Samoa by-elections set for 12 November, Speaker rules on corrupt arrangement issue

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The Office of the Electoral Commissioner(OEC) has announced Friday 12 November as the official polling day for Samoa’s seven pending by-elections.

In a public statement the OEC confirmed Speaker Papalii Li’o Oloipola Ta’eu Masipa’u has issued the official warrant instructing the Electoral Commissioner to proceed with issuing of the Writs for the seven by-elections to return the seats of electoral constituencies that were declared void after electoral petitions.

“The Office of the Electoral Commission wishes to inform the public of these key dates of the by election process:

1. Issuing of Writ for by elections – Friday 15 October 2021

2. Nomination of Candidates 18 October 2021 to 22nd October 2021.

3. Withdrawal of Nomination: 29 October 2021

4. Campaigning period opens 25 October and closes 09 November

5. Pre-Polling: 10 November 2021

6: Polling Day: 12 November 2021

In an interview with the Samoa Global News Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio said there are more than 16,800 registered voters in the seven districts with 1,103 eligible to pre-vote.

He added at the time, that preparations were already well underway.
Meanwhile, the Samoa Speaker of the House has announced he has no power to prevent a candidate guilty of a corrupt arrangement or attempting to circumvent the process by resigning or withdrawing petitions already filed before the Court relating to charges of bribery and treating.

As election petitions and counter-petitions filed before the Courts were being withdrawn, the Supreme Court noted its disapproval of “corrupt arrangements” being entered into by candidates; where resignations were being declared to circumvent the process and avoid court hearings on charges of bribery.

Candidates were feigning resignations so Court petitions against them could be withdrawn, with intentions to just swing around again and run in the by-election created by their resignations.

In a statement issued this week, the Speaker Papalii Li’o Oloipola Ta’eu Masipa’u says the Electoral Act is “flawed and technically deficient” by not linking a corrupt arrangement (under s133) or an attempt to circumvent the process, to any form of sanction.

According to the Speaker there is nothing neither he nor the Electoral Commissioner can do because there is no provision that disqualifies a candidate from standing in a by-election, even if they have been found by the Supreme Court to have breached s133 of the Electoral Act by purposely entering into a “corrupt arrangement” and thereby circumvent the process of bribery and treating petitions against them.

The result is that the April 9th winner of the Sagaga 4 seat Tuisa Tasi Patea, a lawyer by profession who resigned to ensure the petition against him by FAST candidate Tagaloatele Poloa was withdrawn – is able to run again in the upcoming by-election.

Despite a comprehensive Supreme Court report to the Speaker outlining attempts by candidates to circumvent the petition process, the Speaker has announced that his hands are tied by deficiencies in legislation, and Tuimasealii Tasi Patea of HRPP and Tagaloatele Poloa of FAST can both register as candidates in the upcoming by-election. Tuisa had also prepared a counter-petition against Tagaloatele.

The decision by the Speaker essentially allows the candidates, accused of bribery in the 09 April general election, to call a truce and return to the polls for a rematch.

There is no guarantee that the by-election would not bring about further bribery allegations and more election petitions filed before the Court. There is also no guarantee that candidates will not “circle back” by resigning once more, and return to by-elections, yet again.

In his statement the Speaker has also announced Safata 2 candidates Nonu Teo Lomialagi Lose Niumata who won the seat in April, and FAST candidate Laumatiamanu Ringo Purcell, also eligible to compete in the upcoming by-elections.

The Supreme Court did not report Nonu Lose Niumata’s resignation and petition withdrawal as a corrupt arrangement or an attempt to circumvent the petition process, because the former General Manager of Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) indicated he did not intend to compete in the resulting by-election.

In a recent sitting of Parliament, amendments to the Electoral Act were made ahead of the by-elections now scheduled for 12 November 2021. No amendments were brought before Parliament to fix the flaws referred to by the Speaker.

SOURCE: SAMOA GLOBAL NEWS/PACNEWS