In a press conference on Tuesday, the PM was asked if his delay in addressing the issue is because he is ‘afraid of the papa’a’.
Puna shot down the accusation, telling the reporter to never make that comment again.
“I am not fearful of the papa’a. I am not fearful of anybody. I am fearful of doing the wrong thing.”
Puna said that is why he wanted to be very careful in how he handled the controversial issue.
“I believe there is a way forward, and that by engaging in ongoing dialogue with our people, the way will become clear.”
He said he doesn’t believe that there is an illegal solution to the issue, but that the government do still need to steer clear of that.
When looking deeply at the legal issues surrounding the Sunday flights issues, Puna says people will find that invariably they are drawn back to an article in the Cook Islands constitution.
There is a guarantee of freedom of religion, which is what it all comes back to, he says.
Puna said the constitution gives everyone the choice to worship however they see fit, and on a day of their choosing, without interruption or impediments.
“That is one of the beautiful things about the country we live in. We can do that in absolute freedom.”
But, Puna added that there is a responsibility that attaches to this freedom, and that is that you yourself are not allowed to do anything which may impact on somebody else’s freedom of religion.
“It’s clearly an issue of balance. We need to have that balance. Sometimes we get very emotional about it, and I appreciate that because religion is an emotional issue, and very personal one for all of us.
“But that is why we need to take time to really consider the issues, and work out a way forward that is appealing and agreeable to everybody.
The PM was then asked why he could not just exercise his power as Minister of Civil Aviation to change the regulation and flight times - not the law.
A clearly frustrated Puna responded, saying the licensing law was like any inferior law, and was subject to the constitution.
“If I was to do that, and Air Rarotonga applies for an injunction in court. How do you think the courts would decide?” he asked.
‘It’s very clear,” he said, in answer to his own question.
“The constitution takes precedence. Everything, every law, is subject to the constitution.
There is no answer by looking at the law.”
The prime minister said that perhaps looking at the operating times for the aircraft is a way forward. However, he added that a decision did not rest on him alone as Minister of Civil Aviation.
“There are parties that need to be engaged with, to talk about these issues and those options.” Keeping his Vaipae-Tautu election promise, Prime Minister Puna announced the referendum on the issue of Sunday flights to Aitutaki on April 22.
The controversial referendum resulted in Aitutaki residents voting in favour of banning Sunday flights to the island.
Voters were asked two questions drafted by government: “All flights to Aitutaki are allowed to fly on all days?” or, “All flights to Aitutaki are banned from flying on Sundays?”
A total of 56 per cent of voters wanted no flights on Sundays while 43 per cent wanted flights to be allowed on all days.
Following the vote in April, the Prime Minister said his government would stay true to his promise to heed the views of the people of Aitutaki.