A candidate for the recent General Election, Ofoia Nomeneta Ofoia, has been convicted and fined for making a false declaration with the Office of the Electoral Commission.
District Court Judge, Vaepule Vaemoa Va’ai, sentenced Ofoia yesterday.
The candidate for Va’a Fonoti constituency pleaded guilty to the criminal charge filed by the Office of the Electoral Commission.
In February 2016, Ofoia lodged his nomination form with the Electoral Office where he made a false declaration that he had no previous conviction.
Acting Electoral Commissioner and lawyer, Faimalomatua Mathew Lemisio, represented the office in the District Court.
Faimalo told the Court that Ofoia did not reveal previous conviction when he signed the declaration form.
It was only when the current M.P. for Va’a o Fonoti, Tialavea Seigafolava presented copies of the police report to the Electoral Commission they were made aware of it.
“In the report it had records of two convictions for the defendant,” said Faimalo.
“The first conviction was a charge of threatening words in which he was convicted and fined with $80tala in the FF Court (Fa’amasinoga Fesoasoani). “The second conviction is actual bodily harm which he was convicted and fined in the Supreme Court in December 2015.” Before Judge Vaepule sentenced Ofoia, he gave him an opportunity to speak about the matter.
The father of five told the Court that he had a different interpretation of the declaration and the law. “From my understanding on that part, I thought the conviction is referring to those who have been punishable for life in prison,” said Ofoia. “I only understood it later when the Electoral Office contacted me and I sought a lawyer who explained it to me…I do not deny that (I made false declaration), I understand it now and I accept it.”
However, Judge Vaepule was not convinced.
“Not fully understanding it is not a defense,” said the Judge.
“You are an accountant, you are not someone who does not have any professional background – it doesn’t matter what profession that is.
“There is a reason why the Electoral Office had put these (forms) in place is to screen the candidates to prevent those with previous convictions from running.” Vaepule noted that the defendant had pleaded guilty and ordered him to pay $800.
Failure to do so means six months in prison.