THE Public Accounts Standing Committee is considering a motion from the Hon. Prime Minister for a 20 percent cut in legislator’s basic salary due to the impacts of COVID-19.
The House voted to send the Prime Minister’s motion to the Public Accounts Committee to consider it before reporting to the House.
The Deputy Speaker, Lord Tu’iha’angana criticized how the motion was tabled in Parliament. He said there are other avenues where it could have been circulated for approval by MPs rather than discussing it publicly.
Lord Tu’iha’angana said the Prime Minister first preached the need for Parliament to collaborate for the good of the country. Yet, the PM did not consult the MPs first on the issue.
Ha’apai number 1 Noble Representative Lord Tu’iha’angana made reference to the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Fiji who made similar announcements amid concern over COVID-19. No opposition was reported. Lord Tu’iha’angana said this probably because the MPs were consulted on the matter.
He urged parliamentarians to consider a 20 percent pay cut and for the Remuneration Authority to handle the matter.
The announcement was met with resistance from some Members. The Deputy Speaker argued the Remuneration Authority has no authority over the MPs’ salary. He said it would have been appropriate should PM talked it over first with the legislators.
Tongatapu 2 MP, Semisi Sika challenged the PM to exempt all MPs from the motion and they make the sacrifice to work without pay. Their full pay will assist the COVID-19 prevention activities. Sika also mentioned the PM made a vague explanation of his motion.
In response, the Minister of Police, Lord Nuku explained there is urgency for funds available to finance the work overtime of front-liners including police officers and nurses. He claimed they worked after hours, but no funds available to finance it.
Tongatapu 4 MP, Mateni Tapueluelu also rejected the motion and labeled it as the PM’s political campaign. He suggested the MPs hospitality funds and other means which Parliament can sacrifice instead of the pay cut proposal.
Siaosi Pōhiva, Tongatapu 1 MP also pointed out the biblical perspective on giving generously to the needy.
“When we give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be secret,” said Mr. Pōhiva.
He said the PM should not have publicly announced the move. Instead, he should have approached the pay-clerk and arranged for his 20 percent pay cut.
The former Health Minister Saia Piukala was disappointed about the PM’s remarks on his political People’s Party manifesto. Piukala said when this was mentioned, it clearly demonstrates party politics remains an obstacle for a unified Parliament.
He said the PM is the head of Government, and therefore should act professionally (have more patience, loving) and acted in a matter to unite Parliament.
In response, Hon. Tu’i’onetoa clarified the rationale behind his motion. It is simply a plea for Parliament to consider giving to those who were affected due to the impacts of COVID-19.
“It was with the impression that all legislators including myself and the Cabinet Ministers lead by example in contributing to the most vulnerable ones impacted by the pandemic. This includes those who have lost their job,” said the PM.
He added the MPs' contribution is a demonstration to ordinary citizens, they feel what they are experiencing during this difficult time.
The PM also denied Tongatapu 2 MP motion. He said this defeats the purpose of his motion, to involve all MPs in the process.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa said his motion was prompted due to the global impacts of the coronavirus pandemic which also affects Tonga.
To date, Tonga is among ten countries in the world that is COVID 19 free.
The Hon. Prime Minister also mentioned the move because of the biggest budge deficit about 60 million forecasted by the government.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa also mentioned that despite the challenges Tonga is facing, Parliament should be reminded and should have faith that God is our refuge and fortress.
“God will fight for us, he will build our nation. And through hard work and the concerted effort in everything we do, we’ll build Tonga economically and socially for a stable economy for all,” said the Hon. PM.
The PM was also confident that through national prayer and fasting in April and earlier this month, it strengthens Cabinet's will to continue serving the people.
He also extended an invitation for the MPs participation in the same exercise on June 6-7. The PM firmly believed it is through praying and fasting is the only means to protect and safeguard Tonga from COVID-19.
Dr. Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa also pointed out that Tonga should strengthen their belief that God is our protector.
“Praying and fasting can cast away all fears relating to COVID 19, it gives family peace and comfort,” said the Hon. Prime Minister.
Coronavirus and the impacts of climate change which led to more frequent natural disasters like Tropical Cyclones Tino and Harold are among threats the current government administration had faced since came into power late last year.