Senior Members of Parliament call for more stringent screening of candidates
Two senior Members of Parliament have called for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) to take a more proactive role in screening and vetting candidates before they are given the green light to contest a seat in Parliament.
Va'a o Fonoti Member of Parliament, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, believes the eligibility criteria for candidates should be the sole responsibility of the O.E.C.
Another H.R.P.P. colleague, Lenata’i Victor Tamapua, the M.P. for Vaimauga Sisifo, agrees saying the O.E.C. must carry out a thorough check on the background and the history of any person interested in running for Parliament.
“Under the current law, there is a minimal requirements asserted to the responsibility for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner when in reality it should be their sole responsibility to conduct background checks and assure this person is qualified,” Tialavea said.
“It shouldn’t be left up to the losing candidate to question the eligibility of the candidate.”
Some of the eligibility requirements include that a person must hold a matai title, has resided in Samoa for a period of three years and serving the village among other things.
“However the scope of work for the Office of the Electoral Commissioner should be expanded to include conducting background checks and taking on any complaints of bribery by the voters.”
Tialavea, who is also the Minister of Revenue, said it is critical that the O.E.C. does its due diligence work in relation to candidates.
“As of now anyone can run for office without any due process (well aside from the minimal criteria under the law),” he said. “Other than that, it is expected that the other candidates should go and file a case in Court if they come across any criminal background or something that makes the other candidate ineligible.”
Tialavea said this puts “us in an awkward position.”
“Again it should not be our job to do these things. This should be mandated under their law and it is after all due process.
“What if someone with a criminal background wins the election and the losing candidate refuses to take the matter to Court? Whose fault is it this criminal ends up passing laws in our Legislative Assembly? Not all the candidates are the same. For me, if I lose I will not take another candidate to court.”
Contacted for a comment, the Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio responded:
“Unfortunately, at this stage, our Office is now in the debriefing and review phase of our work following last week’s by-election.
“Through this phase, we’ll identify all issues that we encountered not only form an administration point of view but also from a legal point of view.
“Once we complete this process, we will then be in a much clearer position to advice Cabinet through a Report to be tabled in Parliament of those issues and possible solutions to address them.”
But Lenata’i joined Tialavea in calling for amendments to the Electoral laws.
“The eligibility criteria for any candidate must be confirmed by the Electoral Commissioner,” he said. “They shouldn’t expect that we will go and dig up dirt for the other running mates. They should conduct the background check.”