FAST Roadshows and Samoan Culture of ‘Respect for Respect’ Tested in Court

File photo: A packed out church hall during a FAST Roadshow.

16 June 2021, Mulinuu Apia Samoa.  Roadshows by Fa’atuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) used to widely publicise the party’s manifesto prior to the April 9th general election have been the focus of two separate petitions currently before the Supreme Court this week.

Both petitions against elected FAST MPs have presented witnesses who allege they had been bribed because they received a portion of the money given to villages during the roadshow.

It is not disputed that money was given during the welcoming ava ceremony and ‘faaaloaloga‘ (the honor of a traditional ‘sua‘ or gifts given to guests) held during the roadshows in question.

The practice of Samoa customs and traditions during faaaloaloga is the main defense presented by legal counsels, arguing that it is custom to reciprocate acts of respect with respect, often accompanied by a monetary gift.

Witnesses have taken the stand to testify that it is their belief the roadshow they attended did not constitute bribery, and all was done within normal exchanges in line with Samoa customs and traditions.

Aana Alofi 3 Roadshow

The election petition by Ili Setefano Tafili against winning Member of Parliament for A’ana Alofi No.3, Agaseata Valelio Tanuvasa Peto had witnesses testify they had attended the FAST party roadshow at Nofoalii’s EFKS Church Hall in February 2020.

Penuafa Sila Siloi, 62, of Leulumoega-Tuai told the Court their village of Leulumoega-Tuai received $1000 from the FAST Party.

“That to me was bribing because money was given and I admit I received $50 from it,” Penuafa said.

“Ia te a’u lava ia o le faatosina aua o lea sa tufa tupe ma ou te tautino atu na o le $50 lau tupe na maua.”

A second matai from Nofoalii said he received $20 tala from $1,000 given for Nofoalii village.

On the other hand, two witnesses for Agaseata Valelio who had also been at the Aana Alofi 3 roadshow testified they did not think the roadshow by FAST constituted bribery, because the main aim was to promote party policy (faalauiloa).

“They were informing our Constituency about who they are and what they will be doing for the country after the general election”.

One woman from Nofoalii, Ainise Tunia, 54, gave evidence saying she assisted the Church  women’s committee of Nofoalii EFKS to prepare the church hall for the FAST Party roadshow. As a result, the “sa’oao” or the group of women descendants of the village were given $500 tala by FAST after the roadshow that day.

“But I believe that this is how Samoa’s customs and traditions should be, “to reciprocate respect with respect”.

“Tali le fa’aaloalo i le fa’aaloalo.”

Another woman from Nofoalii, the secretary of the church women’s committe, Ioana Tuiloma Ah Mu told the Court the Women’s Comittee (Mafutaga a Tina) of EFKS Nofoalii were given $500 as an appreciation for preparing the hall where the roadshow had taken place.

“That money was deposited in the bank for the hall’s future maintenance,” Mrs Ah Mu said.

Salega 1 Roadshow

The election petition of Tautua Samoa Party Leader Afualo Dr Wood Salele against the winning candidate for Salega No.1 Fepuleai Fa’asavalu Su’a also alleges the FAST Party roadshow that took place at Samata-i-Uta constituted bribery.

Afualo took the stand himself and told the Court it was his firm belief the FAST roadshow held on the 18th of March, less than a month out from the general election, was illegal.

“Those are all attempts to bribe voters and it’s inappropriate,” he added.

Afualo had three witnesses who testified $500 was given by FAST for the welcoming ‘ava’ ceremony, and $2,000 tala was distributed amongst the four villages of the Salega 1 Constituency that day. Afualo insists the giving of money so close to elections was a bribe, adding that giving money in return for a faaaloaloga is not a must in the Samoan culture.

However in response, Fepuleai took the stand to say a Samoan wouldn’t be in their right mind if they did not reciprocate the respect and honor given. Witnesses were presented who disagreed that voters were bribed, and testified the money was only handed over as part of the customary ava ceremony, and after the village had presented FAST with the traditional honor or ‘sua’ given to visiting guests.

Submissions by Counsel

Closing statements for the Ili Setafano v Agaseata Valelio case are due to be presented before Justices Vui Clarence Nelson and Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren tomorrow (Thursday) morning. Leitaualesa Jerry Brunt is standing for Ili while Alex Su’a is representing Agaseata.

This afternoon in Court, Counsels for Afualo Dr Wood Salele and Fepuleai Fa’asavalu Su’a presented their closing arguments before Justice Niava Mata Tuatagaloa and Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma.

Representing Afualo, Tufuga Fagaloa Tufuga reiterated witness testimonies that they had received money at the roadshow, and this constituted bribery because they were asked to vote for Fepuleai. Regarding the question of traditional exchanges, Afualo says reciprocation of gifts by giving money is a choice, and not an obligation under Samoan custom. Tufuga stressed that FAST roadshows did aim to entice voters to vote for Fepuleai, and the money handed out was a certain form of bribe.

Muriel Lui on behalf of Fepuleai Faasavalu Sua strongly rebutted the allegation that money handed out during the roadshow was an act of bribery.

Lui argued that the first element of bribery against her client was not satisfied because it was not Fepuleai, but the FAST party who had given money out at the roadshow. Ms Lui argued there was no recognised agency relationship between her client and FAST, and there was no evidence that Fepulea’i had appointed FAST to act on his behalf.

“Everything to do with the event was FAST, it was a FAST initiative, and Fepulea’i is just a member,” said Ms Lui.

Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma interjected, and asked if the agency relationship between Fepuleai and the FAST party could not be inferred, since the respondent was a member of FAST.

Ms Lui insisted that FAST was not employed or appointed by Fepuleai.

“All decisions were made by a special committee of the Party.. he did not initiate it,” argued Counsel.

Ms Lui insisted the agency relationship had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt, “and without it, the whole allegation of bribery fails,” she said.

Counsel accepted that amounts of $500 for the ava ceremony and $2,000 for faaaloaloga were given by FAST to the Constituency. She also accepted that voters were amongst those present at the roadshow, but then argues the money was not for the purpose of enticing voters to vote for Fepuleai.

“The money was handed over after the faaaloaloga, and not before.. If there was no faaaloaloga, there would have been no money given,” said Ms Lui who reiterated her client’s testimony that failing to reciprocate the respect given was rude, and no person in their right mind would not show ‘respect for respect’.

“O lona uiga ua leaga lou ulu”.

Counsel submitted the Court should consider with caution the evidence of two witnesses who testified they had heard FAST party Chair and founder Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt entice voters to vote for Fepuleai.  Ms Lui said the witnesses only testified orally that they’d heard Laauli say, “Palota mo Fepulai”, but did not mention this in their written affidavits.  Ms Lui argued there was no evidence beyond reasonable doubt that her client had a ‘corrupt state of mind’ and intention (mens rea) had not been established by the evidence.

The Supreme Court has reserved its decision to be handed down sometime next week.