Saturday 26th June 2021, Apia Samoa. Two petitions where elected FAST members had faced bribery charges in relation to roadshows held across Samoa prior to the April 9th general election, have been dismissed by the Supreme Court of Samoa.
Agaseata Valelio Tanuvasa Peto is now the confirmed MP for Aana Alofi 3 after the Supreme Court dismissed the petition against him in its entirety, finding the allegations had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. He faced allegations relating to a roadshow for the electoral constituency of Aana Alofi 3 for the villages of Leulumoega and Nofoalii held on 2 February 2021.
Fepuleai Faasavalu Faimata Sua is now also the confirmed MP for Salega 1, after three allegations brought against him could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt. He faced allegations relating to a roadshow held on 18 March 2021 in Salega 2 for the villages of Samata-uta, Samata-tai, Faiaai, Fogatuli and Fagafau.
Ili Setefano vs Agaseata Valelio
The petition brought by Ili Setefano Taateo Tafili against Agaseata Valelio was dismissed in its entirety by the Supreme Court.
The judgment set down by Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Tologata Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren, separates the different allegations relating to the FAST Roadshows and deals with them one by one (as below).
In its judgment, their Honours considered key aspects of the faaSamoa such as tali faaaloalo – giving in response, talimalo – receiving guests into the village, and tali le faaaloalo i le faaaloalo – reciprocity.
Is there an agency relationship between FAST and their elected MPs?
The question of whether there was an agency relationship between Agaseata and the FAST party was treated as a slam dunk. In one paragraph (17), their Honours dismiss the many arguments and positions presented by Counsels about agency during the hearing and in their closing submissions.
“It is a question of intention on the part of the Respondent or the FAST party as there is no doubt the Party acted as an agent of the Respondent. He is a candidate of the FAST party and was presented as such during the Roadshow, the event was being held and hosted by his village and the Roadshow was for his benefit and to promote his candidacy.”
The Court accepted evidence that $4,000 tala was distributed by FAST during a roadshow held at the EFKS Nofoalii Hall, 2nd February 2021.
“After the campaigning speeches by some members of FAST including its leaders Fiame and Laauli, an ava oso was conducted by the Itumalo for the FAST party. This involved the usual traditional lauga and tugase being presented as part of the customary ceremony for the visitors. In return FAST gave through its chosen to’oto’o or speaker for the occasion a lafo of $500 for the to’otoo of the Itumalo Sinaofoa Vaimoana, a matai of Leulumoega, money for the ava of $500, $1000 to each village of the Itumalo being Leulumoega and Nofoalii, $500 to Mafutaga Tina EFKS Nofoalii who prepared the meeting venue, and $500 to Sa’oao and Nuu o Tamaitai of Nofoalii who hosted the event.”
Let’s have a look at how the Court dealt with each of these above.
$500 for Ava
The Supreme Court found that giving in response (tali faaaloalo) to the ava, whether it be ava usu or ava oso, is a cultural practice that is both accepted and expected “and has been so since time immemorial”.
“We say no more on this issue except to state that we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the giving of this $500 was for the corrupt intention of inducing voters.”
$500 for Mafutaga Tina and $500 for Saoao and Nuu o Tamaitai
The Court was not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the intention for giving amounts of $500 to the church and village women’s committees was to induce their members to vote for Agaseata.
“We are of the view that the money was to repay their venue, contribution and kindness, an accepted customary gesture given to those who talimalo”.
“We reject the allegation that this money was given to induce them to vote, or that there was a corrupt intention behind the giving of this money”.
$1,000 to Nofoalii and $1,000 to Leulumoega
In its decision, the Supreme Court states that in order to ascertain the intention of giving this money, circumstances such as the timing, the words spoken and the amounts given have to be considered.
“The timing of the giving which is during faaaloaloga is consistent with our customary practice of “tali le faaaloalo i le faaaloalo”, something Samoans are renowned for worldwide”, states the judgment.
In terms of the amount, the Court considered the amount of $1,000 per village and compared this to the electoral rolls for Leulumoega with 910 and Nofoalii with 1,315 registered voters as submitted by Agaseata’s lawyers – Alex Su’a and Afoa Fetu Lagaaia.
“The amount of $1,000 given to each village is not excessive by any standards.”
“We would more likely find an intention to be corrupt if the money given was utterly excessive considering either the number of voters present, or the total number of potential voters”.
Also in relation to monies given to villages, their Honours accepted the evidence of two witnesses who spoke of the cultural appropriateness of the faaaloalo from FAST, as it was a gathering of not just a village but the whole district (itumalo), whereby they had the role of hosting (talimalo) guests.
The Court also noted the evidence of one matai who said the cultural exchanges were a normal practice when the district is faced with hosting guests, including visits from the Government.
The witness went on to give evidence that at the beginning of the year, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers had visited to open a water pump at Nofoalii where over $5,000 tala was given to the village as reciprocal faaaloaloga between the visitors and the village.
The Supreme Court decision concludes:
“We accept that the meaalofa from FAST was culturally appropriate and could not be avoided”.
Respondents being involved in the distribution of food at roadshows
The evidence is that food distributed at the roadshow was prepared by the extended family of Agaseata as well as the village of Nofoalii, as a normal practice when there are guests in the village.
“O nei mea uma sa faia lava ona o le tali faaaloalo i faiga faaSamoa mo malo e usu atu pe a talimalo le nuu”, a witness is quoted as saying in Samoan.
The Court considered the testimony of four witnesses, and make note of two women who had come across as credible, and two men, both matai, who did not.
“We approach the evidence of both Agaseata Henry and Timu Levi Keri with caution. Both admitted to be part of the faiganuu which has split from Alii and Faipule of Nofoalii following the election because the Petitioner lost the election. They were proud to say they were from the HRPP faiganuu.”
“We accept the evidence of Ioana and Ainise, two witnesses who did not come across as having an agenda. They were involved in the distribution of food and say the food prepared from the Respondent’s home was for the guests, and the nuu contributed to the food. The Saoao had also prepared light refreshments.”
“There is insufficient evidence to to satisfy us that the food prepared at the home of the Respondent was given to voters of Aana Alofi 3 to induce them to vote for the Respondent. It was food prepared primarily for the guests of the Itumalo.”
FAST Roadshow Samata Uta, 18 March 2021: Afualo v Fepuleai
The leader of Tautua, Afualo Dr Wood Salele through his Counsel Tufuga Fagaloa Tufuga brought a bribery allegation focused on $2,000 tala given by FAST party to the constituency of Salega 1 during a roadshow in Samata-uta.
The constituent’s four villages each received $500 tala.
This judgment was handed down by Justice Niava Mata Tuatagaloa and Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma.
Their Honours state they were “not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the $2,000 tala given by FAST to the constituency of Salega 1, was bribery with the corrupt intention to induce voters to vote for the Repondent.”
The judgment notes the timing of the giving of the $2,000 tala, and again emphasise what is culturally appropriate in Samoan custom.
As stated by their Honours:
“The $2,000 was given over in response to the faaaloaloga by the Constituency to FAST and was not given before the faaaloaloga or without any faaaloaloga;
“The giving of $2,000 in response to the faaaloaloga is culturally appropriate and in accordance with the Samoan customs (tu ma aga).”
“In those circumstances, we find that compliance with Samoan custom was the dominant motive behind the giving of the $2,000 by FAST”.
The judgment also deals with agency and declared Fepuleai had accepted and recognised FAST as his agent.
“The Respondent was a member of FAST. The Roadshow was that of FAST. It was being held at the Respondent’s constituency. He was present and he was introduced as the FAST candidate running for the constituency in the elections.”
With several more election petitions yet to be heard before the Supreme Court, these two decisions may well set the tone for similar allegations regarding FAST roadshows.
The Court has declared in these two judgments, both handed down on Friday 25th June 2021, that money given out during FAST Roadshows were culturally appropriate and not for the corrupt intention of inducing voters.
As set out in the Electoral Act s121, decisions of the Supreme Court in relation to election petitions “are final and conclusive and without appeal, and must not be questioned in any way.”