Court details Faasaleleaga No.2 petitions ruling
The Supreme Court has detailed its reasons for dismissing electoral challenges for the Fa’asaleleaga No.2 seat where it relied on the credibility of the witnesses and inference drawn from the evidence.
Newly-elected Member of Parliament and Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party member, Magele Sekati Fiaui was accused of six counts of bribery, one of treating and one count of illegal activity.
His rival and three-term veteran parliamentarian, Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow filed the petition that was dismissed by the Court on Monday.
Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Simativa Perese and Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren presided over the case.
Magele also responded with a counter suit alleging five acts of bribery by way of giving money of various amounts to several voters from the constituency.
In its judgement, the Court dismissed a bribery charge by Fataloto Faloai that alleged he was given $50 tala by Magele.
He told the Court he was told by Magele’s mother Taumaloto Fiaui to remember her son in the election and while he initially could not be certain of the colour of the $50 tala note, he later said it was purple.
Fataloto during his evidence said he is related to Taumaloto but they rarely see each other. However, in rebuttal Tafatoa Iosefa and Taumaloto contested the claim.
Taumaloto said she was visiting her elderly mother in the village of Vaiafai after returning from New Zealand and came across Fataloto whom she is related to.
She told the Court that she gave Fataloto the $50 tala and told him she had just arrived after being away and the money was a gift (meaalofa).
In their findings, the Court considered that Fataloto was given $50 tala by Taumaloto and not Magele.
“We reject Fataloto’s explanation for the gift,” the Court ruled.
“The evidence is at best murky about what was said at the exchange.
“Clearly the Court does not have a verbatim account of all the discussion between Taumaloto and Fataloto, they both provide snippets of what was said, and the gaps in the evidence are unsatisfactory…”
In any event, the Court said even if Taumaloto gave the $50 tala and used the words to be mindful of her son’s election, it would not succeed because she does not establish an agency between Magele and his mother.
The Court made reference to similar cases in the past with similar circumstances and ruled those circumstances are not present in the current case.
“First, there was no appointment or employment established and secondly there was not any evidence presented that Taumaloto was recognised and accepted as an agent of Magele,” the Court found.
“For the respondent to be liable for the actions of his mother Taumaloto we have to be satisfied that she was an agent of the petitioner…the mere fact of the relationship between Magele and his mother is not sufficient to establish agency.
“There is no evidence here to establish that Magele’s mother was a member of his committee, or had any significant involvement in promoting his candidacy.”
The Court added any evidence of this nature would have potentially satisfied that she was his agent, but in its absence it cannot be satisfied that she was.
The allegation was dismissed and was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.
In relation to $1000 tala given to the Vaiafai Women’s Committee to assist with their building project, the petitioner claimed it was bribery.
In response, Taumaloto said she had instructed her children in New Zealand to send the $1000 tala money to Magele to gift to the Women’s Committee as part of her contribution.
She was in quarantine at the time and was not able to personally hand over the money.
The Court accepted that Magele took the $1000 to contribute to the building and that it was given on behalf of his mother who was passionate about the women’s committee of Vaiafai.
“We note that Memea’s evidence tended to suggest that Taumaloto’s link to Vaiafai was tenuous, historical and irrelevant,” the judgement states.
“We expect that this evidence was intended to lead the Court to drawing an inference that there were other reasons, perhaps nefarious behind the gifting of the money.
“We decline to enter into that realm of speculation. We accept that Taumaloto and her mother were members of the Women’s Committee whilst they lived in Vaiafai and that the construction of the new building in 2021 was the first time the Women’s Committee premises had been replaced.”
The Court added that as the evidence suggests it was not a gift from the respondent but from the respondent’s mother on account of her link to Vaiafai.
The allegation was dismissed.
It was also alleged that Magele gave $600 tala to the Iva Catholic Church tausala (fundraising) through Magele Taumaloto Tofilau.
This was denied by Magele Taumaloto who claimed that this was not possible because he is a member of the church (matafale) and gave the money on his behalf for his tausala contribution.
The Court accepted the evidence from Magele Taumaloto saying his evidence was steadfast and forthright.
The complaint incident was dismissed and the Court found that the element of the offence was not proven.
In counter petition, three witnesses who are F.A.S.T. political party supporters claimed they were given between $200 and $300 by Gatoloaifaana.
The Court said members of opposing political parties are not barred from giving evidence in matters involving bribery and corruption but their evidence must be treated with caution.
“They have an interest in the outcome of the petition or as in this case the counter petition,” the Court pointed.
“In his case, that caution is all the more acute when one considers that Faafafa, Amio and Fuatogi are all related by marriage.
“They are close relatives, their account of events were remarkably similar and one of them could not tell the time and when he was supposed to have been bribed by the petitioner.”
The Court also noted Faafafa says he did not tell the petitioner that he was a member of F.A.S.T. all the while allegedly accepting money from Gatoloai and claimed she should’ve given her $2000 instead of $200.
The Court concluded that they do not intend to spend time analyzing the evidence of the three witnesses without independent corroboration and are accordingly dismissed.
Similar allegations from the countersuit were dismissed by the Court.