PM Hu‘akavameiliku’s response fails to completely answer questions raised by Lulutai’s inter-island Christmas Day services

COMMENTARY: Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku has still not completely answered questions raised about the legality of the government airline’s Christmas Day passenger flights.

Prime MInister Hu’akavameiliku

The national airline was accused of breaching the Christmas Day trading ban after reports it conducted passenger flights on Christmas Day.  

Businesses and trading services are illegal in the kingdom on Sunday, Christmas Day and Good Friday.

As Kaniva News reported previously, the Neiafu town officer had protested at the Vava’u police station after the police arrested his son for illegally swimming in the sea on Christmas Day.

Vāvā Lapota told the Neiafu police it was unfair for them to arrest and charge his son while at the same time they did not arrest Lulutai’s management for breaching the Christmas taboo by operating between Vava’u and Tongatapu.

The Police did not answer Lapota’s concerns about Lulutai, Lapota told Kaniva News.

A broadcaster asked the Prime Minister during a press conference last week to clarify the rules for Christmas Day and whether it fell within the confines of the Sunday taboo laws.

In his response, Hon. Hu’akavameiliku said Christmas Day was a public holiday.

In Tongan he said: Ko e Kilisimasi ko e Public Holiday.

The broadcaster also asked:

So flight services are allowed on that day?

In Tongan the broadcaster asked: ‘A ia ‘oku ngofua pe fefolau’aki holo ia ai?

The Prime Minister did not answer that question directly and appeared to hesitate before he said:

“A provisional permit was issued to Lulutai in case there was any doubt, but according to our schedule Christmas Day is a public holiday. Sunday is Sunday,” the Prime Minister said.

In Tongan, the Prime Minister said: Na’e toe ‘ave pe ngofua provisional ia kapau ‘oku doubt. Ka ko e fakatatau ko ē ki heetau schedule ‘atautolu Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Ko e Sapate ia ko e Sapate.

The Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Police, did not say that under the existing law,  business services are illegal on Christmas Day just like Sunday.

His revelation raised the issue of why a permit was issued if the flights were allowed by the law.

This appeared to contradict his claim that Christmas Days was just a public holiday, implying businesses are allowed.

The Prime Minister also appeared to have ignored the contradiction in the fact that when his Police officers in Vava’u arrested the town officer’s son, they warned people at the beach that Christmas Day must be treated just like Sundays.  

However, Section 6 of the Public Holidays Act grants an exemption which allows the sale of bread, fresh milk, fresh fish and fresh meat, but no later than noon.

The law says:

“Suspension of Business on Christmas Day and Good Friday Order

Made by Her Majesty in Council on 22nd December, 1937.

In exercise of the powers vested in Her by the Public Holidays Act and with the advice of Her Privy Council Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou, D.B.E., is pleased to order, and it is hereby ordered that Christmas Day and Good Friday being days specified in section 2 of the Public Holidays Act shall until further notice be days to be observed throughout the Kingdom as days on which business (other than the sale of bread, fresh milk, fresh fish and fresh meat) shall be suspended in terms of sections 3 and 4 of the said Act.”

The law goes on to say:

“No person shall be compelled to make any payment or do any act upon any of such public holidays which he would not be compellable to make or do upon a Sunday and the making of such payment and doing such act on the day following such public holiday shall be equivalent to payment of the money or performance of the action on such holiday.”

You can also find the law by clicking on this link.

The law sets out the rules for closing businesses:

“It shall be lawful for Cabinet by Order from time to time to direct that all stores, shops and other places of business in all towns throughout the Kingdom or in any one or more of such towns as may be specified in the order shall be and remain closed upon any one or more of the days specified in Section 2 hereof or upon any such special day or days as Cabinet by Order shall appoint to be kept as public holidays.

There shall be excepted from the operation of the last preceding section —

(a) the sale of any drugs or medicines;

(b) the sale of bread, butter, fresh milk, fresh meat, fresh fish and ice not later than noon;

(c) the sale of refreshments in any ice cream stores, tea or refreshment rooms;

(d) the sale of any article required for the burial of a dead body.”

You can also get access to the Public Holidays Act by clicking on this link.

As we reported previously, most of our concerned readers are well aware of Clause 6 of the constitution, which bans any commercial activities on Sunday. However, there is no mention of the Christmas Day and Good Friday in the constitution and this is where most of the confusion came from.

It must be noted that Clause 6 clearly refers to an exceptional law.  That exception refers to the Public Holidays Act, sections 2, 3, 4 and 6 as well as the Suspension of Businesses on Christmas Day and Good Friday regulations which are mentioned above.  

The constitution says that the Sabbath Day to be kept holy:

“The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect.”

You can access to this clause of the constitution by clicking on this link.

Opposition charges

The Prime Minister has been accused by the Opposition of showing nepotism towards his former Cabinet Minister Poasi Tei by appointing him as chief executive of the airlines shortly after Tei was convicted of electoral bribery and dismissed from Parliament. 

The Opposition also accused the Prime Minister , who is also the Chairman of the airline of using public money to invest in the airlines without submitting any reports to the Parliament. 

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

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