Mistake or Cover-Up? Supreme Court to Decide

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A Registration Officer of the Office of the Electoral Commissioner, Usufono Latu, admitted to carelessness (faatamala) in processing registration documentation for an election candidate intending to compete for the seat of Gagaemauga No1.

The Office of the Electoral Commissioner (OEC) is responding to accusations of a possible cover-up for a candidate registration alleged to have been nominated by a voter not registered on the same electoral roll.

Lawyer and candidate Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifoasio is claiming that the OEC failed to follow proper process and abide by the guidelines of candidate registration.

The allegations relate to registration forms for candidate Tevaga Tupuivao Mapusaga, processed on the 13th of October 2019 at the Don Bosco Hall in Salelologa.

Woman candidate for Gagaemauga No1 Tevaga Tupuivao Mapusaga.

Taking the stand, Tuala questioned “Form 11” which is the official registration form, required to be signed by the candidate, and two nominees. Both nominees must be registered voters on the Electoral Roll of the candidate’s constituency.

Tuala told the Court that one of the nominee’s names had been twinked (with white-out) and rewritten. The name written above the twinked correction was “Taifaga Vaiuta” and the nominee has been identified as Aleki Taifaga Vaiuta.

Tuala told the Court that Mr Aleki was not present at Don Bosco that day, and it was his belief that the form was signed by Taifaga Vaiuta Samilolo, Aleki’s father who is in fact, registered under a different constituency – Sagaga No3 and not Gagaemauga No1.

Tuala’s claims were supported by the presentation of the electoral lists, where the identification number for Taifaga Vaiuta Samilolo, had been written on the questioned Form 11, to identufy the nominee.

Further to this, Tuala told the Court that the signature on Form 11 which reads, “Taifaga Vaiuta” was exactly the same as the signature he had seen on a bankruptcy declaration made by Taifaga Vaiuta Samilolo, filed through the Courts in 2019. Tuala said he had been the legal counsel for that matter.

Tuala also told the Court that there was a distinct question mark “?” penned immediately after the signature.

“These are all the areas in which I believe that the Commissioner and the staff of the Electoral Commissioner were not performing their duties honestly,” said Tuala.

Responding to questions from his lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, Tuala told the Court that the twinked white-out made him believe that changes had been made by Officers of the OEC, as a cover up for their carelessness.

“They’ve allowed someone from another constituency to nominate a candidate from another constituency”, said Tuala.

Taking the stand OEC Registration Officer Usufono Latu admitted that twink was used, however, when asked by the applicant’s lawyer what the correction had been, Latu responded that no change had been made.

“I wrote the same name because I thought there will be changes on the name written before, which is why I twinked it, but then I wrote the same name as before,” Ms Usufono said.

Fuimaono Sarona asked why registration number 917 was written beside the signature of the nominee, which is the registration number of a person from Sagaga No.3 constituency and Usufono replied, “I was careless in completing the form and I should have changed that number”

“Ua ou fa’atamala i le fa’atumuina o le form ma sa tatau ona sui le numera.”

Fuimaono put it to the Registration Officer that the correct Electoral Roll registration number for Aleki Vaiuta Taifaga was 1805, but instead, 917 was written on the form which belongs to Aleki’s father Taifaga Vaiuta Samilolo, who is registered under Sagaga No3.

The Court also considered a sticky note attached to the nomination form in question where Ms Latu writes the number “410” and signs it, “Thnx, Fono”.

When Fuimaono asked Usufono Latu why her notes did not have the correct number of 1805 or the correct name, Aleki Tiafaga Vaiuta, the Registration Officer she said it was her carelessness (fa’atamala).

“The sticky note was for myself because for my past experience while working at OEC I take notes and kept it for myself,” she said.

Justice Lesatele Rapi Va’ai interjected at that point and asked Usufono to confirm again if the sticky note was for herself.

“O sticky notes ia sa fai mo oe lava?”, and she said yes.

Justice Lesatele then said “Do you acknowledge yourself when you write your sticky notes?”

“E te toe fa’afetai lava oe ia te oe pe a tusi au sticky notes?”

The Registration Officer responded, yes, it’s what she does all the time.

When Aleki Taifaga Vaiuta, 58, took the stand he told the Court that it was his signature on Form 11, and not his father’s.

When asked by Fuimaono why a question mark was beside his signature Aleki replied, “That’s how I finish off my signature”.

“O le fa’aumaga lava lena o la’u saini”.

“Does that means you question your own signature?” Fuimaono asked.

Aleki replied, “No, that’s how I do my signature.”

Fuimaono provided the Court with an invoice from Bluebird Lumber at Salelologa, whereby Aleki had signed off on an order, with a different signature.

When Fuimaono asked Aleki to verify if it was him who signed that invoice from Bluebird for an order of materials for the construction of the faifeau’s house at Samalaeulu, Aleki said yes, it was him.

“I did not sign it but instead I just printed my name on it”.

“Ou te le’i sainia ae sa tusi sa’o ai lava lo’u igoa o Aleki Taifaga,” he said.

The issue of whether Aleki had physically been present at Don Bosco during the candidate’s nomination process was questioned by the Village Women’s Representative (Sui Tamaitai o le Nuu) for Samalaeulu.

Tauamo Matagitau testified that she never saw Aleki Ta’ifaga on the day of the registration, 13th October 2020, at Don Bosco Hall, Salelologa.

Mrs Matagitau claimed that she was present at the Hall for the whole day, and did not see Aleki who is also a matai named Vaifale.

An OEC IT Officer, Emanuel Lemoa also took the stand and told the Court that he was responsible for the e-roll systems of OEC, and his job that day was to verify the registration numbers of all candidates as well as their nominees.

He said he partnered up with Usufono Latu and Ms Latu was responsible for filling the forms of the candidates, if they needed assistance.

He said Form 11 for candidate Tevaga Tupuivao Mapusaga was being filled in by Ms Latu while he wa busy trying to find names on the printed rolls as well as the e-roll system on the computer.

Fuimaono asked Mr Lemoa why two numbers had been marked on the Election Rolls; one being 917 for Taifaga Vaiuta registered under Sagaga No3, and number 1805 which belonged to his son, Taifaga Vaiuta Aleki.

“I admit I was careless by firstly marking number 917 which was a voter on Sagaga No.3 constituency and then marked another voter with number 1805 with the name Taifaga Vaiuta Aleki on it,” he said.

Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio put it to the IT Officer that changes were only made, when her client investigated the matter with their office.

Decisions for all electoral petitions heard in the Supreme Court over the past 2 weeks will be delivered this week, on Friday 27th of November.


Marieta H Ilalio