Lord Tu’iha’angana has warned the government in parliament to come clean and tell the public it was working on a proposal for travellers to pay their stay in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
The nobility MP said the government should give clear explanation about the proposal and avoid trying to mislead the public into believing there will be no such fees.
The noble also warned the government to be “transparent” saying the reality was that travellers are currently staying in MIQ free, while the government is working on a proposal to charge future passengers.
In Tongan Lord Tu’iha’angana said: “Mahino ia ‘oku te’eki ke totongi, ka ‘oku ‘i ai e fokotu’utu’u pehē pea ‘oku ou tui ko e fiema’u ia ko ē ‘ata kitu’a”.
Lord Tu’iha’angana also said: “Kae ‘oua ‘e toe takai pehē mai, hangē ko ē ‘oku toe ki’i vilovilo holo, ha’u hangatonu pē ke mahino ‘oku te’eki ai ke charge ‘a e 4 afe ka ‘oku fai e ngāue ki ai ‘a e Komiti ko ē pea ‘e toki ha’u faka’osi”.
In English this means:
“Do not spin and twist it, just come straight so that it is clear the $4,000 fees are yet to be charged but a committee is working on it before a final decision”.
Lord Tu’iha’angana was responding after what appears to be the Minister of Health’s failure to give a straight answer to a straight question from Ha’apai 13 MP after he asked her to clarify the “proposal”.
In Tongan MP Mo’ale Finau said: “Ko e ki’i konga ‘e taha ‘i he health ‘Eiki Sea. Ko e ki’i me’a pē eni ia ‘Eiki Sea ‘oku ki’i hamumu ai ‘a e motu’a ni. Ko e fo’i konga ko ē ‘o e 4000. Na’e pehē foki ‘aneafi na’e ‘ikai ke fai ha fakakaukau pehē pea hangē ‘oku ki’i malohi mai ‘Eiki Sea e me’a ni ia hangē ia ‘oku ha’uha’u pē ki’i fo’i fokotu’u ia ke ‘alu ki he Kapineti.
In English this means:
“One thing about Health Mr Speaker. Something I am concerned about. The part about the $4,000. Yesterday it was said there was no such idea but Mr Speaker it’s becoming clear now the proposal is likely to go to Cabinet”.
In her response, instead of clarifying the proposal, the Minister of Health Dr ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu began by saying the government is not charging repatriated travelers with such fees. But that was not the question. She was asked to clarify Finau’s concern about the proposal.
The minister’s answer in the first place appears to show she was attempting to avoid being straightforward. And instead of using the word “fokotu’u” the English word for proposal she used the word “kaveinga ko ‘eni”, which it can be interpreted in English to refer to – this issue.
And instead of clearly saying a government committee was being tasked with revising the quarantine fees and expenses, she said it was a small committee, “ki’i kōmiti si’i”.
“But it has yet to be submitted to Cabinet,” Dr Tu’ipulotu said in Tongan of the proposal.
The Prime Minister claimed in parliament he was just made aware of the proposal after he read it in an email, apparently, an email by CEO Ma’u to Kaniva News on Wednesday last week confirming the proposal in which the Prime Minister was copied. Tu’i’onetoa said there was no decision made yet, “te’eki ke fai ha tu’utu’uni pau”.
As we reported last week and today, Communication (MEIDECC) CEO Paula Ma’u has confirmed to us last week the proposal is currently underway for passengers to pay their stay in MIQ from their own pockets.
He previously said in a press release the 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 after the costs for the managed isolation facilities were too expensive for the government to pay.
The planned quarantine fee was raised in parliament last week by former Minister of Health Saia Piukala. The Minister of Finance denied it.
The proposal has sparked heated debates online with critics calling on the government to withdraw it.
Critics argued that the Tongan returnees were people who got stuck overseas because of Covid-19 and most of them were on visitor’s visas.
They said this was not a good proposal for people who returned from New Zealand and Australian seasonal worker programmes because the quarantine fees would be an equivalent of the wages they earned after working up to eight weeks in the farms.