By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 03 SEPTEMBER 2020: Further amendments to Section 156 of the Electoral Act are being drafted while the same provisions are being challenged in court as “discriminatory.”
This was revealed in court yesterday when the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalōmatumua Mathew Lemisio gave evidence against the petition that says the provision is discriminatory.
Section 156 exempts the sitting Members of Parliament from rendering a monotaga or service to their electoral constituencies. This is because the 21 constituencies were newly divided and formed electoral constituencies under the Act.
Faimalōmatumua said they have decided to redraft this particular section after reassessing the law and also due to complaints and concerns raised by the public, especially the intending candidates for next year’s general election who claim it as unfair and discriminatory.
However, lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio for the Petitioner argued that the Commissioner and the Electoral office only thought of the amendment, after the previous day’s proceedings where counsel drilled the Assistant Commissioner, Fetogi Va’ai over it.
Sarona pointed out that Va’ai testified that the provision binds (noatia) the MP’s to such requirements.
Religious monotaga specifically for urban seats
The Petitioners, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio and Papalii Panoa Moala are challenging Section 156 of the Electoral Act that exempts current sitting MPs from the monotaga requirement.
Faimalōmatumua said the exemptions are specifically for (two) MP’s of the urban constituencies.
“The rationale is that these two members are stuck in the urban area and given the fact that they require to render traditional monotaga and secondly these urban seats will no longer exist,” he said.
Lawyer Fuimaono pointed out that monotaga of all nature, includes religious monotaga and that under the religious component, candidates are eligible to compete in the general election, so that means there is no need for such provisions.
“No, because religious monotaga was specifically for urban seats, and urban will no longer exist so therefore there is no need for that in the law,” said Faimalōmatumua.
He further stated that when these two members register, they have to show that they do render monotaga.
“It does not exempt them that they have to perform a monotaga but it does exempt them from rendering that monotaga for 3 years,” he explained.
Fuimaono then pointed out to him that although the provision was there, they only realised the reality of things when they started the discussion.
“No, we had that rationale, so when this case was filed, it started the conversation and that’s how we see the rationale becoming clearer.”
Fuimaono was quick to point out that section 156c does not refer to religious monotaga as specifically for urban seats.
“No, but that is why we are proposing a re-draft,” responded Faimalōmatumua.
Fuimaono believed that it was only when the petitioner brought the court proceedings that the Commissioner and his office discussed the issue further.
“All these laws are new laws, the more we start talking about them, the more we see issues. When that law was passed it followed the Faasaleleaga No.2 by-election and we made amendments to that law,” said the Commissioner.
He was also asked why it took them so long to table their amendments especially when the issue was raised in June 2020.
“I was not fully involved in it, but recently when I came on-board, we started the discussion.”
He was also asked if they would wait until the case is over for them to draft the amendment and tabled before Cabinet, Faimalōmatumua said they have already drafted a few options.
The case continues today with the lawyers final submissions.