Opinion: Last-minute cancellation of Pasifika is a disgrace, writes Barbara Dreaver

Barbara Dreaver
Source: 1News

The cancellation of the Pasifika Festival the day before it was due to start is a disgrace.

Not the fact it has been cancelled, that is based on common sense and a sensible measure. But to do it less than 24 hours before the festival opens was one of those "are you for real?" moments.

To hear mayor Phil Goff earnestly make this announcement, flanked by his Pacific minders - Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni, who also attempted some damage control, and councillor Josephine Bartlett - was hard to stomach.

Coronavirus hasn’t just appeared out of thin air, nothing about its spread or the many events being cancelled over the past few weeks is a surprise.

Former head of Ministry of Pacific Affairs Dr Colin Tukuitonga, who was also based at WHO head office for a time, has been warning about the dangers of holding Pasifika for the last fortnight.

Yet the organisers went blithely on cheerfully hoping it would be OK as big events were cancelled around them left, right and centre.

All the facts that were spouted as cancellation reasons have been known for days and even longer. Apparently, the last-minute decision was taken because hundreds of people are coming to Pasifika from the region and will be returning there.

Newsflash: they didn’t buy their plane tickets this morning - this fact has been known for weeks and many of them have booked stalls to sell their goods, which they have spent time and money bringing here.

Then there was the sudden realisation that Samoa has had a deadly measles epidemic and coronavirus would be disastrous.

Yes, lots of people will be at Pasifika - again another incredible fact that has been known for... oh, years.

Yet the "decision-makers" took until today to announce that decision. Today.

As someone who has had family members in the past involved in selling at Pasifika, let me explain what is involved.

Bear in mind we are not talking about a community rolling in money, in fact many struggle to make ends meet.

Often equipment needs to be hired - tables, freezers, BBQs - and then there is the food. Some years ago, it cost $3000 for all this – it would be more now.

Money was borrowed and the stallholders desperately hoped they would make a profit and they usually would.

So, what of those people now who have hired their equipment and bought all the ingredients? Those who have started cooking their food?

What about those who have come from the Pacific and paid for airfares and costs involved in bringing products in?

So actually, no this is not "the responsible decision" Minister Sepuloni, the responsible decision would have been to cancel days ago.

The mind-boggling delay, the "she’ll be right" attitude, the cowardly not making a decision until the last minute has left people who can least afford it, out of pocket.