GOVERNMENT OF TONGA

MEDIA RELEASE

14 January 2016

“Prime Minister’s Office Role and Processes for the Public Dissemination of Government Information”

The Prime Minister’s Office wishes to inform the public and to assuage any concerns regarding its ability to provide accurate government information and more specifically its prized relationship with the Hon. Prime Minister.

The Hon. Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet reassures the public that they are working together and that the Prime Minister’s Office is striving relentlessly to achieve its vision to “Develop and promote a just, equitable, and progressive society in which the people of Tonga enjoy good health, peace, harmony and prosperity, in meeting their aspirations in life.

The Government, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet value transparency, accuracy and timely release of information to the public, within the boundaries and the mandate of the Freedom of Information Policy.

Despite Government’s and the Prime Minister’s Office strong advocacy for transparency, governing legislation and policies (Public Service legislation, Officials Secrets Act, Communications Act, Freedom of Information Policy, Cabinet Manual) impose constraints upon the disclosure of information, calling for certain information to be kept confidential.

This has caused the misconception of government information being suppressed.   As a guide, the following information is exempted from disclosure by the Prime Minister’s Office (Freedom of Information Policy 2016, (16));

  • Information relating to a sensitive investigation or sensitive matter before Cabinet
  • Cabinet submissions and deliberations of Cabinet;
  • Court records, excluding post mortems;
  • Parliamentary privilege;
  • Personal information (births, deaths, employment, taxation and health records) Performance appraisals of public officials is classified as personal and protected from disclosure)
  • Information received in confidence (obtained from any other person or authority);
  • Information about the security, defense and international relations;
  • Information about operational security of Government;
  • Communications and correspondences with the Monarchy and the Royal Family (including information held by public bodies);
  • Information where communication would cause serious prejudice to:
  1. i) Prevent or detect crime
  2. ii) Apprehend or prosecute offenders

iii)      Administer justice

  1. iv) Assess or collect any tax or duty
  2. v)Operate immigration control
  • Information that would cause harm to the health, safety of an individual;
  • Information that would significantly prejudice the economic interest of Tonga;
  • Internal government correspondences are to be kept confidential;

Any delays in the provision of information to any inquiry are due to:

  • The issue (subject of the inquiry) having yet to be finalized;
  • The release of information is often subject to the approval or advice of other authorities especially if this concerns a contested issue;
  • Access to information may be denied if the request is considered vexatious or voluminous.

At the time, the current Government came into power, the integral function of disseminating Government information to the public was carried out by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change & Communications (MEIDECC).

Therefore, in order to facilitate timely and accurate distribution of information, the Prime Minister’s Office and the MEIDECC in the past months revisited their roles in disseminating Government information and restructured its internal systems as well as its staffing in view of the Public Service (Amendment) Act 2010 after due public consultation.

Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s Office wishes to inform the public of the following revised processes to be utilized to ensure accuracy, responsiveness and transparency of information.

  1. Prime Minister’s Office

The Office will only be responsible for enquiries and the release of information relating to the Hon. Prime Minister and his initiatives.

Accordingly, please direct enquiries to Deputy Secretary ‘Olita Tupou, Head of the Public Relations Division, Prime Minister’s Office at pressoffice@pmo.gov.to.  The Office will respond to enquiries within three (3) days from the date of receipt of enquiry from the aforementioned email address.  In addition, all press releases from the Prime Minister’s Office will be sent out from the same email address.

  1. Other Government Ministries

Each Chief Executive Officer will be responsible for answering enquiries from the public regarding his/her Ministry as well as the release of information from their respective Ministry.

Accordingly, the public is hereby informed to direct all enquiries related to the line ministries to the relevant Chief Executive Officer.

  1. MEIDECC

The MEIDECC will assist the Prime Minister’s Office and Government Ministries with the distribution of Government information and respond to enquiries from the public.

However, it is the wishes of the Prime Minister’s Office to assure the public of its continued commitment to achieve service excellence in the future.

We thank you for your valued cooperation and assistance.

By direction,

Dr Palenitina Langa’oi

(Chief Secretary and Secretary to Cabinet);

 

Issued by the: The Prime Minister’s Office, P.O. Box 62, Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Tel: (676) 24 644 Fax: (676) 23 888; For media enquiries – Email: pressoffice@pmo.gov.to Website: www.pmo.gov.to

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