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L.T.C. bills threaten democratic process: Afemata

A former Opposition Leader and election candidate, Afemata Palusalu Fa’apo II, has warned three bills that propose to restructure the judiciary will threaten the election and the candidate nomination process.

The three proposed bills, which advocates say will finally recognise the rights of village councils or communal rights, have passed second reading in Parliament. They will overhaul the Land and Titles Court and make it autonomous from the existing court structure.

But Afemata has sounded the alarm that the legislation will inflame the current issue of individual candidates being unable to compete for Parliament. 

A high chief of Sataoa, the former M.P. claims that candidates are finding it hard to contest due to village councils writing to the Electoral Commissioner attesting that they don’t support their candidacies.

He said if the three bills had already been passed it would have been a disaster for candidates wanting to run for office this election.

“The current situation faced by individual candidates is starting to reflect that communal right and power making it hard for other candidates to register,” he said. 

“As you may be aware there are constituencies that have agreed to have one candidate and have written to the Commissioner they do not support others. 

“This will be a lot worse if the three bills are passed where the authority given to the Alii and Faipule is misused by the village to prevent individuals from exercising their rights to contest [elections].” 

The Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020 has already gone through a Government sponsored review for public consultation. 

However, Afemata is urging people to be alert about the bills and their rippling effects on the community and individuals. 

He said that village mayors who are key signatories to nomination paperwork are allegedly threatened by village council authorities.

“They are afraid to sign the paperwork because of threats from Alii and Faipule that there is only one candidate they support,” said the former Cabinet Minister. 

He made no specific mention of any constituency but the candidate who has successfully registered for April’s general election said his other colleagues are not so lucky.   

“On the legal side the village mayors should do their work independently but that is not often the case,” he said. 

“We have village mayors who are afraid to do their job because of the threats from the village council. 

“There are also cases of a village splitting into two councils and that is a disadvantage for candidates running from the side that the village mayor does not come from.”

Furthermore, Afemata said the process of challenging the decision from the village council in court is costly and not everyone can afford it. 

He said only those that can afford the expensive legal costs will pursue cases, disadvantaging those that don’t have the money. 

Candidate for Sagaga No. 1 who had his nomination rejected, Papalii Panoa Tavita confirmed that the minimum cost of challenging such cases in court is $20,000 for legal costs. 

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