Parliament has voted against a Motion for an Order from Vava’u Noble Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa calling on Government to provide salary for the Prime Minister’s Personal Assistant (PA).
Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s PA is his son Po’oi Pohiva. He gets his pay from the PM’s salary. This was a controversial issue raised in Parliament earlier this year when it was brought to MP’s attention, the PM recruited his own son as his Personal Assistant (PA).
However the PM responded to nepotism allegation saying since he was new to the premiership role he needed someone whom he can trust and hence his son’s appointment. He added the PA’s pay is not from the public funds but it’s from his own salary.
Cabinet Ministers felt strongly one of the privileges of being a Prime Minister and a Cabinet Minister is to have a personal assistant and that is within the law.
The Motion for an Order from Lord Tu’ilakepa has prompted heated debate in Parliament with Nobles urging Government to give the PA his entitlements of a civil servant’s pay.
The Finance and National Planning Minister, Dr. ‘Aisake Eke asserted the House the PA is not a civil servant for he tends only to the Prime Minister’s personal matters. He also pointed out the PA has a work contract with Government that outlined the scope of limitation of his job.
The Minister of Public Enterprises, Hon. Poasi Tei said when the matter was raised in Cabinet, some of them opposed it in the sense it’s unfair for the PA to work and not on Government’s payroll system. Hon. Tei said some Cabinet Ministers had reservations, but they ended up respect the PM’s decision.
“I am certain the PM’s decision is a sacrifice to save public funds,” explained Hon. Tei.
Tongatapu number one Noble Representative Lord Vaea said it was interesting to see the sacrifice being made by the PM to save costs yet he appoints a family Member as his PA.
‘Eua Noble Representative Lord Nuku maintained should the PA’s pay is not funded by Government, then it is unconstitutional for him to work voluntarily for the PM. For this reason he said the PA should be given the entitlements of a civil servant.
The Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism thinks otherwise.
“It is legal to provide volunteer services in Tonga,” explained Hon. Lavulavu.
In rebuttal, Tongatapu 4 MP Mateni Tapueluelu said the PM’s PA did not complain about his pay. For this reason, Tapueluelu said the House should leave the matter for Government to consider.
Lord Nuku was also concerned with the PA’s access to Government official secrets.
In response Dr. Eke explained both the Crown Law and PSC were consulted about the PM’s decision. According to Dr Eke since the PA is not a civil servant, a work contract was made in an advice from the Solicitor General. That includes scope of limitation of his job.
“In the work contract it also limit’s the PA’s accessibility and use of public information,” said Dr. Eke.
Lord Nuku was also concerned about the PA’s pay since it is diverted from the public fund.
“It is claimed the PA is being paid from the PM’s salary yet his official trip in accompanying the PM is from the public funds,” said Lord Nuku.
Dr. Eke thinks otherwise.
“The pay he gets from PM is from a private fund … it’s from the PM’s salary,” asserted Dr. Eke.
Meanwhile Hon. Lavulavu stressed the PM’s action did not breach any law.
“According to the law, the PM is entitled to have a Personal Assistant…the PA works not only for the PM but for the general public as well,” said Hon. Lavulavu.