Faleata West petitioner Ale Vena Ale with lawyer Aiolupotea Maiava Visekota Peteru inside court today
BY Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA: TUESDAY 19 APRIL 2016: Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Mata Tuatagaloa of the Supreme Court have denied an application from the Faleata West petitioner’s lawyer, Maiava Visekota Peteru for an adjournment of 3 weeks so they could serve 300 plus summons to the witnesses of their case.
This is the remaining election petition brought by Ale Vena Ale against the Faleata West MP, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi and the Office of the Electoral Commission (OEC) as the other 5 petitions have been settled.
Maiava said she had difficulty serving the witnesses and her concern was that, the 300+ voters or witnesses have been forewarned about the case and are avoiding being served.
“It is our respectful request to extend the hearing to effect serving summons to voters,” said Maiava.
Maiava submitted 2 options for the court to peruse; that include an adjournment or a directive from the Court for an alternative method for voters or witnesses to be served.
Maiava also informed the court that counsel for the first respondent Sarona Ponifasio is opposing their application on the grounds that the summons have not been signed by the Court Registrar before service.
In her defense, Maiava said that when the petitioner was directed by the Court to summon the voters, they did it on the understanding that the voters are witnesses to the case.
Sarona Ponifasio strongly opposed the application on the grounds that the petitioner had ample time to file summons. She also argued that the case has public and private interests and that it needs to be resolved.
She said an adjournment will only drag the case and that there is no guarantee that the voters or witnesses will turn up.
Justice Vui pointed out that Samoa “is not as big as Australia and I’m sure most of them know what’s happening, it is their vote in question.”
“If they choose to respond, good, if not, that’s their choice but they must be given an opportunity to be heard,” said Justice Vui.
The presiding Judges agreed that a 3 weeks adjournment was out of the question and made a directive for the summons to be published in the Samoa Observer and other newspaper in Samoa starting tomorrow until Sunday.
The summons are also ordered to be broadcast on radio and TV stations.
The hearing then proceeded with the petitioner calling 3 of the 29 witnesses already served.
Kinship, central in petitioner’s argument
The petitioner’s focal point of argument is the blood connection of a voter to the district where he/she is voting at, and in Faleata West’s case, 482 voters are alleged to have been unlawfully registered on the Faleata West electoral roll.
The first witness Uatutu Autofaga of Puipa’a told the Court that his vote was transferred from Aiga i le Tai to Faleata West because he was residing at Puipa’a.
Asked if he has any blood connection to Puipa’a, Uatutu said his aunt was married to a man from Puipa’a village, however, he later said he was related to Lealailepule on his father’s side at Sataua.
Asked who took him to be registered, he said he went by himself, but he met Lealailepule outside the electoral office, and Lealailepule gave him a confirmation letter signed by Lealailepule and the village mayor, confirming Uatutu as a relative of Lealailepule and that he resides at Puipa’a.
The witness also confirmed that he put down Vaitele as the village he resides at on his registration form when he was actually residing at Puipa’a.
Maiava also asked Uatutu if he understood what the word “so’otaga” means and if it was explained to him when he went to register.
Uatutu said no and according to Maiava, the law says that a voter is qualified to vote for his/her district if they are either born or descendants of the district. If a voter is residing on customary land within that district, then he/she has to vote in the Urban district.
Justice Vui then raised the issue of physical residency where a voter is qualified to vote in that district, however, Maiava stood by her argument.
Maiava used the same argument in Pelenatete Fetu Mase’s evidence.
The case continues.