From the House by Pesi Fonua
A new Tonga National Security of Information Office that is currently being set up by the Prime Minister's Office, was questioned during debate on the $4.48 million budget allocation of the PMO for 2020-21 that was passed by the Committee of the Whole House in parliament yesterday, Tuesday 9 June.
The project came to light at the end of the debate when the Prime Minister responded to a question by Lord Fakafanua about an item in the Prime Minister's Office allocation relating to the setting up of a new National Security of Information Office.
It is a new office dealing with “Security Information” in a PMO project with “the Police, and the offices of New Zealand and Australia”.
Lord Fakafanua, the Ha’apai No. 2 Nobles’ Representative, queried the new initiative relating to National Security Leadership Division of the Prime Minister’s Office “to protect the security of the Tongan people.”
“Is this a new division, different from the Police and His Majesty’s Armed Forces?” he asked.
He wanted to know what the program was about.
Lord Fakafanua also queried a massive allocation of $600,000 for “broadcasting” this year, compared with last year, because all these funds were coming under this new National Security Leadership Division.
The Prime Minister Hon. Dr Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa responded that there was a concern with national security. He said that they were working with the Police and the offices of New Zealand and Australia and there was a new office.
No further information was forthcoming about the project before the House closed for the day.
Yesterday’s National Budget debate in the Committee of the Whole House kicked off with the $10.41m budget allocation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was the biggest of three budget allocations that the Committee of the Whole House passed yesterday afternoon.
Lord Fakafanua queried why the budget allocation for the Protocol Division for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was zero. He stressed that this was a very important division and there were also important roles, such as the Deputy Secretary.
The Prime Minister responded that there were no vacant posts, and the position would be filled if needed.
The House was concerned over why about 50% of the budget allocations for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s offices were for salaries, whereas with the Legislative Assembly it was only 24%.
The Minister of Finance, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau, reminded the House that most of the staff at the Prime Minister’s Office are senior staff who were paid higher salaries.
The Minister of MEIDECC, Hon. Poasi Tei, also reminded the House that normally the salaries for all government ministries could go up to 62%.
The Tongatapu No. 8 People’s Representative, Semisi Fakahau expressed his concern that most of the money in the national budget goes on salaries and very little goes on development. In community development there was a clash.
He pointed out that a lot of money now goes into the Constituency Fund of the House, for community projects, but out in the communities there were also government community projects, and in some areas they were both doing the same thing.
Hon. Lavemaau told the member not to criticize the structure of government, because government had not got the time to review its structure.
Semisi Fakahau responded that he was just presenting it to the House as an issue to think about.
Semisi, a former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, told the House that another factor that they had to bear in mind while planning to develop the economy of the country, was that 88% of farm workers are children who had completed a high school education.
Another budget allocation passed during the day was for His Majesty’s Armed Forces (HMAF). Unfortunately, the actual amount of this budget allocation was not mentioned during the debate.
In the afternoon, Fakafanua questioned the Prime Minister trying to find out what the program for the new PMO National Security of Information Office was all about. But in the end, for the public, the program remained in the dark.
The Vote for the Prime Minister’s Office was passed and the Budget debate moved on to the Budget allocation for the Ministry of Finance.
The Budget allocation of $166m for the Ministry of Finance was supposed to be the biggest allocation, but before they got into more details it was time for the House to close down for the day.