THE expensive ferry prices of the MV ‘Otumotuanga’ofa have prompted Ha’apai, Niuafo’ou and Vava’u to propose that each island should follow ‘Eua and have their own ferry.
These islands made the plea during the parliamentary visit meeting held by their Noble and People Representatives in Parliament.
A local resident of Hihifo one of Ha’apai 12 constituency complaint about the freight rate of transporting a used vehicle from Tongatapu to Ha’apai.
The female resident expressed her frustration in paying TOP$900 during a recent parliament visit meeting with Ha’apai Number One Noble Representative to Parliament Lord Tu’iha’angana and Ha’apai 12 MP Vili Hingano at Tongaleleka.
Another villager of Koulo urged it’s high time the island hase an inter island ferry service to the island groups since Ha’apai suffers mostly when the ferry services is disrupted.
Meanwhile reports from a recent parliamentary visit at Niuafo’ou, the islanders made a plea with their Noble Representative Lord Fusitu’a and People Representative Fe’ao Vakata to consider options for an alternative ferry service to the Niuas.
The Niua meeting also expressed their disappointment at the freight cost in shipping a four by four cartons of goods and supplies from New Zealand which costs about NZD$200.
However it is very expensive in getting the same cargo from Tongatapu to Niuafo’ou at a cost of TOP$800.
They also maintained Government is subsiding the Fishing Islands Shipping Agency (FISA) yet its pricing remain constant. The MV ‘Otumotu’anga’ofa only serviced the Niuas quarterly which at times severely affected the daily needs and supplies of the two islands.
Islanders would run out of daily supplies and therefore suggested the only solution is for a ferry service to cater for the two northern most islands’ needs.
A meeting also at Loto Neiafu, Fungamisi and Kolofo’ou Vava’u also recommended the same thing to their MP, Samiu Vaipulu because of the expensive passenger fare and freight to and fro Vava’u and Tongatapu.
In another development a call has been made this morning in Parliament for Government to consider reducing the passenger fare of the MV ‘Otumotuanga’ofa from Tongatapu to Vava’u and Ha’apai.
The proposed one way ferry fare for Vava’u is $50 and $40 from Tongatapu to Ha’apai was tabled in Parliament by Vava’u 16 constituencies MP, ‘Akosita Lavulavu.
She also questioned why ferry prices are so expensive and especially the MV ‘Otumotuanga’ofa is a grant from the Government of Japan.
Lavulavu argued extra cost of up to $20 is charged if a passenger exceeds the minimum 15 kilograms of carry on bag.
Vava’u 15 MP Samiu Vaipulu says weighing of carry on bag before getting on the ferries to apply only to passengers travelling overseas not domestically.
Lavulavu also proposed for senior citizenship to share the privileges the elderlies enjoyed oversees for free rides in public vehicles including ferries.
Lord Tu’iha’angana also shared the same view and stated clearly if Ha’apai is to have its own ferry services like ‘Eua it means trouble for FISA.
The Ha’apai Noble Representative also calls for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to look into the matter.
In response the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni says Cabinet will get FISA to respond to the issue being raised. However, he says the operating costs to maintain an inter island ferry service includes fuel and staff wages and other expenses.
The Hon. Minister of Finance and National Planning says the matter should be referred for further consideration by the Public Accounts Committee. He adds FISA is a government owned enterprises and therefore it is government’s assets and property.
He adds the 75 year old senior citizenship of ‘Eua travels free on the MV ‘Onemato. Hon. Tevita Lavemaau is optimistic the same privileges should be provided for the elderlies of Ha’apai, Vava’u and the Niuas.
Vava’u 15 constituency MP, Samiu Vaipulu pointed out to Government negotiation shouldn’t be an option for them, but as a regulator it must make decisions to help alleviate the problems people are now facing.