Bakeries closure on Sundays takes us back to a 400 years old question of Church and State working hand in hand to control commerce, and people’s liberty. In Tonga's case, government has forgotten its pledges to improve the economy and “eradicate hunger”.
Thus, it is apparent that the Minister of Police has the authority to loosen the Sabbath Law for bakeries to be opened on Sundays, as did his practical predecessors for the last 30 years. But pressured by Christian church leaders, Minister Tu’i’onetoa fearing for his own salvation in the after life, has also agreed to deliver salvation for all Tongans by compulsory fiat.
We are reminded that the 16th century “Reformation” movement by Martin Luther, and John Calvin in Europe, was against the overbearing power of the Church and government over the political lives of the people. Particularly, the movement was against the powerful political might of the Roman Catholic Pope, who was also a most powerful authority for the State government.
The same problem was also seen in 19th century Utah Territory (USA) where Mormon President Brigham Young was also elected Governor. Brigham Young and other LDS presidents had to be removed, or kept away from the governorship of the Territory before Utah was admitted to become a State in the United States of America.
Protestantism was instrumental in separating Church and State authorities, who were using religion to drive the “fear of God” upon people’s secular lives.
In Tonga, the 19th century persecutions, imprisonment, and deportation of Wesleyan Church followers by King George Tupou I, and Prime Minister Shirley Baker, is another example of Church and State misusing their religious and political powers.
Today, Church leaders and Minister of Police Põhiva Tu’i’onetoa are once again working together with the same dictatorial authority. They want total control of people’s lives to include guaranteeing their salvation in the after life − by keeping the Sabbath “holy”.
In practice, the poor people of Tonga are disadvantaged the most. Bread is the most affordable food product for the masses worldwide. For the Tongan stable diet, a basket of tapioca costs $10-15 at the marketplace; two loaves of bread at the bakeries can be had for $3. Costs for extras go up proportionately according to each family size. But for the poor, a loaf of bread fills a lot more stomachs for the money spent than root crops. Furthermore, bread has more nutritional ingredients than a tapioca root alone.
Minister Tu’i’onetoa has declared that “nobody will die from not eating bread for one day.” That is government authoritative arrogance, lecturing people on what is good for them. But since he has a job that buys him enough groceries to feed his family three meals a day, he forgets that poor people could hardly feed their families on one meal a day.
Until Min. Tu’i’onetoa, and his colleagues in Parliament - who are also out-of-touch with the poor because of their fat salaries - can improve the economy for the poor folks to be employed, they cannot dictate to them how to feed their families. The King’s speech on opening Parliament challenged legislators to improve the economy. I don’t see shutting down bakeries and laying off workers contribute to the improvement of the economy.
Minister Tu’i’onetoa also declared there’s exception to trading on Sunday, “but only in times of natural disasters.” Again, such insensitive bureaucratic comments show how out-of-touch Min. Tu’i’onetoa and his Church leaders are with poor people.
Hunger is a daily natural disaster for the poor. Keeping bakeries open on Sundays alleviates poor people’s hunger because they can afford a loaf of bread at $1.50 each. While Min. Tu’i’onetoa can treat his family to an expensive hotel restaurant (allowed to remain open) on Sundays, the poor folks need their bakeries open where they could buy affordable pastries to give their families, a nice Sunday dinner.
Sione A. Mokofisi, MBA
Moana Unitech, Haveluloto, Tongatapu