The Supreme Court has ruled that Tuitagomanaia Dr Peniamina Junior Leavai cannot run as a candidate for the upcoming by-election for Falealupo because he does not satisfy the religious monotaga or service rendered to the church.
The decision leaves the seat uncontested for the only other registered candidate, Fuiono Tenina Crichton of the Faatuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) party.
The decision handed down by Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese and Justice Niava Mata Tuatagaloa to a packed courtroom on Monday afternoon overturns the registration of Tuitogamanaia, previously accepted by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (OEC).
As outlined in the Supreme Court decision published below, the OEC had accepted the nomination of Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) candidate, Tuitogamanaia Dr Peniamina Junior Leavai, and deemed he had satisfied the requirement of the religious monotaga, on the basis of the statutory declaration of Reverend Namaia Kofe Tuiletufuga of the EFKS church at Vaotuua Falealupo.
The Supreme Court has upheld the application by Fuiono Tenina Crichton, who asks the Court “to disqualify Tuitogamanaia so that he cannot contest the upcoming by-election”.
Fuiono, who had lived in New Zealand and returned to Samoa in 2018, challenged the Electoral Commissioner’s decision, stating Tuitogamanaia, son of long-serving Falealupo MP Aeau Peniamina Leavai, had not rendered monotaga pursuant to sections 8(1)(d) and 8(5) of the Electoral Act 2019 for three consecutive years prior to his nomination.
The court decision clarifies that the village of Falealupo has two Ekalesia Faalapotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (EFKS) churches. One at Avata Falealupo Uta attended by Fuiono and one at Vaotuua Falealupo Tai attended by Tuitogamanaia. Fuiono had given evidence in support of his application, however the Court found, “Fuiono’s evidence was limited as he did not attend the same EFKS as Tuitogamanaia”.
The Court did consider as relevant the evidence of three tiakono of the EFKS Vaotuua, namely Auau Kamil, Tali Tapaga and Taii Malele, who told the Court that monotaga to their church is by matafale and that only matai can have a matafale. The Court highlights that these three witnesses also said Tuitogamanaia does not have a matafale, and being a matai, he was able to have his own matafale. Both facts were never denied by Tuitogamanaia who argued instead that his religious monotaga was served under the matafale of Aeau Peniamina Leavai, his father and holder of the high ranking Aeau title that the Tuitogamanaia title must also serve in the cultural and traditional setting.
The EFKS system of Matafale – the formal list of families registered in a congregation under which contributions are made – was scrutinised at length because Tuitogamanaia did not have a matafale under his own name.
The Court has taken the view that religious monotaga for the purpose of the Electoral Act section 8(1)(d) must be made through a matafale, and furthermore, that matafale must be under the matai’s own name.
The decision has rejected the argument and reality in many EFKS congregations in Samoa, where adult children, even those with matai titles, do render religious service to the church through family matafale or matafale of their parents. This reality was highlighted in the Court decision through the evidence of Ugapo Saio Tuileva.
“He said that he was bestowed the title ‘Ugapo‘ in 2004 while his father was still alive and holding the title ‘Aeau‘.. He had been serving his father’s matafale, and continued to serve his father’s matafale, even after he was bestowed the Ugapo title, and following his father’s death, whilst his mother was still alive. It was only when his mother also died that he then had a matafale under his own name. He gave evidence that even though he could have a matafale under his own name, to him he could not while his father and mother were alive.”
The Supreme Court then adds that this was Ugapo’s own choice and suggests the service he had rendered under the family matafale was to his father, and not to the church.
“He wanted to serve his father under his father’s matafale. It was his choice” states the Court decision.
The Supreme Court in its decision is of the view that anyone rendering religious service under a matafale is not rendering service to the church or to God, but is rendering service to the person named, (known in the EFKS as the ulumatafale). This is further reiterated in their Honours’ statement to Tuitogamanaia.. “We applaud the choice made by Tuitogamanaia to serve his father first and foremost before his own interest of having a matafale under his own name.”
The Supreme Court states that village monotaga should be no different to religious monotaga. “A person’s compulsory service to the village is carried out under their own matai title and not under or through another’s matai title. We consider that this should be no different to the provision of service with respect to a religious monotaga”.
The definition of monotaga in the Electoral Act, reads:
Monotaga means the compulsory service, assistance or contribution (such as, contribution in the form of cash, kind or goods) rendered for customary, traditional or religious activities, events, functions or similar purposes pursuant to the customs of a particular village.
The decision of the Court places a strong emphasis on “compulsory service”. It goes as far as modifying the definition of monotaga in the Electoral Act “for the avoidance of doubt” to mean “compulsory service”, “compulsory assistance” or “compulsory contributions”.
Reverend Namaia Kofe Tuiletufuga who has been the faifeau of Vaotuaa EFKS since 1998 had given evidence in Court to support Tuitogamanaia’s position that he was a long serving member of the congregation and rendered service through contributions made under the family matafale listed under the name of Aeau Peniamina Leavai.
Addressing the media outside Court Tuitogamanaia said he was sad the Court had not accepted that he has been carrying out religious monotaga through his service to God in a church he has served since he was young, and since he was a matai.
“I believe I served God through monotaga rendered with contributions to the church. However, if all this work, and all this service, and all these contributions are not monotaga as the Court has stated, then, God forbid, what is monotaga?” said Dr Leavai.
Outside Court Fuiono Tenina Crichton who had also run the April 9th general election was elated with the decision, which ultimately hands him the by-election as the uncontested candidate for Falealupo.
He acknowledged his supporters, and made special mention of village members from Sydney who had contributed to his cause.
Fuiono also specially thanked his lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, for fighting the battle in Court.
Fuiono thanked the Prime Minister and FAST party and concluded by calling for peace within the district of Falealupo which has been divided since the dispute.
“E momoli le agaga faafetai i si o tatou itumalo sa nofo tapuai, lenei ua a’e male manuia le faatamasoa’alii, faafetai! Faapitoa le faafetai i le mafutaga Falealupo i Sydney i Ausetalia, faafetai i lo outou fesoasoani ua mafai ai ona faatino lenei faamoemoe. Faapitoa foi le faafetai i le faletua ia Fuimaono Sarona e tusa o le finauina o lenei mataupu. Faafetai foi i le tamaitai Palemia ma le faigamalo mo le tapuaiga. Lou itumalo pele, ia to’a pea le tai, ia maua pea le filemu..”
The Supreme Court Decision: