The government finally acknowledged their intention to appoint a seventh minister after putting aside $50,000 in the establishment of ministerial office in the Appropriation Amendment Bill. This Bill was passed in Parliament on Wednesday.
CI News understands Toka Hagai, the former MP for Rakahanga, is the person earmarked to take up the role.
The delay in the appointment of Hagai is due to an ongoing investigation involving him after he was found guilty of “treating” voters in the 2018 general election.
Opposition Democratic Party leader Tina Browne, who was then declared the MP for Rakahanga, questioned Hagai’s appointment in Parliament on Wednesday.
Browne said if Article 14 (7) of the Constitution allows the prime minister to advise the Queen’s Representative to suspend a minister under investigation, then how could PM Puna think of doing the reverse and appointing one who is being investigated.
“This $50,000 extra can be put to assisting the freights for Rakahangans for their cargo to Rakahanga,” Browne said.
She also referred to a political reform commission report from 1998 where the recommendation of the seventh minister is made.
“It recommended that the position is put in place to provide some expert skills to a Cabinet when it is lacking. Now we then have to ask what skill does the current Cabinet lack. You have a lawyer, you have someone who is reasonably good in the accounting area, so you need to ask that question.”
Deputy prime minister Mark Brown, who is also the finance minister, said the recommendation for a seventh minister from the 1998 report had a patronising tone to it.
“It implies that the Cabinet members are too dumb to know what they do and they need somebody clever than them to come into Cabinet and help them out,” Brown said.
“And I recall during the reform in the 90s, the significant number of expert consultants that were involved in our country and were involved in providing input to this particular report which is why I made mention that this particular report has a patronising tone to it.”
Brown said the political reform commission recommendation from 1998 on the seventh minister did not suit the current challenges faced by the Cabinet.
“Reading those statements from that particular report, I can certainly see the difference in time which is 20 years ago compared to today. The needs of country (then) as opposed to the needs of the country now,” Brown said.
“The Budget at that time was $50 million of which $20 million was domestic revenue and $30 million was serious aid fund. It is a stark contrast to today’s budget of $270 million.
“We are a different country today than we were 20 years ago. The number of diplomatic partners was very low compared to what we have this year and our international and global engagements were very little whereas compared to this time now, they are very much significantly more.
“Therefore the burden on six ministers back in 1998 was far less than what it is on six ministers today with the number of multiple portfolios that each ministers hold and the commitment required by our country to represent these portfolios at various meetings.”
Brown said he would recommend more than seven ministers in Cabinet because of the workload that had been placed on these ministers.
“But failing that, additional assistant or associate ministers would be required as well.”
In the Appropriation Amendment Bill, Brown while explaining the $50,000 for the establishment of ministerial office said the funding had been put aside to ensure this minister is able to deliver the responsibilities this person will bear.
“The success of our country today and the improvements we commit to embark on by supporting all our government agencies and communities, need the support from the ministerial level,” Brown said.
“To maintain this success, we have increased the number of associate ministers and we must now appoint another minister to drive and lead the change we strive to achieve.”
Opposition leader Browne also raised her concern on increasing the number of associate ministers, saying the Civil List Act “only tells us that there can only be three associate ministers”.
“And if you have already appointed three associate ministers, my calculator tells me three plus three equals to six. This can only happen in my view if there is going to be an amendment on the Civil List Act.”