Candidate’s gifts a genuine attempt to help people says judge in rejecting bribery claims

The Supreme Court has rejected claims of electoral bribery in the Tongatapu 1 electorate.

MP Tēvita Fatafehi Puloka

Judge Cooper, presiding, ruled that three claims of bribery against Tēvita Puloka, who won the seat, had not been proven.

The challenge was brought by Siaosi Vailahi Pōhiva, who stood unsuccessfully.

Pōhiva was the People’s Representative for Tongatapu I from 2019 until the last election. He is the eldest son of former Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva.

Judge Cooper said Siaosi described himself as a fighter for democracy in Tonga and the Pacific.

Siaosi alleged that Puloka had given TP$100 to Toti Viau and Uili ‘Ahokava and donated soap –  sometimes referred to as hand sanitiser in the evidence – and face masks to different bodies or establishments.

Toti Viau,  from ‘Isileli in Kolomotu’a, said that she had seen Puloka  give to her mother, Vika Keke Tu’ipulotu, TP$100.

She said Puloka had visited her mother in September 2021 and left her an envelope containing the  money.

She stated that as he left, he told Vika not to forget that he was running for Parliament and had left, but not before leaving the envelope with money for her.

Toti said she went to her mother, who had “a sad face” and asked why Puloka would try to buy her vote.

Judge Cooper said he formed the opinion after her cross-examination that she was not a reliable witness and was motivated against Puloka.

When questioned she accepted that Puloka had done much for her and her family, but would give no credence to other suggestions of kindness.

“From this I judged she had an agenda to follow and it was not based on the obvious good deeds and generosity she acknowledged he had shown her,” the judge said.

“Her answers showed an erratic grasp of how to report facts.

“She was the only witness of this alleged bribery.  The petitioner has not proved his case under the head of claim.”

Judge Cooper said there were questions about the dates given in the alleged bribery of Uili ‘Ahokava and the circumstances relating to the event. The judge said ‘Ahokava had  been influenced in his testimony and had lied on oath.

“In any event, it becomes impossible to accept his word when he states that Puloka gave him the money to buy his vote and not just as a hand-out to family for some alcoholic drink,” the judge said.

The allegation was therefore not proven.

On the third allegation, the judge said that a candidate for election may make a payment or valuable gift for mixed motives.

“He may, for instance, make a gift for charitable purposes. There is nothing wrong with that. But he may also make a gift to buy votes. That is bribery,” he said.

“Tonga faced a new situation. The Covid 19, the coronavirus, was at last detected in the Kingdom at this time we are concerned with. One can say that the gift was close to the election and it was unprecedented, but so was the apparent finding of a case of Covid 19.

“Returning to the instant case, these were donations to children and teachers; the children in the main, the unvaccinated population of Tonga. Soldiers and Police also were the recipients.

“To put it another way, I am sure that the respondent has proved that they were proper recipients, so tending to demonstrate it was a charitable gift, as, though close to the election, so was the reported emergence of the virus in our community.

“There was nothing dishonest or corrupt in the donation of soap and masks. In fact, the reverse, it appears to me that this was nothing short of laudable and a genuine wish to help the people of Tonga.

“I find these acts were not bribery. Accordingly, I find all three allegations of bribery have failed to be proven.”

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