FIRST TONGA PARLIAMENT AUDIT OPENS CAN OF

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Financial irregularities abound, confound

By Pesi Fonua NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 22, 2011) – In Tonga, when the Speaker of the Tongan Parliament, Lord Lasike presented to Parliament on January 14, what he called the first audited report on the financial status of the Tonga Legislative Assembly this century, he opened up a can of worms, as members queried irregularities in the Legislature's accounts.

The Speaker told the House that the report, dated from 1 July to 31 December 2010 was the first ever audited financial report of the Legislative Assembly to have been presented to parliament since 1999, and that he was doing it to mark the beginning of his term as the Speaker of the House.

'Isileli Pulu complimented the Speaker for his effort but said that he should have authorized the auditor to go back further beyond 1 July 2010 because there were allocations to the Electoral Districts, particularly to Vava'u which amounted to over 100,000 paanga [US$54,000] that had neither been audited nor accounted for.

'Akilisi Pohiva told the Speaker that the audited financial report was absolutely unreliable because it did not include 140,000 paanga [US$75,000] that was allocated to the Vava'u Electoral District.

The Speaker said that his "poor" financial report was just for the first six months of the current financial year, to show the financial position of the House before he took over. He said that if members wanted the auditor to go back to previous years then it was their responsibility to request for the auditor to go back. He insisted that his report was very reliable.

The Minister of Labor, Commerce and Industries, Hon. Lisiate 'Akolo supported the concern expressed by 'Isleli and 'Akilisi over the unaccounted for allocation for the Vava'u Electoral District. He said that during his election campaign the people in Vava'u were querying the whereabouts of that fund.

He also expressed his concern that two allocations in the House's budget which should hold funds throughout the year were showing up zero: the allocation for Travel and Communication, and the allocation for Gifts and Gratitude.

Lisiate also pointed out the amount of 50,000 paꞌanga [US$27,000] that remained unpaid for, and yet he recalled that the former Speaker of the House requested government for the amount to pay for a solar power project in Vava'u, and the House decided for the project to be paid for by the Vava'u Development Committee.

He also queried the amount of 55,000 paꞌanga [US$30,000] for a new vehicle which had been bought, and yet it was still showing in the book as has not been paid for. He wanted to know if the new vehicle was paid for from the government's Contingency Fund or it had not been paid for at all.

The Speaker said that with regards to two depleted accounts of the House, one had a deficit of 9,825 paꞌanga [US$5,300] and the other had a deficit of 13,902 paꞌanga [US$7,500].

He said that the reason why there was no money in the Travel and Communication account was because while he was Acting Speaker the former Prime Minister had requested for the amount of over 70,000 paꞌanga [US$38,000] to be paid to the Tonga Broadcasting Commission on the understanding for the amount to be repaid, and he authorized the payment.

He reminded the House that during the national fund-raising to help the people of Christchurch who were affected by the earthquake, there was a request to the House, and he was the Acting Speaker at the time and he authorized a contribution of 50,000 paꞌanga [US$27,000].

'Isileli Pulu wanted to know where the 50,000 paꞌanga [US$27,000] for the Vava'u Solar Power came from, and that he could not find any record of the 50,000 paꞌanga [US$27,000] contribution to the Christchurch Earthquake.

The Speaker reminded the member of a grant that was given by the House during the 2008-2009 financial year, when 60,000 paꞌanga [US$32,000] was allocated for Tongatapu, 50,000 paꞌanga [US$27,000] for Vava'u, and 30,000 paꞌanga [US$16,000] each for Ha'apai, 'Eua and Niua. He told the Member that if he could not find the figures that he was looking for, he should try looking in the outside cover of his report.

The Minister of Works, Youth and Sport, Hon. Fe'aomoeata Vakata wanted some clarification in the report about a financial assistance to improve the power supply in the Niuas. He wanted some details on the assistance because there is no electricity supply in the Niuas.

The Speaker said that there may be an error in his report or maybe it was a project of the former People’s Representative for the Niuas.

The Speaker thought that members were ungrateful of his attempt to produce an audited financial report, the first since 1999, by grilling him with hard questions.

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