Tongan Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa has warned critics of his government’s prayer and fasting tours not to resist “religion and the government.”
The Prime Minister and Cabinet have travelled around the kingdom promoting fasting , but opponents of the government say the real purpose of this initiative is to allow the Cabinet and government staff to receive travelling allowances and collect gifts such as yams, fish and valuable Tongan handicrafts such as fine mats and ngatu from the people in the outer islands.
This is normal practice in welcoming ceremonies of any tour by the government from main island Tongatapu.
The government has been attacked online, with many deeming it hypocritical and pharisaical and claiming the tours were a cover for other activity. The tours have also been criticised as really being a political campaign by the government’s People’s Party because of next year’s general election.
“This government is lucky they collected money and handicrafts,” one critic said.
Another said this was the only Tongan government to have amassed such a large collection of cultural items.
Hon. Tu’i’onetoa believes Tonga has no cases of Covid-19 because of the fasting.
The Government’s fasting and prayer tours have not come without a price.
The visit to ‘Eua, which ran from October 10 -11 is estimated to have cost TP$100,000. Tongatapu no. 1 MP Siaosi Pohiva said the visit to ‘Eua was a “waste of money”.
It is understood that about TP$100,000 was also spent on a tour to Ha’apai on November 14-15.
Parliament had to close while Cabinet toured the outer islands.
Other tours are scheduled for Vava’u, Tongatapu and the Niuas over the next three months. Cabinet will be in Vava‘u for fasting and praying on December 5-6.
In the New Year there will be fasting and praying in Tongatapu from January 18-19 and in the Niuas from February 8-9.
The Prime Minister justified his fasting policy in Parliament. Speaking in Tongan he said:
“There are many people on Facebook who have made fun of the government’s national fasting and prayer initiative. One of the things the government used to protect us from Covid-19, was to pray and fast every month.
“Some people took it lightly and some regarded it as fake prayer. Some people of the nation said it was mischievous and made comments which were discouraging and bad.
“These will cause people to be more disobedient against government’s decisions and I am asking you please do not do that as it did not contribute any good to our preparedness to fight against this global disaster and the way we do to protect Covid-19 from entering Tonga.
“Please do not resist religion and the government together with the churches here in Tonga in our fasting policy as I believe that is not prudent.”
The government organised a national fast and day of prayer backed by the Wesleyan and Catholic churches in April.
There appears to be no agreement on what effect fasting has on the immune system. Recent studies have shown contradictory results depending on what type of fast is used and for how long.
Studies have been based on experiments on animals, including mice, with one Sydney-based researcher saying there wasn’t “any scientific evidence to justify” one type of fasting over another and that in any case it was hard to apply the results of animal tests to humans.
Studies at Yale University have shown that fasting induces different responses to bacterial and viral infections, while work in the UK has argued that results are dependent on what type of fast is used.
In Muslim countries, where the faithful are expected to fast between sunrise and sunset during the months of Ramadan, illness has long been accepted a reason not to fast.