Permanent Secretary questioned over spending of thousands of dollars on smartphones for committee members
By Gary Hatigeva
THE Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, George Palua has been questioned over his approval for the purchase of smartphones for members of the Committee responsible for the country’s independence anniversary celebration in July.
Sources within the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (OPMC) believe this is against the government’s stance to reduce government costs in all line ministries including the Prime Minister’s office (PMO).
“After all the Prime Minister has already decided to cut spending, and this has resulted in officials that are given mobile phone under their contract, to just use credit instead of postpaid.
“Yet, the committee found it reasonable and decided to serve themselves with fancy phones,” sources revealed.
According to insiders, the committee, which Mr Palua also chairs, were each given an S8 smartphone, understandably one of Samsung’s latest models in the market, and this will have costed the ministry thousands of dollars.
“The 2018 Independence Committee under Ministry of Home affairs each received a new Samsung S8 this year? Last year received S7.
“Even some officer working for Home Affairs who aren’t in the committee were given an S7 last year and S8 this year by the PS,” the insider claimed.
However, in an exclusive interview yesterday, PS Palua while admitting to the purchase of the high-cost phones for around 20 members of the Independence Committee, denied any similar incentives given out last year as claimed.
He said the committee had two options, one was for the ministry to fund the credit for members, and another was to buy handsets.
“The committee has decided to go with the option, and I know that it will have some concerns and implications, however, I considered it and I think that it is an appropriate incentive for them to really get on and not waste time, as a communication tool, for when meetings are called they are there.
“And they (members) have given me the assurance that they have to perform, secondly for motivation and incentives, as they are public officers, from PMO, Foreign Affairs, Government House, MID, Culture and Tourism, Home Affairs, Head CC, SICCA, SIBC.
“Every year, it is an organised and national event, and the same people are in the committee, some of them have been in the committee for 10years and others less, so I see this as a responsibility for home affairs ministry to look after.
“And this year been 40 years anniversary there are a lot more responsibilities given to the committee by the ministry and the expectation from the Prime Minister’s office.”
It is understood that a total of $2million was allocated for the hosting of the national event, including other operational costs, and the PS has assured that based on consultations with his ministry officials and staffs, the purchase was within budget, which he also admitted to have been done under the $2million allocation.
But questions were also raised surrounding what justifications there are for the purchase of phones that created what sources described to be unnecessary costs for the government.
“Even as the chair, I did not receive a phone, because the government has already given me one under my contract, but I felt that benefits and incentives as such should not just be given to top government officials.
“These are operational staff. The very people who are doing the work and should therefore be recognised with such incentives or benefits for that matter.
“Yes, it is true these phones, S8 are expensive but these are also senior officers who have been in service for some time.
“After the event is over, these devices as tools, will contribute to their performance within their ministries, and the justification for it, for the benefit in the long term for the officers next year, the same officers will be back again.”
Meanwhile, Palua further assured that with the purchase of these costly phones, the Ministry does not pay for their (members) credits, just the handsets given, and that there is also a trade-off when considering this option.
He said following his consideration of the proposed items, he has promised to have the committee’s sitting allowance reviewed to a bare minimum as part of the trade-off for the expensive phones, which the PS said members have no issues with, “and Telekom has promised a discount for these products”.