11 Dec 2009

Tonga auditor calls for spending change after Ashika disaster

3:42 pm on 11 December 2009

Tonga's Auditor General, Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa, has called for legislative changes to ensure Government spending can be more closely monitored.

Mr Tu'i'Onetoa has this week been given evidence at the commission of inquiry into the sinking of the Ashika last August, which 74 people died, and he is concerned at how the purchase went ahead without scrutiny.

Don Wiseman has more:

"Mr Tu'i'Onetoa says his initial concern was that the Ashika may have been as old as the vessel it was to replace. As a member of the Procurement Committee Mr Tu'i'Onetoa says he wanted conformation that the Ashika was in good condition. He required due diligence to be completed, but it later became apparent that Cabinet had already made a decision to buy the vessel before referring the matter to the Procurement Committee. Mr Tu'i'Onetoa told the inquiry his Committee, a sub committee of Cabinet, was effectively by-passed and he says legislation guaranteeing scrutiny of public purchases should be passed as quickly as possible, perhaps as an amendment to the Public Finance Management Act. He says if such legislation had been in place it could have stopped the purchase of the Ashika. Mr Tu'i'Onetoa also told the inquiry that he had requested, but not received, the audited accounts of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, which operated the Ashika."