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Senate seat for Lealataua County still vacant

fili@samoanews.com

The High Court has declared that the senatorial seat for Lealataua (or Alataua) County is currently vacant, and the matter now goes back to the county council of traditional leaders to select their next senator for the next four years.

The court’s 7-page order dated Jan. 29, followed a complaint filed last month by Alataua County traditional leader, Faletogo Tafavalu Taliloa, who claimed that he was duly selected during a meeting on Dec. 8.

Defendants in the case are Lefiti Pese, then Secretary of Samoan Affairs and former deputy secretary Afuola Nanai Kalasa. Parties-in-interest are the Senate and another Alataua traditional leader, Faletagoa’i Iati Tuiolemotu, who was sworn in Jan. 3 as the Alataua senator, but who has since vacated the seat after the Senate was informed yesterday morning of the court decision and order.

Faletogo and Faletagoa’i both claimed to being the duty elected senator, the court decision states and recalled provisions of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa where senators are elected in accordance with Samoan custom by the county councils and their decisions certified by the county chief (Fa’alupega).

FINDINGS

Lealataua County is divided into two subdivisions: Samatua consisting of the villages of Amaluia, Asili, Afao, Nua and Se’etaga to Fa’ilolo and Agagulu; and Tapuaiga which is comprised of the villages of Amanave, Poloa, Fagali’i, Maloata and Fagamalo.

The county has adopted the practice of alternating its senate seat between the two subdivisions. Faletogo and Faletagoa’i are from the Tapuaiga subdivision.

According to the court, both subdivisions — the entire County Council — convened Dec. 1 last year in Fagamalo to select its senator. Following traditional opening of the gathering and before any discussion on the agenda of the day, chief Liua of Poloa and the Tapuaiga requested the Samatua leaders to excuse themselves from the deliberation because it was the Tapuaiga’s turn to select the next senator.

Samatua acceded and accordingly retired from the meeting, which however, was “abruptly continued” at the request of Liua, after Faletagoa’i of Poloa and Faletogo of Fagamalo each made known their respective candidacy.

Then on Dec. 3, the Tapuaiga convened in Amanave to resume deliberation and at this meeting, Liua announced his candidacy, according to the judges, who noted that this “meeting reached the consensus, over Faletogo’s unyielding objection, that Faletagoa’i serves” as the next county senator.

“Apparently non-receptive to the Tapuaiga’s Amanave decision to seat Faletagoa’i, the county chief, Taliloa P. Faipea Jr., subsequently noticed yet another election meeting, at the behest of Faletogo, who also happened to be his uncle,” the judges said and pointed out that this meting was held Dec. 8th at Fagamalo and attended by some matai of Samatua along with Faletogo.

“The remainder of the Tapuaiga did not attend, with some making it known that an election decision had already been made,” according to the judges, who added that those attending the Dec. 8 meeting apparently accepted Faletogo’s candidacy without regard to the Tapuaiga’s decision made during the Amanave meeting.

Thereafter the county chief (and nephew) certified Faletogo as the next senator and advised the Samoan Affairs Secretary, using standard forms issued by the Samoan Affairs Office.

Two days later, an additional certification form, was hand carried by a traditional leader of the Samatua subdivision to the Office of Samoan Affairs. This certification form “purported to certify” by the county council’s selection of Faletagoa’i as senator and signed by a “significant number” of the county’s leading chiefs, both of Tapuaiga and Samatua; however, the form was not signed by the county chief.

Then on Dec. 18, Samoan Affairs convened a meeting at Lefiti’s office and notice of the meeting was merely given by word of mouth through the various county matai employed by Samoan Affairs as Samoan Affairs officials.

This meeting was well attended and included Lefiti, Afuola and the Western District Governor as well as both of the party candidates.

The purpose of this meeting “as unabashedly acknowledged on the witness stand” by Afuola was to resolve the county opinion given the conflicting certifications provided to Samoan Affairs, the decision said.

According to the judges, the Dec. 8 meeting at Fagamalo “did not constitute an election meeting” of the county and Fagamalo village council is only one constituent of the Tapuaiga. Additionally, Fagamalo “is not the Tapuaiga.”

Moreover, a meeting between Fagamalo matai and select matai and lower ranking matai of Samatua does not constitute an election by the county council in accordance with the constitution. (The judges also cited previous cases supporting this stand).

As for the meeting held at the Samoan Affairs office, the judges said, this too did not constitute an election by the county council as required by the constitution. Rather, the decision was made by the Samoan Affairs “pursuant to an ‘ad hoc’ process that usurped” the function of:

• the Senate as the exclusive “judge” of its election results - pursuant to the constitution; and

• this court’s judicial function to determine, in an election contest, whether a county election had in fact occurred - in accordance with the constitution.

“As of this date, Lealataua county, the Tapuaiga and Samatua, has yet to elect its senator,” the judges said. Therefore, “the Senate seat...remains vacant,” according to the decision signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, Chief Associate Judge Logoai Siaki and Associate Judge Fa’amausili P. Pomele.



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