Brothers in election court showdown

The hearing of an election-related dispute between two brothers began in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

There, Member of Parliament for Palauli East, Tuifa’asisina Misa Lisati, gave evidence to support a petition he lodged in a bid to stop his brother, Aiolupotea Toni Leleisiuao, from contesting the election.

Aiolupotea had his nomination approved by the Electoral Commissioner last month to contest the Palauli No. 3 seat currently occupied by his older brother. 

Matai from the village of Vailoa crowded the Courtroom on Tuesday when the hearing began. 

In his evidence, Tuifa’asisina, who is the Associate Minister for the Ministry of Public Enterprises, disputed claims that his brother has always rendered monotaga to the village of Vailoa Palauli. 

According to the M.P., it was only in 2019 that he arranged a meeting with the elders to present a $2,000 tala from Aiolupotea to resume his monotaga in the village.

He also denied claims he had plans to move to New Zealand with his wife because he was sick.

Tuifa’asisina explained that his wife is in New Zealand to help one of their children who is attending university there.

Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, acting for Aiolupotea, put it to Tuifa’asisina that a matai from their family in Vailoa, Tuifa’asisina Iakopo, is rendering monotaga on behalf of his brother. 

Tuifa’asisina said no.

He also made reference to a book in the possession of Autagavaia Muese that records those who provide monotaga. 

It is his evidence that in that book there is no record of Aiolupotea rendering monotaga. 

During cross examination, Fuimaono then asked Tuifa’asisina if he was present during a village meeting in July where the village council unanimously supported the candidacy of Aiolupotea. 

In response the M.P. said yes and he was asked to leave the meeting while the village discussed the matter. 

“In that meeting, no one questioned the monotaga of Aiolupotea, is that correct?” asked the lawyer. 

The M.P. replied that he was not aware because he did not sit in the meeting. 

It was also put to the M.P. that after the meeting, the village then accompanied Aiolupotea to the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) registration. 

The lawyer added that following those events, he had visited his brother’s home at Vaivase and expressed his discontent about it.  

He replied yes. 

Fuimaono further told the M.P. that that was the reason why he has brought the proceedings against his brother because he no longer has the support of the village. 

In response, Tuifa’asisina insisted that Aiolupotea has not rendered his monotaga. 

“The village also doesn’t want you to become their M.P.,” the lawyer asked. 

The M.P. replied that not all of the villagers were present during the meeting. 

He did accept that the senior matai of the village attended the meeting. 

Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma put it to the M.P. if he accepts that a family member can perform monotaga on behalf of another member who does not live in the village. He said yes. 

The second witness to testify was Autagavaia Mu who was a secretary for Vailoa Palauli before he left the village earlier this year. 

It is the matai evidence that throughout the years he was the secretary of Vailoa Aiolupotea has not rendered monotaga. 

He said the book that he uses to record the monotaga is testament that Aiolupotea has not performed his monotaga. 

When it was put to him that it is Tuifa’asisina Iakopo and other matai evidence that the respondent performs monotaga the witness disputed this. 

He said the evidence of Tuifa’asisina Iakopo is a lie and it undermines his role as a secretary for the village council in the past years. 

Justice Roma queried the witness of the inconsistency of the way he writes the name of those in his book. 

The Supreme Court Judge told the witness that the records look like they were all written in one day instead of what his evidence says that it was recorded over a separate period. 

Autagavaia said no the names and years noted in the book were written for different years. 

Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai then asked the witness if he is aware of any other village that has a book to record their monotaga. 

He explained that there are usually no books to record monotaga in villages saying that elders normally do not need books to refer to when distributing goods from village activities.

The hearing continues. 

Prior to witnesses being called to give evidence, the lawyer for Tuifa’asisina, Ulupale Fuimaono made his submission on the grounds of why the candidate should be disqualified. 

He said the candidacy of Aiolupotea should be disqualified pursuant to section 47 of the Electoral Act because he does not qualify under the monotaga requirement. 

However, Justice Vaai asked the lawyer if he can go beyond the forms lodged before the Electoral Commissioner were in fact incorrect. 

In response, Mr. Fuimaono submits that there is no clear linkage of the Electoral Commissioner to section 47 sub-section 2.

He added that the candidate has to prove that he meets the requirement.  

Justice Vaai intervened and suggested that the statutory declaration doesn’t require the Electoral Commissioner to take a further step. 

He said that the keyword in the section is “lodged” where the Electoral Commissioner can just tick off the forms that were lodged then he is bound to accept it. 

“As long as the documents are lodged and ticked then the Electoral Commissioner has to accept,” said Justice Vaai. 

“It doesn’t authorize the Commissioner to go look beyond that. Section 47 is badly drafted; we have two amendments in 2020 which also causes confusion and this act needs to be redrafted.” 

In addition, Justice Vaai pointed out that in May there was an amendment that allows the Commissioner to disqualify a person and it gave the Commissioner that authority to disqualify. 

He said later in September this year the legislators did away with the powers of the Commissioner giving the people the chance to challenge the decision of the Commissioner. 

Justice Vaai said the act was poorly drafted and some “brilliant drafting by your drafters”. 

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