Monotaga should follow village by-laws: candidate

An election candidate, who successfully disqualified two opponents through the electoral petitions court, says monotaga should be properly established and understood in line with village by-laws.

Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio is one of four candidates for the Gagaemauga no1 constituency. 

He managed to overturn the Electoral Commissioner’s decision that approved the candidacy for Leoa Tauti Faaleolea and Tevaga Tupuivao Mapusaga to contest in the election. 

In response to queries from the Samoa Observer, Tuala believes that after the Court ruled on 15 electoral petitions the registration process for candidates will improve. 

He acknowledged the Office of the Electoral Commission for introducing new criteria such as requirement for candidates to produce police reports. 

In his opinion, he said this has improved the integrity of the candidate registration process. 

“The issue of monotaga in our electoral laws will need to be properly established and understood in accordance with the customs and the by-laws of each village,” he pointed out. 

“In one of the villages where I am a matai, after you are bestowed a title you have the option of contributing whenever the village requires you to contribute or you can pay a one-off $1000 which is your monotaga for life.  

“This is an example of a potential issue with the current definition of monotaga in the Act whether paying the $1000 for life is performing a compulsory service to the village.”

He said one can argue this is not a compulsory service to the village on an ongoing basis. 

“If we can't agree on what a monotaga is then better to remove this requirement completely,” he said. 

“Overall the need to consult with the people to have informed policies in place in order to make good laws is important.” 

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said the Electoral Act will be amended to provide more clarity on the definition of monotaga to avoid any future misunderstanding. 

He made reference to the electoral petitions that were ruled by the Supreme Court saying there was misunderstanding on the issue of monotaga. 

Furthermore, he argued that if the judges understand the true intention of what the monotaga is then they should make their decisions based on that. 

Tuala, who often reviewed the Electoral Act since it was passed in 2019, noted potential concerns on how the act would impact on his eligibility to contest in 2021. 

He said the restrictions and the many demands imposed by this Act on potential candidates and their eligibility to run were obvious. 

"We knew the monotaga was going to be a big issue, the discriminatory provisions and eligibility criteria were our main concerns,” he said. 

“The passing of the new Electoral Act 2019 and at the same time the Electoral Constituency Act 2019 was passed [and] made things more complicated because of the divided and newly formed constituencies. 

“One particular aspect of the Electoral Act which stood out was the power of the Electoral Commissioner to make the final determination of who is eligible to run and who is not.”

Tuala emphasised that the power given to the Electoral Commissioner is one that belongs to the court and has always been the role of the court as embedded in the Constitution. 

Six candidates were disqualified following the electoral petitions court proceedings, and five new names were entered on the candidate nomination list for next April’s general election. 

Tuala, on the other hand, went beyond the eligibility qualification and questioned the Office of the Electoral Commission for not complying with the electoral process. 

One of the candidates, who was disqualified as a result of his petition, was removed after the village mayor failed to sign the candidate’s declaration form. 

The other candidate was disqualified because the name of the voter who signed as witness in her nomination form did not exist on the constituency roll.  

“These were the concerns which is why we challenged the Electoral Act in court and caused the Government to make the amendments on eligibility criteria, remove discriminatory provisions and powers of final determination of the qualification of candidates by the Electoral Commissioner,” he explained.

Tuala claimed that after the amendments to the Electoral Act 2019, the registration forms were prescribed forms under the law and should have been updated to conform to the new changes. 

He had anticipated there will be some issues with the forms and some candidates. 

“We were interested in how the Electoral Office were going to perform their duties and responsibilities in accordance with the Act during registration time,” he said. 

“The two candidates from our constituency that were disqualified by the court is a good example of the O.E.C. not performing their role in accordance with the prescription of the law.”

Looking to the future, Tuala is confident of his chances in the upcoming election. 

He said he has the support of his family and the backing of the three villages Patamea, Samalaeulu and Mauga of Lealatele. 

In addition, he said he has a group of supporters from Saleaula where two Human Rights Protection Party candidates and a Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) candidate are also contesting for Gagaemauga no1 seat. 

“There are four months to the election and God-willing he would allow me to represent the people of Gagaemauga no1,” he added.

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