The Minister of Finance denying a government proposal for returning passengers to pay up to $4,000 quarantine fees has sparked heated debates online.
His denial came after the Minister of Health and Communication (MEIDECC) CEO have confirmed the proposal.
Communication CEO Paula Ma’u has confirmed to Kaniva News this week the proposal is currently underway for passengers to pay their stay in managed isolation facilities from their own pockets.
In his email on Wednesday, in which the Prime Minister was copied, Ma’u told us the proposal included having passengers pay TOP$4,000 if they stayed at Tanoa International Hotel. He said other facilities would be cheaper.
Ma’u’s confirmation came after the Minister of Health Dr ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu confirmed to local media in a press conference a week before it was true the government was working on a proposal for passengers to pay their isolation costs.
In a press release on May 12, Ma’u said work to create the proposal was endorsed by the National Emergency Management Committee and National Committee for Covid-19.
He said when the proposal is completed it will be submitted to the two committees and if they approve it the proposal will then go to Cabinet for final decision.
Ma’u said the proposal was initiated because the costs for the managed isolation facilities were too expensive for the government to pay.
He said it costs about $600,000 for the government to pay after passengers on one flight were isolated in Tonga for 21 days.
The Minister of Health shared the same information with local media.
Finance Minister denial
But the Minister of Finance Tevita Lavemaau has denied it in parliament on Thursday saying there was no proposal for the returning passengers to pay managed isolation facilities fees.
He said the government was still paying the passengers’ quarantine costs.
Lavemaau was responding to a question from Vava’u 14 MP Saia Piukala asking the Minister of Health to clarify the proposal which was planned to start in July.
The Minister of Finance has been contacted for comment on the conflicting information.
Social media reactions
Social media users have accused the government of contradicting itself.
Some have said the proposal was inappropriate because the returning passengers were stranded overseas for quite some times and they did not have enough money to pay for their quarantine.
Some said the government should continue to pay quarantine costs for workers who returned from New Zealand and Australian seasonal worker programmes because these people’s incomes and remittances helped Tonga’s economy.
Critics accused the government of failing to manage the public finances in a prudent manner.
However, supporters of the government insisted it was doing the right decision to help the country’s economy survive on long term.