Former Cabinet Minister fined for election bribery

Former Cabinet Minister Taua Seuala Kitiona

By Unumoe Esera

APIA: Friday 24 August 2012: Former Cabinet Minister and MP for Aleipata Itupa i Luga, Seuala Taua Kitiona was convicted and fined $2000 tala after he was found guilty of two charges of bribery and one charge of treating.

Seuala, 52 years old of Lalomanu was charged for bribery and treating which occurred between the 1 -25 December 2010 at Fasitoo-uta. He is said to have given Iona Anau $50 tala and one box of chicken and told him, “To remember the election” (Ia alofa tautuana le palota).

In a separate incident on the 20th February 2011, he gave $200 tala to 16 males who worked as labourers at his cattle farm at Aleipata and told them “Don’t forget to vote.”

Seuala won the majority of votes and an election petition followed after and he was found guilty of electoral corrupt practices.

Prosecution suggested a penalty of not less than two years and not more than four years imprisonment or a fine of not less than $2000 and no more than $5000.

The Defendant has no previous convictions and had pleaded guilty.

The aggravating factors for the Defendant were that he was a former MP and should have led by example and his behaviour should be above standard compared to the ordinary citizens.

Secondly, the offence had been premeditated, the Defendant however said in his evidence the he did not bribe or treat. He was at Falelatai and then stopped at Fasitoo-uta where some of his family members were residing.

Judge Vaepule Vaemoa Vaai said what he did could be classified as part of the culture but the intention of bribery and treating was there in the words that were used.

He said the Court accepts that the Defendant did not have the intention when he went but he it was clear when he gave the box of chicken. The third factor was the encroachment of a free and fair election.

Judge Vaai said this is something that everyone hopes for and what the Electoral Act tries to differentiate culture from elections.

“One week it’s culturally acceptable, next week its not,” said Judge Vaai.

The fourth factor is financial costs of elections and by-elections to the taxpayer to deter them from inappropriate behavior. The fifth and last factor was the terms. Judge Vaai said this was to deter such decisions as the void of elections did not deter people as he said they were dealing in an area which was quite confusing as the culture clashed with electoral act.  He agreed that the minimum fine of $2000 or two years in prison was correct as the Defendant was a first time offender and had pleaded guilty at the time.

The Defense Counsel’s submitted that there are those in Parliament who have been charged and others who have not been charged.

In support of the Defendant, a reference from his pastor of the Congregational Christian Church at Lalomanu said Taua had served the church and village well and also his role as a former Member of Parliament and former Minister needed no introduction as there was well known recognition.  Also, his medical condition showed that since the trial, he had made two trips to Australia due to health problems.

Judge Vaai said consistency was important in court and the minimum fine was not appropriate for the guilty plea. As the Defendant had changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, and should be fined $1000 tala instead compared to the other case of another MP who was fined $2000 when he was found guilty.

As for the offense that involved young men who worked at his farm, Judge Vaai said the fact that the election was not far off was not an excuse for development or work but that was all changed due to his intention which was shown clearly by his words: “Tautuana le palota.

Some of the young men involved were under the age of 21 years old and were not eligible to vote and this is something that would not be taken lightly by the Court. $600 tala was charged for bribery which totals $2000 altogether to be paid by 4pm or 15 months in prison.

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