Team Save-Sandra hope in future elections law obeyed
Gubernatorial team of “Save and Sandra” have accepted the court’s decision dismissing their petition regarding the eligibility of four candidates in this year’s race but are hoping that in future elections, candidates for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor obey local law by resigning from their government jobs before actively campaigning.
The Appellate Division of the High Court issued its decision just before 4 p.m. Wednesday dismissing the petition to appeal a decision by the chief election officer denying their challenge of the eligibility of four other candidates in the gubernatorial race by candidate for governor Save Liuato Tuitele and candidate for lieutenant governor Sandra King Young.
The petitioners’ attorney Charles Alailima said his clients accept that the Appellate Division is “the final territorial authority for interpreting our laws.”
While the Appellate Division “appears to allow qualified electors to challenge candidates eligibility before the chief election officer” under ASCA 4.0102 subsections (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) of the qualification for governor/lieutenant governor law, “the opinion clearly states that qualified electors cannot make the challenge under subsection (f) which requires employees of the government in whatever capacity to resign before actively campaigning,” Alailima said.
“The decision resolved the conflict between the Attorney General's opinion and the chief election officer's opinion on this law. That is what the Appellate Division is supposed to do,” he said.
Alailima pointed out that the Appellate Division in its opinion also found that the responsibility for enforcing the election law restrictions on employees of the government is with the Human Resources Director under the government employees chapter of the American Samoa Code.
Additionally, the Appellate Division also “found that violations of the election laws are subject to various civil and criminal penalties. These penalty provisions are supposed to be enforced by the Attorney General.”
He said, “While this may be difficult and complicated to do, especially when it involves agency heads and cabinet members judging the conduct of fellow agency heads and cabinet members who are candidates in a political year, this is how the court has interpreted the law and that interpretation must be respected.”
Alailima recalled that Save and Sandra did raise their concern with the Attorney General in the past about the failure of certain candidate employees to resign before they began "active campaigning" as required by the law.
“They can only hope that the director of Human Resources and the Attorney General can put aside their close connections to the candidate cabinet members and agency heads involved and investigate and enforce the law since qualified electors are clearly denied the right to challenge to candidate eligibility directly under the Appellate Division's final interpretation,” he said.
“The resignation part of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor qualification statute is there to ensure that no one in the heat of a campaign is even tempted to miss-use their government authority over people or government funds for their political campaigns,” Alailima said.
“Save and Sandra can only hope that any future candidates for our highest offices who are employed by the government at the highest levels will always be honest and ethical and will obey the purpose and spirit of the law as it applies to them even if the Attorney General or Human Resources Director is unwilling to enforce it against them,” he added.
Asked for reaction to the court decision, Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono could only say that he must follow the law in carrying out his duty, and in this case, he did follow the law. “Neither I nor the Election Office has the authority to take action not required under the law,” he added.
David P. Vargas, legal counsel for Lolo M. Moliga and Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau — who were among the four candidates challenged by “Save and Sandra” — is pleased with the court’s decision.
“I cannot speak for my clients, but I am certain that the appellate court made the right decision in this case for the reasons stated in the ‘Opinion and Order’,” said Vargas responding to Samoa News request for comments. “Accordingly, I am pleased with the decision…”
As of press time, Samoa News had not received responses to its inquiries for reaction to the court decision from the individual gubernatorial teams.