Further witness tampering alleged
The Supreme Court says supporters of the M.P.-elect for the Anoama’a No.2 seat interfered with witnesses in a legal challenge to his victory that led to them not showing up to court.
The deputy leader for the Human Rights Protection Party and winner of Anoama’a No. 2 seat, Lauofo Fonotoe Lauofo, had all allegations of bribery and treating against him quashed this week.
He was challenged by petitioner and Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) candidate, Toomata Norah Leota.
The legal challenge backfired on Toomata who was found guilty of illegal practice relating to the F.A.S.T. party roadshow in Solosolo being held during the prohibited election period.
Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai and Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma presided the matter. Lawyer Alex Sua and Fetu Lagaaia acted for Toomata.
Tuatagaloa Shane Wulf and Leinafo Taimalelagi represented Lauofo.
Seven allegations of bribery and three allegations of treating are alleged in the petition.
“Only three allegations of bribery and two of treating were pursued due to interference by supporters of the respondent with the petitioner’s witnesses,” the Court noted.
“At least one of the witnesses, husband of one of the witnesses, was forcefully removed from outside the Courtroom by his father before the witness could testify.”
During the trial five witnesses were issued with warrants of arrest after they failed to appear in Court to give evidence for the petitioner.
The witnesses did not testify and as a result allegations that they complained of were withdrawn.
Several witnesses that did turn up to give evidence told the Court that they were threatened by family and villagers against testifying in the case.
In an interview after the decision was delivered, Toomata had urged the Courts for better systems in the future to ensure that witnesses are protected and safeguarded at the courtouse.
She also urged that those that try to pervert the course of justice should be dealt with.
Lauofo had denied all the allegations of bribery and treating in the case and also lodged a counter petition alleging eight coutns of bribery and three counts of treating.
The Court had ruled against claims of bribery through agency after the petitioner failed to prove the complaints.
While it noted there was no evidence in rebuttal to dispute the claim, the Court said there was nothing else that the Court can rely on to conclude that the giver was the agent of the respondent.
Another allegation alleges that the same agent Faamau Neru gave Tapu Tutaia $50 tala.
The Court said it is mindful of the fact that the alleged agent Faamau Neru was the same person who on the same day gave $20 tala to Ati Leoleoga.
“But it is also the evidence of the petitioner’s witness that the respondent had the backing of the village council which could draw the inference that the money could have come from the village council,” the judgement said.
“Again there is insufficient evidence to link either Fa’amau or the village council to the respondent.”
The Court also considered allegations that the village mayor for Luatuanuu, Autu Tauiliili used his vehicle to transport voters to and from voting booths in the village.
Autu in his rebuttal evidence originally told the Court that he took members of his family to the polling booth.
He subsequently changed tune and said he went by himself to vote and afterwards joined the gathering of matai.
Although the Court dismisses Autu’s testimony for unreliability “it does not necessarily lead to a logical conclusion that he was transporting voters or he approved the transportation of voters using his vehicle as an agent or on behalf of the respondent”.
“There is not the slightest of evidence to suggest he was the respondent’s agent,” the Court concluded.
In relation to counter petitions the court ruled against all the allegations except for one count of illegal practice that had been found to have been proven.
One of the incidents alleges that on April 6th at Salelesi village was given $500 tala given to the matai by Seiuli Aloalii Tmese.
Toomata spoke about her candidacy in the election and told the meeting because of the imminent election she chose not to give the meeting any money as per custom.
Both Seiuli and petitioner left the meeting but Seiuli returned to the meeting house and gave $500 to one of the matai.
Seiuli testified that she was embarrassed when she and the petitioner left the meeting without complying with customs so she walked back and gave the $500 to the meeting.
The petitioner at that time was at her car already
The court said Seiuli did so while accompanied by the petitioner who provided support as an orator.
“It does not necessarily label her as an agent,” the court pointed out.
“A supporter does not automatically become an agent for doing a single favour for a candidate
“This evidence is insufficient to prove the charge beyond reasonable doubt.”
In relation to F.A.S.T. roadshow on 13 March 2021 five allegations of bribery and three of treating were mounted.
What took place during the traditional and customary welcome and before the presentation of the F.A.S.T. party manifesto and campaign speeches is not the focus of the complaints in the counter petition.
After the presentation speeches, which also included a speech by the petitioner the families of the F.A.S.T. party members residing in the district made customary presentations of money and fine mats to the party.
These presentations are also not the subject of the complaint.
It is the response by the F.A.S.T. party towards the conclusion of the roadshow, when seven envelopes containing $1000 each envelope was presented to the seven villages.
Five instances of bribery are alleged on the basis that five matai from the villages of Luatuanuu, Salelei and Fusi received varying amounts of cash from envelopes.
The three allegations of treating relate to the food and drinks which were also distributed.
The Court noted that the parties agree that the food and drinks were distributed at the roadshow and were provided by the Solosolo E.F.K.S. women’s fellowship.
It is common ground that food and drinks were distributed at the roadshow
The Court confirmed that the period of election commenced on the 10th March 2021; three days before the F.A.S.T. roadshow at Solosolo.
Period of election is defined in section 100 (1) to mean the period commencing on the day after the Commissioner gives public notice of polling day.
The law states that it is not required that the acts of giving or exchange of money or food be accompanied by a corrupt intent in order to constitute an illegal practice.
Likewise an elector or voter who obtains or attempts to obtain any food, money, drink or other valuable from a candidate is guilty of illegal practice.
“Although ceremony or activity are not defined it is clearly implicit from the wording of the sections that any occasions other than a funeral in which Samoans are obligated or required by custom or traditions to make presentations of money food or other valuables is a ceremony or activity contemplated by section 100,” said the Court.
“The presentation of envelopes of money and food at the roadshow was an illegal activity under the Electoral Act.
“The F.A.S.T. party was quite entitled to hold its campaign rally in compliance with the approved methods provided in section 42 since the prohibited period for campaigning has not commenced.
“But the campaign rally activity must not involve the giving and exchange of food, money, fine mats or other valuables.”
According to the court the giving of money at the roadshow that it determined to be an illegal practice were not given specifically for the individuals stated in the counter petition.
The envelopes of money were earmarked for the villages.
“The food prepared and given out by the women’s fellowship of E.F.K.S. church of Solosolo to feed everyone including the F.A.S.T. party,” it ruled.
“The women’s fellowship on the evidence cannot be determined to be agents of the petitioner or of F.A.S.T.
“The 3 allegations of treating are dismissed.”