Election candidate refutes bribery, treating allegations

By Deidre Fanene ,

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Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio at Court.

Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio at Court. (Photo: Samoa Observer)

A lawyer and candidate in last year's General Election, Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, has disputed allegations of bribery and treating against him.

The candidate for Gagaemauga No. 1 is facing nine charges of bribery and treating in relation to last year’s election.

The charges are brought in a private prosecution by five electors of the constituency, namely Fa’atauuu Malautea, Felagolagomai Tino, Ituao Enele, Taulamago Simone, Tevaga Samilolo and Va Vea. They are represented by lawyer, Ruby Drake. 

Tuala is represented by Te’o Richard Fa’ai’uaso with Judge Talasa Lumepa Atoa Sa’aga presiding.

In his evidence, Tuala recalled giving money to members of his Election Committee during their meeting in December 2015 at Malifa. But he denied it was bribery.

“I gave members of the committee money to help with the work that they were doing because I knew what they were doing for me was not an easy job,” Tuala said.

“I believe there were three elderly matais who were there and the rest were young matais and I also believe they each had $200 tala but I don’t know how much the rest of the committee received because I wasn’t the one who gave out the money.

“I know the rest didn’t get much because I remember I didn’t have a large amount of money on me on that day and because I didn’t give it out, it was some of the committee members.”

Tuala said the money was for things like phone credits, transportation and communication expenses.

 “I didn’t want anything to go wrong. I was basically helping them with the work that they were doing,” he said.

“It was not bribery. I gave it out of a clean heart to help them and they also understood and accepted it.

“I feel that it was my job to help them because I know they don’t work so I know what it’s like and that is why I gave them money and food because they needed help and that was part of my personal manifesto.”

Tuala also denied that he had promised them anything it he were to win the election.

 “In terms of promises, I didn’t make promises. I already had my plans that I had laid down to them if I was to succeed in the election,” said Tuala.

“Your Honor I spoke to them about everything and I know I wasn’t going over the limit because I knew I had to stop at some point.

“But it’s sad to see that Taulamago Sione has done this because he was my right hand man and I relied on him in everything during that time.”

The first charge against the defendant was filed by Fa’atauuu Malautea. 

He alleged that in February this year, Tuala promised to arrange a loan to complete a church building at Leauva’a as well as arranging for a group of fruit pickers from the church to travel to New Zealand. 

In a separate incident in late February at Samalaeulu, the candidate is accused of giving $500 to Vaifale Faasalafa to distribute to all the people in attendance with the purpose to induce the informant to vote for him. 

Also in March, the defendant through his agent committed the offense of treating and bribery by providing accommodation, food and transport to electors of Gagaemauga No1. 

Around February at Leauva’a, Tuala was also accused of giving $100 for the purpose of inducing Ituao Enele to vote for him. 

Taulamago Simone claimed that in February at Malifa, about 10 electors were given a sum of $200 and others $100 each. 

 Another incident took place at Vailele around March with the presence of about 80 electors where Tuala is accused of handing money to his committee members sums which varied from $100, $50, $40 and $30tala and to be handed to the electors.   

Tevaga Samilolo also claims that in March at Samalaeulu at a gathering of the village called by the defendant, he “promised and announced first he would provide school resources to improve all school.”

According to the charge, the defendants also promised to “ensure that compensation would be paid to landowners whose land would be taken for construction of a bridge in the village. 

Thirdly he would pay for airfares of 20 people listed to go to New Zealand to pick apples and lastly, he would launch jobs for  lawn mowing contractors in Samalaeulu and therefore provide employment for young people of the village…”

The last charges brought by Va Vea relate to an alleged incident at Samalaeulu in February where through Tuala’s agent he gave $50tala. 

Va Vea also alleged that on another occasion at Samalaeulu he was given another $50tala by an agent of the candidate. 

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