Easing of S.O.E. restrictions, happy people of Samoa and “big picture”

The good news is that the Government has eased some of the State of Emergency (S.O.E.) restrictions for Christmas and New Years. Announced on Monday morning, the decision would undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms by the business community who stand to benefit from slightly longer trading hours and the easing of Sunday rules in some cases.

We’re talking about shops, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and all other businesses whose trading and operations have been tied down and hamstrung by these rules during the past nine months.

But it’s not just businesses that will welcome the decision. Out in the community, members of the public will appreciate having more time to shop especially with Christmas upon us. The relaxation of laws governing community gatherings like funerals, weddings, birthdays, bingo and church fellowships is a welcomed reprieve for people planning Christmas celebrations and festivities Samoans are accustomed to at this time of the year like saofai, reunions and so’o.

And so is the decision to finally allow ferry sailings between Savaii and Upolu on Sunday, although it might only be one trip each way. People who frequent these waters during this time of the year will have many horror stories to tell about overcrowding, pushing and shoving as villagers return home to spend time with families during the holidays. An extra trip, even if it’s only on a Sunday afternoon, can only help. Aside from that, the opportunity for motorists to be able to fill their cars on a Sunday afternoon will be embraced by this country.

But that’s where the good news ends. The bad news is that if the Government’s decision was made with the hope that it would improve this nation’s dwindling economic prospects, they have again got it wrong. It would be a mistake to think that extending the opening hours for a mere extra hour could turn people’s misfortunes around. It will take a lot more than slightly easing the S.O.E. restrictions to make a big difference in the current state of affairs.

Without a case of coronavirus, the question has always been this; why are many of these restrictions even necessary?

For instance, why is movement between Upolu and Savaii restricted when there is no risk of anyone transporting the virus back and forth? If we are to believe what they are saying that we do not indeed have a case of the virus, what does closing shops, hotels, restaurants and everything else earlier than usual have to do with anything?

Why are people not allowed to swim on a Sunday, let alone buy a beer at a local hotel on the one day of the week where many of them get to rest? What is wrong with getting your punctured tyre fixed on Sunday? Again, a lot of this just doesn’t make sense.

But let’s qualify this by making it absolutely clear we do not oppose, or question the Government’s commitment to do what’s necessary to protect Samoa from the deadly COVID19. It is why we believe the decision to keep the borders tightly shut, with the exception of repatriation and cargo flights, is the right thing to do.

But we find that without a case, and with Samoa’s border tightly shut, it is mind boggling how this Government is continuing to subject businesses and members of the public to a number of these unnecessary restrictions. It is why we also think the easing of S.O.E. orders is almost a joke and it continues to expose the fallacy in the Government’s often changing stories about why these rules are necessary.  

On the newspaper you are reading today, the Interim Chairman of N.E.O.C, Agafili Shem Leo, said although other restrictions have been relaxed slightly, Cabinet is maintaining the rules to “honour Sundays.

 “The National Council of Churches has sought audience many times with the Prime Minister and Cabinet and expressed their view from the Biblical side of things, to respect Sundays,” he said.

So which one is it? Are the S.O.Es on Sunday in response to the church’s concerns or are they because of COVID19? We’ve got very contrasting stories there.

But let’s move on. Asked why the Government is setting closing times instead of letting businesses decide for themselves, Agafili said the rules are in place to keep Samoa safe. “It’s really up to the business but the closing has to be 10pm,” he said. “There is a big picture of these things and that is looking at making sure the country is safe. Nightclubs could be [open] up to 6am in the morning, especially during Christmas and the New Year, but Cabinet looked at it through the lens of security for the public, and for people to have a very good Christmas because not everyone drinks.”

Now that’s an interesting one, who goes to a nightclub at 6am? Maybe they know something we don’t? Don’t bother answering that.

In the words of Agafili though, let’s consider the “big picture.” Right now in Samoa, it is a smart guess to say the majority of the happy people of Samoa would welcome Monday’s announcement about the easing of restrictions. With Christmas and New Year upon us, they will celebrate as if it’s the best thing that has ever happened to them in a long time.

But that’s what you’d expect in a country where the narrative by one man and one political party has been towed unquestionably for so long – including the spin behind these S.O.E. orders. You see, when people are subjected to rules and draconian laws designed to maintain control, they become subservient so that instead of questioning the status quo and asking the critical question of why, they will take anything that comes. And that has got to be the saddest thing you can do to a people, and a nation, especially at a time that is supposed to be the happiest for anyone and everyone?

Have a safe and productive Tuesday Samoa, God bless!  








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