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PM warns civil servants to stay clear of politics

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

 FROM OUR ARCHIVES

Tonga's Prime Minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, saying that the Public Servants' Association (PSA) is out of step with its new demands for the extension of the 60, 70, 80% salary rise for two more years and for a political reform to be implemented next year, has warned that civil servants should stay clear of politics.

The PSA issued two statements on May 23 and 29 demanding a further two-year extension to the 60, 70, 80% salary rise, which was agreed to be paid until the end of June 2007, following the 2005 civil service strike.

Answering questions at a press conference on June 1, Dr Feleti Sevele disputed the claim by the PSA that government has not fully honoured the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in 2005, ending the national strike that nearly crippled the country. He stressed that, “Personally, government has honoured its obligations according to the MOU.”

The PSA was concerned that the two-year 60, 70, 80% salary rise that was agreed to in 2005 will expire at the end of June, and that it should be extended for two more years, allowing government to complete the Public Service Salary Review that it was obligated to under the MOU.

The Prime Minister said, “that the whole thing [60, 70, 80%] has become a permanent part of the civil servants salaries, and Cabinet has already made a decision on that, but they are still going on about it.

“I have said it in public to the PSA in Vava'u, and the Public Service Commissioners have said, that the 60, 70, 80% will remain, but we still don't know what they [the PSA] want.

“Everything is done according to the Public Service Act 2005. The Heads of Departments are selected by the Public Service Commission but to be endorsed by Cabinet, and that was the thing that they insisted on. They all wanted independent commissioners, and now they have them.

“If they are still not happy, they have the right to appeal to Cabinet. That is the normal procedure. This is the procedure that a majority of the civil servants agreed to, and parliament drafted a legislation for it, and therefore let's abide by it.”

Stay clear of politics

The PSA are also demanding for a political reform to be implemented by the next General Election in 2008.

However, the Prime Minister stressed that political reform, “has nothing to do with civil servants.” He said that under the Civil Servants' Code of Conduct it is clearly defined that civil servants, “have no involvement at all in the formulation of government policy. If they want to get involved in politics, then they should resign from the civil service. If they want to be civil servants, then they should stay clear of politics.

“This is a very sensitive issue, and it is something that the public should know, that public servants can't be a member of any political faction. Overseas, that is how it works, so that when the public come to civil servants with their needs, they feel free, and so do the civil servants. But if the civil servants are not satisfied with the government's policy then they should resign, and go and work somewhere else, or become candidates in the next parliamentary election.”

When asked what he would do with civil servants who use demanding language, would he lay them off?. The Prime Minister replied, “I hope they will never get to that stage.”

The Prime Minister was commenting on the issues at a press conference after he announced the resignation of Hon. Peauafi Haukinima last Friday, June 1.