Election Petition Case Scrutinises ‘Morning Tea’ for Village Council Meeting

Shane Wulf and Magele Leone outside Court.

After five days in Court, lawyers of Maualaivao Patelesio Ah Him and Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli put forth their final submissions before Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma on Friday afternoon. 

The former HRPP Associate Minister of Health Maualaivao was represented by Magele Leone Sua-Mailo of LSM Law Firm while HRPP’s former Associate Minister of Works who was re-elected on the 9th of April Seiuli Ueligitone Seiuli, was represented by Tuatagaloa Shane Wulf and also Leinafo Taimalelagi Strickland of Wulf Law Firm. 

One of the key issues of the case against Seiuli Ueligitone has been $10,000 tala witnesses say was distributed amongst the village in 2020 when the former Associate Minister of Works made known his intention to re-stand for office. According to the village mayor the money was to help with the meeting morning tea (suaki).

Magele Leone submitted that the $10,000 tala given by Seiuli during that first 2020 village meeting on the 27th of January was to influence voters and villagers to vote for him and therefore should be considered by the Court as a form of bribery.

“I submit your Honours that the real motive behind the $10,000 tala given by Seiuli was to induce the voters and villagers to vote for him,” said Magele Leone.

The Court heard it was usual practice for untitled men (taulelea) to donate $2 tala and from matais $5 tala to go towards kī o le kaeao or morning tea costs which one taulealea testified, never goes over $300 tala. According to another witness, in addition to the village council of matai, there were aeound 300 village members there that day.

Tuatagaloa argued his client was asked to provide money for the village morning tea after they had endorsed his candidacy.

“You Honour our submission is that he was asked… he didn’t say: ‘I want to go in the elections, here is $10,000′.  He was asked for money for morning tea,” argued Tuatagaloa.

“And if you would have some money there for our tea..,” the village matai had asked.

“Ae a iai sau kupe iiga e fai ai se kakou suaki”.

“We submit that the money was given after the village council agreed that the respondent was to be their candidate for Malie,” said Tuatagaloa.

However Magele Leone had presented witnesses from the village council who say they did not agree to have Seiuli as their village representative.

The Court had heard that Maualaivao hadn’t made known his intention to run as a candidate from the village of Malie until September 2020. Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma put it to Tuatagaloa if he agreed that there was always the chance for another person to come along and also ask to be endorsed as a candidate.

“Do you accept that there was always a possibility that after January 27th 2020 someone else in the village would come and say ‘I want to run in the election?'”

“Yes your Honour, I accept”.

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson asked Tuatagaloa if he thought $10,000 tala was an excessive amount for morning tea and he said, yes.

The Samoa Electoral Act requires all candidates to hold a matai title and serve at least 3 years as an active member of their village council. It is also a requirement that one of the village government liasons or representatives (sui o le nuu) sign-off on a candidate’s nomination form. Further, it is a common practice in Samoa that when a candidate approaches the village for their endorsement to run or stand for re-election, the expectation is that they bring some form of gift or make some sort of contributation towards food for that particular meeting.

Seiuli’s counter petition against Maualaivao centred around voters who testified they’d gone to Maualaivao’s office at Nia Mall in Apia to receive $50 tala. Tuatagaloa Shane argued that constituted bribery.

The Court has reserved its decision to be delivered sometime in the coming week.

Justice Nelson thanked all who attended the 5-day hearing including supporters of both sides as well as the media for their service to keep the public informed during these times.

Jaleen Tupai