Sunday trading bans need discussion: Pulotu
The head of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling wants more conversations between the Government, private sector and the people of Samoa about Sunday trading in the future.
Speaking on the sidelines of a global summit on the future of work after COVID-19, Pulotu said the nation needs to balance its Christian identity with what people want.
“Samoa is a Christian country and I think we will really have to consider how we move forward with that,” the Chief Executive Officer said.
“I am not saying it is good or bad, but maybe we will all need to sit down and see how it will work and how it will benefit us if we close or continue to open on Sundays.”
Until 03 July, all activity on Sundays was banned with the exception of supermarkets which could open from 3pm until 7pm.
But in new amendments to the state of emergency orders under which the Sunday bans were enacted, hotels and restaurants were given permission to host ‘non-guests’ for lunch and dinner between 12pm and 10pm, with restaurants only allowed to offer takeaways.
Meanwhile the ferry between Savaii and Upolu is still off, supermarket hours have not been extended and every other business bar small over-the-counter stores are still expected to close on Sundays.
Pulotu told the Samoa Observer he is not sure why the state of emergency has prompted bans on Sunday activities and trading, but that the conversation is not over.
“I am sorry to say, but I am not sure,” he said.
“I think when the state of emergency started we closed everything, even church on Sunday.
“We have been staying home while all churches were closed down, and something positive came out of that. There was time to be with our families, your spouse and your kids. It seems to be a positive movement. So I think that is where the decision to continue with that was inspired by.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi has said he has asked the Attorney General’s Office to begin drafting legislation to make Sunday trading bans official when the state of emergency eventually lifts.
The office has yet to reveal what progress it has made on the legislation nor when it intends to begin nationwide consultation on them.
But Pulotu is confident any decision so far is not final.
“I think to me, personally, I think it’s good to have an open discussion between both parties, the Government and the private sector and the people of Samoa.
“I think it would be fair if we have this open discussion, and from there have the basis for a final decision. That is my personal view.
“I am confident too, that the discussion will continue on, whether we continue to close on Sundays or limit the time or whatever we can do to compromise.”
Meanwhile, the tourism sector which has been suffering in the wake of mass border closures in place to prevent further global spread of COVID-19 is turning to the domestic market hoping for some reprieve.
But hoteliers in Savaii and Upolu are concerned that if the inter-island ferry doesn’t run on Sundays, people will be reluctant to take a weekend away.
Pulotu, like his counterpart in the Samoa Tourism Authority, is banking on the domestic market keeping the tourism sector afloat until international tourists can return.
On diversifying the economy away from Samoa’s traditional dependency on tourism, Pulotu said: “For the past five years we are hearing about local prices, special arrangements for locals, now this is the right time to implement that and focus on local people.
“Most workers and the working community in Samoa want to go out now and then, spend a long weekend with their families in all the beach resorts and beach fales. So we can diversify with that.”