No o'o complaints: Electoral Commissioner

Despite reports of candidates conducting traditional presentations or o’o and momoli in contravention of regulations, the Electoral Commissioner says they have not received any complaints about the allegations.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio said that the law stipulates that the traditional presentation should be made after an election. 

He confirmed that no one has filed any complaints with their office in relation to the allegations. Several candidates contesting April’s election have been alleged to have presented o’o and momoli to some of their villages in the constituency that they are running for.

Under the Electoral Act 2019 the conduct of o’o and momoli by a candidate or member to a village or constituency is not considered as treating, bribery or an illegal or corrupt activity if it is presented within three years after the date of the declaration of the results for a general election. 

The traditional presentation of money and gifts to a village within a constituency was often held to inform a constituency of a candidates’ intention to run. 

Prior to the 2016 General Election it was mandated that the practice could only occur within a 12 month period following the election. 

A 2016 Samoa General Elections Report “Domestic Observation Report” noted the laws restricting the practice were generally unpopular with voters who saw the legislation as an unnecessary intrusion on long-standing Samoan cultural practice and tradition. 

“The change was also seen to broadly affect processes of reciprocity within the village, and to have a negative impact on other gift-giving for title bestowals, funerals or weddings that happened to take place around election time,” the report stated. “As one observer put it: ‘suddenly culture revolves around [the] election’."

The Electoral Amendment Act (2014) restricted the conduct of o’o or momoli — presentations of money, food and gifts (typically traditional fine mats and tapa cloth) to a village or villages within a constituency by a candidate to announce their intention to run — only to after the election. 

The change was intended to reduce real and perceived undue influence on the electoral process by way of the Samoan tradition.

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