Gov’t incurs $12 Million for PAs

Prime Minister Hon Rick Hou during press conference with media on Monday
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By Gary Hatigeva

SOLOMON Islands Democratic Coalition for Change Government (SIDCCG) since taking over office, is expected incur just over $12million to keep Political Appointees (PAs) in office, it is revealed.

Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela revealed these figures when responding to the Member of Parliament for Aoke/Langalanga and Chairman of the Bill and Legislative Committee (BLC), Matthew Wale who questioned the government in yesterday’s parliament sitting during a question and answer session.

Mr Wale was questioning the Prime Minister over the percentage reduction in salary and all other benefits for PAs since the SIDCC Government assumed office.

PM Hou pointed out that the current $12millioin is actually a reduction of around $6million having compared to the past government, which was incurring well over $19million per year to cater for the salaries and benefits of around 51 appointees.

“In terms of cost, the previous number would have cost 19 million for the government to cater for, but under the reduced number of PAs, the expenditure is around 12 million annually.

“So this is a reduction of just over 6 million, and the reduction of cost is a result of reduction in the number of PAs and the releveling of their salaries and benefits, most of which have been reduced.

“To be exact, taxpayers through the government is to pay a total expenditure of $12,926,064 annually for the salaries and benefits of the 37 Political Appointees,” the Prime Minister revealed.

It is understood that the current government was forced to take action on the number PAs as part of its promise, which PM Hou revealed when giving his victory speech in November last year.

The reduction of PA numbers according to Hou also comes as his government’s approach to cutting costs, and that had led to the relieve of some of the PAs and keeping only those appointees the government felt relevant to its policy.

He pointed out that the recruitment and reduction is a political decision based on what is relevant to the set of government priority policy areas for implementations and that Caucus as the guiding political arm of the government decided on what important positions will be kept.

He added that Caucus with its decision, also came up with a structure which resulted in the reduction from 51 to 36 political appointee positions.

He was however hesitant to go into the details of salaries and benefits for the PAs but clarified that out of the 36, 27 are from the former government, while nine are new recruits.

He said the 37 PAs were kept because of their relevant backgrounds and qualifications needed to oversee the progress and programmes within government priority policies.

To further support his response based on the PA issue, Hou recalled a decision made in 2005 for a temporary employment programme with intentions to take away the load from the Ministry of Public Service.

“So when the government comes, it appoints people to work on what it has decided on what their priorities are.”

His point on qualities and qualification highlighted came under heavy criticism from the Aoke/Langalanga MP, who suggested that many of those being appointed do not meet requirements and are becoming liabilities to the government and taxpayers of the country.

However, the Prime Minister expressed total disagreement with theBLC Chairman, stressing that there are people inside that are totally accredited in terms of their qualifications, background and skills to do what the government had engaged them for.

“They are political appointees, decided by the political government but they are people with merit in terms of their qualifications, their backgrounds and experiences.”

Meanwhile, Wale stressed that the idea of political appointee practice is worrying as it has no structure to guide the nature in which appointments are made and funds are allocated to cater for the recruitment programmes.

He then suggested for the current government to take heed the suggestions and work on setting the precedence by introducing mechanisms and criteria to guide any governments in the matter of political appointees.

There were also suggestions for a widespread representation in the recruitment of political appointees in terms of provinces and gender balance.