Tonga government said its last minute decision to cancel an agreement with Air Vanuatu to bring back a group of Tongan citizens stranded in Vanuatu, was made after a final decision by the kingdom’s Ministry of Health.
It said when the Air Vanuatu special flight arrived in Tonga today the quarantine facilities were already full with passengers who were repatriated back to Tonga on May 5.
Communication and Information CEO Paula Ma’u told Kaniva News the special flight was chartered by a Ni Vanuatu expatriate in Tonga to return his deceased father to Vanuatu.
Vanuatu citizens who were stranded in Tonga have returned home on that special flight.
Ma’u said the flight schedule was organised by the expatriate and the government assisted in facilitating the authorisation process and protocol.
Ma’u said there was no planned repatriation flight from Vanuatu.
He said they have announced Tonga’s next repatriation flights which included June 2, 3 and July 30,
“This was not a repatriated flight or a flight arranged by the government”, Ma’u said of the Vanuatu special flight.
The last moment
But the last minute cancellation on Wednesday 26 before the flight left on Thursday 27 has knocked the Air Vanuatu authorities and families of the Tongan passengers sideways.
Some have taken to social media to vent out their frustration and anger. Some have called on the Prime Minister to resign.
One commenter asked whether the government was nonplussed after the king reprimanded parliament recently.
“I refer to your email around midday today with the decision to deny carrying of Tongan citizen on the above flight and date,” an e-mail by the Air Vanuatu First Officer Luseane Fetuani in response to Tonga’s Director of the Ministry of Communication Officer Andrew To’imoana read.
“You already know how many repatriation flights there are into Tonga until the end of the year and how many people want to be in Tonga at any one time,” Fetuani said.
“With this knowledge in hand, I am wondering why were we strung along for this very costly exercise. Totally unacceptable.
“The least you could have done is let us know last week . . . even on Monday 24th before people went ahead and paid money that cannot be refunded; money that came from students, church workers, half pay workers and people who lost their jobs.”
As Kaniva News reported last night Fetuani has asked for the decision to be reconsidered.
“It has been a very stressful couple of weeks for some, trying to get this flight organised. Tongan nationals here have paid their tickets and did Covid-19 tests to be in line with your requirement”.
Fetuani told To’imoana it costs VT$25,000 per person, the equivalent to TP$500 for a Covid-19 test.
Air Vanuatu’s CEO ‘Atu Fīnau has described the late cancellation in an email to the Prime Minister as “cruel.”
“This would appear to be cruel timing and an incredibly insensitive decision.”
He said Air Vanuatu helped Tonga a lot and an Air Vanuatu was scheduled to arrive in Tonga tomorrow to fly 162 Tongans to Perth, Australia to join the Australian Seasonal Worker programme.
He said they flew 162 from Tonga to Australia in April.