Now that the PM has decided to retain the Minister of Tourism in Cabinet, the government's spin doctors have their work cut out for them when international good governance watchdogs issue their reports on Tonga towards the end of this year and early next year. I imagine Tonga will continue to retain its ranking, or worse, on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index - in 2007 it ranked 175 out of 180 countries. It will reflect how the government is viewed from outside - in this case, very corrupt. If the government insists that this is unfounded, let it be more transparent in its decisions and see if the TICPI will improve. I can also imagine the the US State Department's Tonga 2008 Human Rights Report saying . . . "public officials were usually corrupt and get away with it" and this would be an accurate statement, as we have witnessed in this case of the Prime Minister exonerating the Minister of Tourism from any wrongdoing.
May I also ask if the accounts officer from the TVB had succeeded in the first instance and deposited the cheque in her/his account - and the government auditors find this out when the annual audits are done, would she/he have been given an "appropriate" penalty - I don't think so, she/he would have been unceremoniously sacked.
Isn't it ironic that the Minister of Finance was put out to pasture after he had diligently executed his responsibilities under the Public Finances Management while the Minister of Tourism blatantly committed an offence under the same Public Finances Management Act is being retained? This is the most glaring example of the unfair, unjust and undemocratic system of government in Tonga. The PM and the Minister of Tourism are not answerable to the Tongan public because they were appointed to the position they are in. And since ministers do not have to be elected, the tyranny of the system will continue.
If the Prime Minister is unwilling to fire the Minister - isn't there any other authority in the government who can recommend that criminal charges be brought against the Minister for blatantly breaking the Public Finance Management Act? It brings to mind the quote by the famous statesman Edmund Burke "All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing". I wonder if there are good men/women/NGOs/public interest agencies that will do something about this. Please don't forget this, for a small seed of corruption will surely grow into a huge tree that will cast long shadows in government. This decision by the Prime Minister is setting a dangerous precedent. One wonders about the future Anti-Corruptionm Commissioner's frustration when this case is used by another highly-placed public official as a defence.
I have found some small degree of respect for a former People's representative, appointed Minister of Agriculture - he had some integrity and resigned from cabinet after behaving less than orderly in public. As for the Minister of Tourism, he should stop burying his head in the sand and do the right thing - resign - as he has done more to damage Tonga's international image and integrity than any contribution he will ever make to the country as a minister.
Tupou Taiamoni Finau
tupousolo [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] au