Permanent Sunday restrictions feared

Litia Sini Beach Resort Owner, Lydia Toomalatai, says she hopes the Government leadership will not go so far as to make a ban on swimming and eating out on Sundays permanent because it will damage tourism.

Since Samoa entered a state of emergency in March, a suite of changes to the state of emergency orders has revealed a focus on minimising activities on Sunday, including eating at a restaurant, taking public transport, or swimming at the beach.

Breaching the orders could land you with a $10,000 fine.

Last month, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi told state broadcaster Radio 2AP that he hopes to make those rules a permanent addition to Samoa.

He said supermarkets and markets, or places where people gather are closed on Sundays for reasons related to the pandemic, but that eventually people will be “accustomed” to not doing their shopping on a Sunday. 

“All these measures are in place because of the pandemic and we need to be patient,” he said on April 16.

“People will be accustomed to it by then, to the Sunday orders,” Tuilaepa said, but did not elaborate on when “then” is or what he means. 

He said by the end of state of emergency period preceding the current second extension, Samoa could expect a lot of changes to do with Sunday business.

Sunday should be left for church, and Saturday is long enough to accommodate shopping, Tuilaepa said. 

Ms. Toomalatai said because guests expect food and service during their stay there is no way they could close business on Sunday.

She said no one from Government has visited or called to explain what she is expected to do during the state of emergency to abide by the orders. 

“If they do close hotels on Sundays that is going to be a bit silly… I don’t think they will shut resorts, hotels or restaurants on Sundays, I don’t think they will go that far,” she said, optimistically.

In accordance with her own village custom, swimming and drinking on Sundays has always been banned. But if the laws are made permanent and extend to guests it could be problematic, Ms. Toomalatai.

“If it means disallowing in-house guests, that will be a problem because what else are they going to do on a Sunday? It will have a big effect on tourism if they disallow swimming on Sunday.

“Have they explored whether in-house guests can swim, or just people coming for the day to barbeque on the beach and swim?

“There has been no detail given out so I am just waiting on Government to clarify, and be more specific with the tourism industry.”

So far markets, street vending, buses, the ferry to Savaii, village council meetings, swimming at the beach, bingo, casinos, the sale of alcohol at any licenced venue and operating any business except small walk-up shops are banned on Sundays, and large supermarkets may open from 3 until 7pm. 

Penalties to individuals include $200 on the first offence or $500 for a second, but an origanisation is liable for $5000 on their first offence or $7000 on their second.

They may also be liable to be held in custody for up to three months, and if they are convicted in court for breaching an order they are liable for up to $10,000 and up to 12 months in prison.

Taumeasina Island Resort General Manager Tuiataga Nathan Bucknall said a permanent Sunday ban on trade and swimming would impact business significantly.

“It is going to impact everyone’s business. Sundays at the moment are where we can get some trade,” he said.

“We are relying solely on the local market which is good and we are seeing some money circulate around which is good for everybody.

“On a long weekend like Mother’s Day and hopefully Independence Day we are pretty busy so it’s not too bad, but on a weekend like last weekend it’s quiet because I have only got seven or eight rooms [booked]. 

Without Sundays open to walk-in guests, Tuiataga said he had to send 10 staff home last weekend because the resort was so quiet.

“That’s wages they can’t get for their families. If we have a good bar and restaurant trade that’s 10 staff, but if the bar and restaurant are closed to everyone outside and the bar is closed full-stop I don’t need them.”

Meanwhile, he said he has been informed that hotels and resorts may operate on Sundays to cater for their guests, but that swimming at the beach remains prohibited (though the pool is allowed).

But until he sees a law in writing Tuiataga said he does not believe Samoa will move to make Sunday closures permanent.

“My understanding is that this is S.O.E. driven and that it will return to normal when the S.O.E. is over. I have heard rumours but I don’t listen to unsubstantiated rumours until we get it in writing. 

“I can’t tell what the Prime Minister’s intentions are and until I see it in black and white it’s just a rumour.”

Tuiataga said while it would mean less income he does not believe a more widespread Sunday business ban would impact the country’s ability to attract tourists, as its already has a reputation as a conservative Christian nation, where few businesses are open Sundays.

Tuilaepa and Acting Attorney General Galumalemana Loretta Teueli have not responded to questions over whether they intend to make the Sunday state of emergency orders law after the emergency is over.

Earlier this month, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Officer Lemauga Hobart Vaai old the Samoa Observer the Sunday rules have been the last straw for commercial operators. 

Even market-going farmers who are not Chamber members have relayed their complaints. 

Lemauga said the Chamber had made a request for the Government to allow Sunday to have business operations as usual.

“But as everyone has heard [what] the [Prime Minister] said, the Government will not resume that normal Sunday practice,” he said.

“But we did meet with the Prime Minister and Ministers and relayed exactly what our members have been saying to [at least] give them the mornings and not the evenings, Government said no they will remain closed.”

Soli Wilson contributed to this report.

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