Judges call on Parliament to revisit monotaga definition

Justices of the Supreme Court have criticised Parliament’s definition of monotaga (service) calling for it to be revisited as it can cause confusion, or give rise to potential inconsistencies. 

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo Tuala-Warren have called on Parliament to “revisit” the specific requirement for monotaga contained in the Electoral Act, due to its “inconsistencies”. 

“The whole issue of monotaga as defined by Parliament has caused problems of interpretation in this and the other matters before the Court,” the Justices ruled.

“In particular, whether it should include sitting in every Village Council meeting. On this there is inconsistency in practice among the different villages. The issue should be revisited.” 

The ruling is handed down in the case of an election petition filed by Paloa Louis Stowers, in which the court ruled against his ability to nominate for next year’s election. 

According to the decision, Paloa was seeking an order from the Court to qualify him as a candidate for the 2021 General Election. 

“His nomination was rejected by the Electoral Commissioner on the basis that form three was not signed by the current Sui o le Nuu (village mayor) confirming his monotaga,” the ruling states. 

Paloa submits that he falls under Section 156 of the relevant Act, as a candidate interested in contest a seat in a new electoral constituency. 

Under the Act a member representing an Urban Constituency must render monotaga for a consecutive three years regardless of where their registered matai title is registered.

The Judges noted it is not disputed that Paloa is a registered matai title in what was previously the territorial constituency of Faleata Sisifo. 

At question is whether he has rendered monotaga for a consecutive three year period. 

According to the ruling, the Applicant argued that the meaning of “consecutive three years” was in fact any three year period. 

“The relevant clause of the Explanatory Memorandum in relation to s156 only mentions consecutive three years and does not specifically refer to “consecutive three years ending on the day the nomination papers are lodged with the Commissioner,” the ruling said. 

“Our reading of the Explanatory Memorandum is that the transitional arrangements are in place to cater for the electoral constituencies in Column 2 of the Schedule which are different from the territorial constituencies that previously existed. 

“The overall intention appears to be to ease the requirements for those members and others who intend to run from the new electoral constituencies. 

“The words “consecutive three years” are plain and unambiguous. The intention of Parliament is to be derived from the words of the Act, having regard to the plain meaning of ordinary words.” 

The Judges noted that Paloa, under the law, needed to prove on the balance of probabilities that he had rendered monotaga for three consecutive years. 

Monotaga is defined as the compulsory service assistance or contribution (such as, contribution in form of cash, kind or goods) rendered for customary, traditional activities, events, functions.

According to the ruling, Paloa says he has performed monotaga in his village since 1999 under his title Paloa. His further affidavit specifically gives examples of monotaga within the last 3 years, 2017-2019. 

Photographs were tendered showing Paloa at a meeting in 2017. His wife tendered one showing him at a 2018 meeting. 

But Toi Sakalia who is the current Sui o le Nuu and did not confirm Paloa’s monotaga to the Electoral Commissioner, said in his evidence that since he has been the Vaitele Village Council’s secretary for 15 years, Paloa has not rendered monotaga to Vaitele. 

“He became Sui o le Nuu in October 2019. He says that the examples of monotaga given by Paloa are family contributions and government projects which are not monotaga,” the ruling stated.

“[Toi] also says that Paloa does not attend village council meetings. He therefore supports the [Electoral Commission] decision to reject Paloa’s nomination.” 

 The Judges found that in relation to pre-2015 monotaga the evidence from Paloa and his witnesses is very vague. 

“Thus for example no specific three year period is pinpointed. The general statements made that Paloa has rendered monotaga since 1999 do not satisfy us on a balance of probabilities that he did render monotaga in any three year period outside the last three years. 

“We accept the evidence of Pula Tavita and Toi Poutalie in this regard. They have been involved in the village for many years and their evidence is independent and more reliable. 

“The witnesses for the Applicant bar one are not independent being either relatives or closely connected to the Applicant.” 

In relation to the last three years, namely 2017-2019, the Judges found that the examples of monotaga provided were either family matters for which family contributions are required or are projects which directly affect Paloa. 

“We accept Toi Sakalia’s evidence in this regard. He was the Vaitele Village Council secretary for 15 years before he became Sui o le Nuu last year. His evidence should therefore be accepted as reliable in relation to what happens in the Village Council,” the ruling stated.  

“The Applicant himself accepted monotaga includes attendance at village council meetings but at one point in his evidence conceded he did not attend every meeting, contrary to what his brother-in-law and former Sui o le nuu said.” 

The court made no ruling on costs in the case. 

But they did issue issues for consideration directed to the Electoral Commissioner for his consideration. 

“Many candidates are contesting new electoral constituencies, and yet Form 3 does not provide any information so that they are aware that the transitional provision applies to them,” the ruling says. 

“This is entirely unsatisfactory. 

“The statutory declaration which two matai must sign confirming the residency and nomination of their candidate does not require the matai to confirm that they sit in the candidate’s village council and render monotaga in the candidate’s village.

“We are of the opinion that it should. 

“The whole issue of monotaga as defined by Parliament has caused problems of interpretation in this and the other matters before the Court. 

“In particular, whether it should include sitting in every Village Council meeting. On this there is inconsistency in practice among the different villages. The issue should be revisited.” 

 

 



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