Consistency lacking in pursuit of justice

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Two days ago, the District Court convicted and fined a candidate from the time of the General Election for making a false declaration when he submitted his candidacy papers with the Office of the Electoral Commission.

Ofoia Nomeneta Ofoia, a candidate for the Va’a Fonoti constituency, was sentenced by District Court Judge, Vaepule Vaemoa Va’ai.

From what we’ve been told, Ofoia had lodged his nomination form in February with the Electoral Office where he made a false declaration that he had no previous conviction.  

But then the Member of Parliament for Va’a o Fonoti, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, presented copies of the police report to the Electoral Commissioner, which proved that the candidate did not just have one conviction, he had two.

 “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 Court was told. “The second conviction is actual bodily harm which he was convicted and fined in the Supreme Court in December 2015.”

In Court, Judge Vaepule gave Ofoia an opportunity to speak. 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 a false declaration), I understand it now and I accept it.” 

But Judge Vaepule was not convinced and he sentenced Ofoia.

“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.”

Fair enough. Judge Vaepule is strictly ruling on evidence presented before him. 

But this case does raise some very interesting questions we cannot ignore.

We say this because Ofoia is not the only candidate who has been dragged to Court over the recent General Election. There are other candidates – including Le Tagaloa Pita, Taula Simi and Tuula Kiliri Tuitui - who are awaiting their fate in relation to similar allegations. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we believe that it is vital to allow the law to take its course. And if these gentlemen have broken the law, as they have been accused, so be it.

But when it comes to fairness, consistency and to an extent, justice, you really have to wonder sometimes. 

We say this because it was not that long ago that some very senior Members of Parliament accused of bribery and treating in relation to the same election - from where these men have been prosecuted - were pardoned and allowed to assume their law-making responsibilities - despite the nature of the allegations against them. 

And when it comes to the issue of previous convictions, it’s another grey area, isn’t it? 

In the past, we’ve had some people with criminal histories waltz into our Parliament, undetected. For example, a former Member of Parliament found guilty of first degree murder and jailed for four years outside Samoa served two terms in Parliament recently. 

Was he prosecuted? Did he declare his criminal conviction on his candidacy form? Why didn’t anybody take action then? 

What about other Members of Parliament? 

Did anybody check their criminal records?

Fast forward to now, there is a certain Cabinet Minister who is wanted by the authorities in American Samoa in relation to a number of very serious allegations.

We’ve been told that the warrant for his arrest, which has been outstanding since 2008, is still valid. 

Now did he declare this on his candidacy form? 

And now that the warrant has been confirmed, what is being done about this?

Do we need to remind you that we are talking about a Minister of Cabinet?

The point is that it is good to see that the law is being followed through and executed in some cases. But we cannot help but bemoan the absence of consistency and the lack of justice when we consider some other cases where it seems that the law was broken and completely ignored. 

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

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