Lealailepule secures seat in next Parliament sitting
The Associate Minister of Communications and Information and Technology, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, has secured his seat in the next Parliamentary sitting.
He becomes the second incumbent Member of Parliament, after Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, to secure a seat, after the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner to reject Paloa Louis Stowers nomination.
Paloa had wanted to run against Lealailepule for the Faleata III seat.
“I am humbled by the decision of the Court and also the strong support of my village," Lealailepule told the Samoa Observer.
"I want to extend special [thanks to the] High Chief of Vaitele, Matai’a Lynn Netzler and the village for their continuing support and faith in me."
Leala, a member of the governing Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.), also dismissed claims their village was against Paloa because they instead decided to rally around one candidate.
“While the village may endorse one candidate but we all know anyone that wants to run for public office, is more than welcome to run, but one must render service to the village."
Paloa's candidacy was quashed after it was ruled that he had not fulfilled the monotaga (service) requirement to his village council - a necessary prerequisite for nominating as a candidate.
Mauga Precious Chang represented Paloa, who had registered under the banner of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) opposition party.
The decision was handed down by Supreme Court Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo Tuala-Warren, who was accompanied by Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson in presiding over the case.
Justice Tuala Warren ruled from the bench on Friday.
“[Paloa] was seeking an order from the court to qualify his nomination which was rejected by the Electoral Commissioner on the basis that his form was not signed by the village mayor over his monotaga [requirement],” Justice Tuala-Warren's decision said.
“Although the applicant falls under section 156 of the Electoral Act his disqualification as a candidate remains because we are not satisfied on the elements of probability the evidence presented [in the hearing] that he has rendered monotaga to the village of Vaitele.”
The Court declined to make a ruling on costs after the Court noted the case raised important issues and interpretation of the relevant provisions to the Electoral Act.
In Court, Paloa brought two sworn affidavits contending he had been rendering monotaga to the village since 1999.
But the village mayor, Toi Sakaria, told a different story.
He said that prior to 2015 there were two Vaitele Tai village councils and he was the secretary for the “recognised village” or the one in which Matai’a (the recognised paramount chief) had served as per a Lands and Titles Court ruling.
Only when the councils merged did he come to know of Paloa, he said. Toi further noted that remained Secretary of the council after the merger.
Toi confirmed that Paloa had been bestowed with a chiefly title in 1999 and had since served the other village council in Vaitele Tai.
Earlier on, Toi testified that Paloa was not part of the “most important” Lands and Title Court cases which focused solely on establishing the village’s chiefly titles.
“The [L.T.C.] case in which [Paloa] is referring to is [his] own case. The case I refer to [in my affidavit] has to do with the founding chiefs of the village,” he said.
Mauga told Toi that Paloa attended village council meetings held in January.
But Toi adamantly denied that Paloa was present.
“And [that] is indicated in the minutes of our meetings for January,” Toi said.
Mauga questioned whether the chiefs who attended the meeting signed in as evidence they were present, but the village mayor said that was not normal practice for village meetings.
Toi made it clear the reason the names of chiefs in the village were not on the meeting was because they were not present.
Mauga questioned the witness regarding whether the village’s development fund for which $500 is required from the chiefs was ongoing.
But Toi said the deadline for the fund had passed in January and now the village has already come to a resolution on when the funds should be given to the village.
The court heard from the witness the village collaborated to determine a sole candidate for the general election.
“However [the village] were shocked that Paloa put forth his name for the general election in August and yet the village [council] had already made a decision on its candidate,” Toi said.
“There were two nominations, myself and Lealailepule [Rimoni Aiafi] however the village decided that I will not run in the general election and allow the incumbent to run again.
“We concluded to have just one nominee [for Vaitele Tai].”
He dismissed claims by Mauga the reason why the village had refused to recognise Paloa’s contribution, was because of that earlier resolution to unite behind only one candidate.
“That is not true. We understand very well that despite the [unilateral] decision by the village council the law supersedes and we are well aware of that and if Paloa had contributed a monotaga we would have [granted] his request but he did not render service and that is the view of the village council,” Toi said.
“And yes the chiefs were not happy about his decision, because he cannot run, he did not render any [monotaga].”
Leala said 2020 had been a challenging year but he was looking forward to what the new year holds. The general election is slated for April.
He extended his thanks to his wife, Sharon, their children and his grandson for their continued support throughout the candidacy drama.