The investigation started about six months ago when Ponia headed the Ministry of Marine Resources. He was suspended on full pay in early April pending an investigation. Ponia’s contract with MMR is believed to have ended in June.
CI News has since sent a number of emails, including two this month, to Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas asking for information on the outcome of the investigation.
However, he did not reply to the latest requests.
Ponia’s suspension on full pay pending investigation was also raised in Parliament late last month by Titikaveka MP Selina Napa, who asked whether he was in fact still being paid.
Prime minister Henry Puna, who is also the marine minister, replied that he would have to refer the question to the Public Service commissioner (Thomas) and return with a response the following day.
However Napa yesterday told CINews she had not received any further clarification on Ponia’s pay issue from Puna.
“We are still waiting for the answer (as to) whether he (Ponia) was still being paid while he was suspended. It’s taxpayer’s money and they need to be accountable and transparent about it,” Napa said.
“There was also a report regarding the investigation on Ponia that was supposed to come to parliament, but we are still waiting for that report.
“We were surprised when we saw the appointment of the new HOMs (head of ministries) which included Ponia.”
The writer of a letter to CINews also questioned Ponia’s appointment as head of OPM, especially with the outcome of the Public Service Commission investigation still unknown.
“Earlier this year, the new chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Ben Ponia, was suspended as secretary of the Ministry of Marine Resources for the second time,” the letter writer said.
“However, he continued to collect a taxpayer-funded salary for some months while an investigation was carried out. He now has the top job at OPM and is collecting a salary in the significant range as he was at MMR.
“How did this come about and what happened to the investigation? There should be an independent review of this matter and the public should be told what the outcome of the investigation was. We, the taxpayers, have to suffer from the ignorance and non-efficiency of management at the highest level for not carrying out due diligence.”
CI News believes the investigation into Ponia is to do with a complaint related to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s (Tuna Commission) meeting in Manila, Philippines in December last year.
In a statement in April, the Office of the Public Service Commissioner said the investigation into the complaint would be led by Thomas.
Ponia’s lawyer, Brian Mason then said: “Mr Ponia has been suspended on full pay and this is appropriate given the nature of the inquiry. Mr Ponia will cooperate fully with the Public Service Commissioner’s investigation.”