Tonga Parliament Rejects Report Which Included Passport Sale Issue

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Auditor told to correct, resubmit Annual Report with ‘facts’ not ‘opinions’

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 9, 2014) –Raising the controversial issues of Tongan passport sales and transfers of funds to TongaSat, the Annual Report of Tonga's Auditor General for 2012-13 was rejected by the Tongan parliament last week on April 2.

After debating the report which was submitted by the Speaker, the House ordered that the Auditor’s Report be returned to Pohiva Tu'ionetoa for corrections, and to be resubmitted to parliament in June.

The report raised sensitive issues. Some Cabinet Ministers, particularly the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards, disagreed with the Auditor’s findings and pointed out that the Auditor General was expressing his "opinions rather than facts".

Clive maintained that there were "lies" in the report that should be corrected.

After some vociferous debate over the report, a majority of government ministers supported his view that there were "lies in the report". They were in opposition to the view of other members that the report was an independent view of the Auditor General, and that the House should just pass it and address some of the concerns that were raised in the report.

The debate got a bit confusing at times because the two most vocal members, the Minister of Justice, Hon. Clive Edwards and ‘Akilisi Pohiva, the People's Representative for Constituent No. 1, kept referring to their own sources of information. The chairman of the Whole House Committee could neither stop them nor order them to present to the house their sources of information.

One of the hot issues in the Auditor's Report related to an application by a Mr and Mrs Lee for 13 Tongan passports. The applications were rejected because they were incomplete and there were no nationalization certificates.

Clive, however pointed out that Mr and Mrs Lee became nationalized Tongans in 1993 and the former King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, who had the authority to issue Diplomatic Passports, had ordered that they be issued with Diplomatic Passports.

Clive stressed that once a foreign national was nationalized, all that was needed was for their passports to be extended when they expired.

Clive also emphasized that the current government policy disallowed the selling of Tongan passports, although the law had not changed, and the Tongan Protected Person’s Passport and the Tongan Nationalized Passport could be sold if the government policy changed.

The other issue that sparked off some loud exchanges was regarding the payout of US$25.45 million or ($32 million pa‘anga) to TongaSat.

'Akilisi Pohiva raised the issue that according to the Auditor’s Report, as of 30 June 2013, the Auditor General had not been able to get a copy of any agreement, or a voucher authorizing government to hand-over the $32 million pa'anga to TongaSat in June 2011.

He stressed that the office of the Auditor General had been searching for an agreement between the government and TongaSat in the Prime Minister's office for 10 months, to authorize the transferring of the $32 million from government to TongaSat but they could not find it.

Again this information, 'Akilisi had introduced into the debate was not in the report.

Clive did not think it was relevant for the Auditor General to query the transfer of funds to TongaSat, because the government agreement with TongaSat was terminated in 2009. "Why in 2013, do they have to audit a TongaSat account?" he asked.

Clive queried the accuracy of the Auditor General's report.

He moved for the Auditor General's report to be returned to the Auditor General for correction. He believed that the Auditor General could not separate his own personal opinions and the facts of what his report should be based on.

The TongaSat issue was finally put to rest at the end when the new Minister of Finance, Hon. 'Aisake Eke told the House of what he found after he was made the Minister of Finance last month.

He said that when he was told of a missing voucher, he launched an investigation and they found that the money was transferred, and authorized by letters from the Reserve Bank and by the Minister of Finance, authorizing the Treasury to enter the money into a trust fund for TongaSat.

'Aisake said that they could give the Auditor General a voucher if he asked for one.

With regards to the Auditor General’s Annual Report 2012-13, he was in favour for the House to pass the report. However, "It is an incomplete report," he said, and reminded the House that the 2013-14 report had yet to be presented to the House.

The Auditor General reported the many challenges that he faced during the year, and highlighted the fact that he was taken to court by government, he was no longer included in the list of recipients of Cabinet decisions. In the English version he reported that he had been silenced. However, in the Tongan version of the report he was made to "Tapuni hono ngutu!" (lit. Shut your mouth!).

The Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano was concerned that the Tongan translation was inappropriate and he also moved for the report to be returned for revision.

When the Whole House Committee voted for the 2012-13 Annual Report of the Auditor General either to be passed as it was, or to be returned to the Auditor General to be corrected and then resubmitted in June. Nine voted for it to be returned to the Auditor General and resubmitted in June, while only seven voted for it to be passed as it was.

In the Legislature, the report was voted on together with other matters that the Committee had voted on and it was carried 15-0.

Since last year, 2013 the post of Auditor General has come under the control of the Speaker of the House. Previously the Auditor General was under the Prime Minister.

With regard to the issue of the removal of Auditor General from the list of recipients of Cabinet decisions, there was a belief that since he came under the Speaker of the House, he should get copies of Cabinet decisions from the Speaker of the House.

The current Auditor General Pohiva Tu'ionetoa stood for election for the House unsuccessfully in the last General Election.

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