19 October 2020 Apia Samoa. Former HRPP and current Independent Member of Parliament Faumuina Leatinuu Wayne Fong has criticised the residency rule in Samoa’s Electoral Act, where a candidate must reside in Samoa for at least 305 days, in the preceding three years to the date of their nomination.
Registered as a member of FAST (Faatuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi) for the 2021 general election, Faumuina says the 305 day requirement is discriminatory and victimises Samoan citizens who travel overseas for various reasons such as medical treatment, family faalavelave or even to just visit or go on holiday.
“Our citizens are being victimised for traveling overseas, but we all know that as Samoans, we travel for cultural and church events as part of our custom;
“We often have to travel overseas and be with family members during major cultural events; it’s part of our tautua. We travel to attend family funerals, weddings and even important church events like the ordination of pastors, or the blessing of a new church building;
“Why should a Samoan matai who is rendering his monotaga here in Samoa, but happens to be in New Zealand for 61 days for various family reasons, be penalised?”, asks Faumuina.
In response, Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio explains the basis of the candidacy requirement which he confirms, was first legislated back in the 1990s.
“The 305 days is a policy decision on the rationale that people intending to become Members of Parliament in Samoa must be in Samoa for a considerable amount of time so that they are well aware of issues affecting the country;
“This notion was first raised in the 1990s and became law at that time, with various reforms over time”, says the Electoral Commissioner.
Samoa Tourism Employment Survey
The latest reform to this requirement was passed into Law back in April 2020, when the minimum number of days was increased from 240 to 305.
Faumuina Leatinuu, however, says reforms are designed to further disadvantage those wanting to enter Parliament, and points out that the law provides an exemption for holders of Government positions who travel on official government business.
“Only government officials traveling on diplomatic passports are exempt from the 305 day rule,” oberseves Faumuina.
“Our citizens are victimized for traveling overseas, while jthe Law protects the HRPP MPs already in Parliament;
“While new candidates are disqualified for spending more than 60 days overseas for whatever reason, the 46 HRPP MPs are protected by the diplomatic passports they hold”, adds Faumuina Leatinuu.
Faimalomatumua says yes, there are exemptions, but not just for government officials.
“Exemptions also extend to members of representative bodies or organisations on official duty travel, as well as those seeking medical treatment overseas,” says the Electoral Commissioner.
Unavailability of Village Representatives
Another issue raised by Faumuina Leatinuu is the requirement that candidates will need a declaration from either a Sui o le Nu’u (SN) or Sui Tama’ita’i o le Nu’u (STN) confirming monotaga and residency requirements.
SNs and STNs are appointed village representatives who act as conduits for the flow of information from the Government to Village Councils. They are registered under the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) and are paid a monthly stipend for carrying out their duties.
Faumuina Leatinuu says some village representatives have either not made themselves available, or are flatly refusing to sign declaration forms for FAST candidates.
“This has been the case for Vaitele and Faleula;&5
“Paloa Louis Stowers intends to run from Vaitele, but he’s still chasing down Toi Sakalia; and the other case is Papalii Panoa Tavita Moala with the Faleula village rep”, says Faumuina.
The Electoral Commissioner confirms that, “The law requires the SNs and STNs to sign the nomination forms, and confirm that a candidate is in fact rendering a monotaga to the village”.
“If the Sui o le Nuu or Sui Tamaita’i is claiming that the candidate does not render a monotaga, then we can’t force them to sign anything”.
The Office of the Electoral Commissioner continues with candidate registrations this week, with the last day for registration being this Friday 23rd October.
At the end of Monday 19 October, 102 candidates have successfully registered, with 10 of them women. HRPP candidates total 54 while FAST have registered 36.