Tonga’s Lulutai airlines is being tight-lipped over questions about its services between Vava’u group and Tongatapu on Christmas Day while other businesses are legally prohibited from operating.
The revelation triggered heated debates within the online community with many arguing that the law is unfair because it is not applied equally to everyone.
Under the law, the Christmas Day must be treated as taboo, just like Sunday, meaning any transportation service is illegal.
Kaniva News had been reliably told that the national airlines conducted five passenger flights between Tongatapu and Vava’u on Monday, which was Christmas Day.
We have also been told Lulutai had applied for a permit to fly, which was allegedly granted.
The permission normally should have come from the Minster of Police. The Minister of Police is Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku, who is also the chairman of the Lulutai airlines board of directors.
We have asked Lulutai executive officer Poasi Tei whether Lulutai airlines was granted a permit to fly on Christmas Day. We also asked him whether it was true the aircraft flew more than once between Vava’u and Tongatapu.
The latest incident will add to the list of complaints surrounding the airline.
Accusation against PM
The Prime Minister has been accused of continuing to allow himself and his cabinet ministers to remain as members of the board despite the law saying such membership should only be valid for 12 months. Lulutai airlines was founded in 2020.
The Prime Minister has also been accused of hiding millions of pa’anga being invested in the Lulutai in the government budget.
The questions about Christmas flights follows complaints of travel chaos caused after Lulutai’s 36-seater Saab 340 struck a cement block on landing at the Fua’amotu domestic airport earlier this month.
Its Y12 aircraft was previously grounded after it veered off the runway during its take-off run on ‘Eua island in July and was later hit by a tow tractor at the Fua’amotu domestic airport.
Passengers from overseas complained recently after arriving in Tonga’s main island Tongatapu only to find they could not get their flight to the outer islands to spend their Christmas holidays with their families.
In Vava’u, Lulutai asked some local passengers to trade their flight schedules with overseas passengers to make sure they did not miss their connection flights back home.
The Christmas flights
The revelation about the Lulutai flights comes after another incident on Vava’u related to the ban on Christmas Day activities. The Neiafu Town Officer confronted the local police after they had arrested his son for illegally swimming in the sea.
Swimming, fishing, listening to or playing hiva kakala or worldly songs are some of the activities which are prohibited on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Sunday in Tonga.
Vāvā Lapota protested at the police attempting to hold his son in prison overnight while they processed the charges against him.
Lapota told Kaniva News he told the police it was unfair for them to charge his son and remand him in custody while at the same time the Lulutai aircraft was obviously breaching the Christmas Day ban by repeatedly flying between Tongatapu and Vava’u.
He asked the police why they did not arrest the Lulutai authorities for breaching the Christmas taboo, but they did not respond, Lapota said.
As we reported on Monday, the Police finally released Lapota’s son, but reminded him to expect receiving his charging document after Christmas.
The law banning business activities on Christmas Day and Good Friday in the same way as Sunday was first introduced in 1937 by the late Queen Salote Tupou III.
As we reported yesterday, some people were surprised to learn from our story that Christmas and Good Friday must be observed throughout the Kingdom as days on which business activities are illegal.
However, as part of the Public Holidays Act, Section 6 grants an exemption which allows the sale of bread, fresh milk, fresh fish and fresh meat until noon.
Kaniva News understands the Minister of Police has the power to grant exemptions in a state of emergency.
A state of emergency is usually aimed at assisting in the resolution of a situation which threatens human life.
In the past this had been done when a patient needed to be flown from the outer islands to Tongatapu hospital. In another case, an aircraft was allowed to fly on Sunday to search a missing person at sea.
The revelation that Lulutai airlines was allowed to fly on Christmas Day to service its passengers appears to fall outside the state of emergency requirements.
If it is true that the Lulutai was granted a permit to fly on Christmas Day, some other business operators may see this as an opportunity for them to apply for permission to operate on Christmas Day as well.
It is about time to revise the Sunday law to make it fit with the country’s current economic status and people’s social needs. The law was fine in the past 80 years since most people stayed home and worked on their plantations and handicraft houses. Today, many people operate their own private businesses. Allowing only some businesses to operate on Sunday while others are not given the same opportunity is clearly unfair.
More than 50 percent of Tonga’s budget relies heavily on overseas countries as well as Tongans who sent remittances to their family in the kingdom. These countries do not completely prohibit business activities on Sunday like Tonga. In New Zealand only certain business activities and services are closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday and people are free to work or operate businesses on Sunday. It does not make sense for Tonga to rely on overseas countries which do not prohibit Sunday trading, and are happy to receive their money which was earned from the work they did on Sundays as well as Christmas and Good Friday.
Tonga’s Sunday law is flawed in many respects.