Harsher penalties for untruthful candidates recommended
Candidates who make false declarations should face stiffer penalties, the Electoral Commission has recommended.
The recommendation is included in the Office of the Electoral Commission (O.E.C.) official report on the Fa'asaleleaga No. 2 by-election held on 22 March, 2019.
The report, signed by the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Matthew Lemisio, covers the whole process of the by-election.
The report outlined a number of challenges for the poll, the first since major reforms were introduced to the Electoral Act 2019, including compulsory voting.
Faimalo noted while the core of the reforms introduced in this year's reforms worked to plan there were minor issues that would require amendments to the 2019 Act to ensure the smooth operation of the 2021 General Election and beyond.
“Under the Old Act, there was a provision catering for people who mislead the Commissioner when submitting false information during registration. It is recommended that this provision be put back into the 2019 Act.”
The O.E.C. extended the eligibility of voters for pre-polling from the elderly to include those in essential services and care givers of pensioners.
Another recommendation seeks to return power to the Electoral Commissioner to verify candidates' confirmation of monotaga (village service).
The provision, whereby candidates can challenge another candidate by an order of the Supreme Court prior to election, should be removed from the 2019 Act the report recommends.
“Instead, [the amendments should] place this power back to the Electoral Commissioner, and add guidelines [for] exercising this power.
“It is recommended that in order for a Candidate to satisfy the monotaga requirements of the 2019 Act, he or she must provide a Statutory Declaration declaring that he or she had rendered a monotaga as a matai to a village within the constituency that he or she is contesting.
“On top of that, supporting Statutory Declarations from at least two matai of the villages this monotaga is rendered in shall accompany the candidate’s Statutory Declaration.
“To ensure that all candidates adhere the legal requirements to be candidates, the onus for them to prove that must be held at a higher level. Therefore any candidate to falsely declare any requirement, including monotaga, stipulated under the 2019 Act must face harsher penalty.
“Any other person who provides supporting declarations to be false must also face the same harsh penalty. We recommend a fine of $10,000 or an imprison term of five years or both.”
Half of the O.E.C. management team declared conflicts of interest due to familial links to the constituency and they were excluded from the process.
The report also highlighted that, for the first time, the final count was done in a public place, and the public was welcomed to scrutinise the process to ensure that it is done in a transparent and accountable manner.
Faimalo, in the report noted the ability of votes in certain categories, such as people with disabilities, pensioners and those travelling overseas within four days from polling day, to cast their vote prior to Election Day.
“The removal of special voting booths set up outside of the Constituency was another major reform introduced by the 2019 Act obligating voters to go back to their constituencies and cast their votes there.
Pre-election registration recorded a slight increase in the total roll for this by-election as a result of 346 new voters registered and 212 voters transferred into this roll. The majority of these registrations were in the 21 to 30 age group.”
He said at the temporary closure of rolls on 22 February 2019, 3,847 voters were recorded on the roll that was used for the by-election.