant alleged that the appointment was questionable and controversial given that Tupa was not the number one candidate recommended by the selection panel, and the former NES minister Kete Ioane to cabinet.

Tupa held the position from 22 March 2004 to 22 March 2007.

Former environment minister Kete Ioane advertised the position and Tupa was reappointed in October 2007 for a one year period.

It was alleged Ioane made the one year appointment because he had been pressured by cabinet to do so. The basis of the complaint also alleged that because Ioane refused to reappoint Tupa when that contract expired in October 2008, cabinet removed the NES portfolio from him and gave it to Ngamau Munokoa so she could make the appointment.

Tupa was appointed by Munokoa in March his year for another three years.

Audit said it evident that cabinet’s decision to appoint Tupa was governed by political interest rather than on merit.

PM Marurai told audit that because Ioane refused to recommend Tupa to the NES job, and in ‘order to bring harmony’ among the cabinet ministers, it was decided to reshuffle portfolios.

Audit confirmed that Ioane had not recommended Tupa as the preferred candidate for the position of NES director, evident in his letter of October 8 2008 to cabinet. He recommended and supported the recommendations of the independent selection committee. That committee gave the minister three candidates for final selection and Tupa was the second of those.

Audit found that Ioane reluctantly appointed Tupa for another year after resistance from cabinet ministers in respect to his recommendation.

"It was his understanding that the extension of Vaitoti Tupa’s contract was to give him enough time to seek other employment," said audit.

Audit says Ioane acted with in-tegrity and was transparent in the appointment process.

Audit’s opinion is that there will always be political interference in the appointment of HoMs particularly where the authority and the ultimate power to appoint them stays with the minister, cabinet or a board. It has recommended that government make changes to its employment systems to avoid the trend continuing. - Helen Greig

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