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High Court complaint filed over Alataua senate seat

Alataua County traditional leader, Faletogo Tafavalu Taliloa, who claimed that he was duly selected during a meeting this month as the county’s next senator, has filed a complaint with the High Court over the Office of Samoan Affairs’ interference in certifying another county chief as senator.

Defendants listed in the suit filed Thursday are Samoan Affairs Secretary Lefiti Pese Atiulagi, Samoan Affairs deputy secretary Afuola Nanai Kalasa and the American Samoa Government. Parties with an interest in this matter are Faletagoa’i Iati Tuiolemotu and the Senate.

According to the complaint, a meeting was announced and scheduled for Alataua county council on Dec. 8 for the selection of its next senator and in accordance with the Samoan custom of Alataua county, those chiefs who choose not to appear at a “duly called” county meeting waive their rights, while the participating chiefs shall make the decision.

During the county meeting, Faletogo was selected in accordance with the “Samoan customs of Alataua county” to hold their senate seat in the upcoming term, the complaint states.

It also points out that standard practice after the selection of a new senator, a form is filled out, signed by the chiefs in attendance and certified by the ‘Fa’alupega’ or the county chief informing the Samoan Affairs Secretary of the new senator by action of the county council.

The complaint made it clear that the law calls for the county chief to certify the forms following the selection process. So following the Alataua county meeting, the form was filled out, signed by the participating chiefs and certified by the ‘Fa’alupega’.  Faletogo then filed the certification papers with the Samoan Affairs Secretary the morning of Dec. 10th.

However, the complaint alleges that on Dec. 18, Lefiti and Afuola held a meeting at the Samoan Affairs Office to discuss the selection of the Alataua senator. At the meeting,  Lefiti “declared Faletagoa’i would be the new senator for Alataua,” the complaint further alleges.

After this Dec. 18th meeting, the plaintiff recovered a copy of the form certification informing Lefiti of Faletagoa’i’s selection, said the complaint.

It also states that the certification “was unusual  in that it was a certification signed by Lefiti as ‘Fa’alupega’— certifying to himself as the Secretary of Samoan Affairs—of a duly called meeting of Alataua county council and confirming the election of Faletagoa’i as the new senator.”

“There was never a ‘duly called’ council meeting in which Faletagoa’i was selected as senator,” the complaint states and noted that the only ‘duly called’ meeting was the one held on Dec. 8. (It was not made clear in the complaint if Faletagoa’i attended the Dec. 8 meeting).

The complaint said there is no authority for review by the Samoan Affairs Secretary or his deputy, for the selection of a senator or for the declaration of a winner of a senate seat. Therefore, Lefiti and Afuola “have exceeded their statutory authority” in declaring Faletagoa’i to be the duly selected Alataua senator.

Additionally, Lefiti’s decision and certification of Faletagoa’i violates provisions of the local constitution and this “is an unconstitutional interference of the Executive Branch” over matters of the Legislative branch.

Moreover, “Lefiti should be disqualified from participating in any further proceedings relating to this senate selection process in his capacity as Secretary of Samoan Affairs.” It also says that Lefiti is not the fa’alupega of Alataua nor is he a chief in the county and is not qualified to speak on the customs and traditions of Alataua county.

The complaint argued that the procedure by which Faletogo was selected as senator conformed to the requirements of the constitution, which state that “Senators shall be elected in accordance with Samoan custom by the county councils of the counties they are to represent...”

It says that the Senate is a party in interest in this case because “the issues raised here involve consideration of the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives” while ASG is a defendant because it is the civil authority of the territory established under the constitution and it administers the Department of Local Government - better known as the Office of Samoan Affairs.

The complaint asked the court to declare, among other things, that:

• Lefiti’s declaration and certification of Faletagoa’i as senator is “null and void” and without authority of law;

• the procedure by which Faletogo was selected as senator and certification of his selection was in conformance with the constitutional requirements;

• Lefiti “created an irreconcilable conflict of interest for himself in dealing with this matter and should recuse himself from further participation as the Secretary of Samoan Affairs” in the Alataua senatorial seat.

Plaintiff, whose legal counsel is Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei, is also seeking an expedited hearing on the complaint “to minimize the disruption to the upcoming legislative session which commences Jan. 3, 2013”. (Jan. 3, 2013 is the actual date when the new Legislature takes the oath of office)

As of late yesterday morning no hearing date has been scheduled.