Tongatapu 6 election win cancelled as bribery charges against former Deputy Prime Minister are proven

Tonga’s electoral corruption scandal has claimed yet another head as the Supreme Court found former Deputy Prime Minister Poasi Tei guilty of bribery and annulled his election victory.

Tei, the former Minister of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC) and Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister stood against Mrs. Fane Fituafe.  Tei was declared the winner and Mrs. Fituafe then brought an election petition before Judge Niu, claiming that Tei violated the electoral regulations either directly or by allowing another person, Saia Oenitani, to act on his behalf.

Fituafe claimed that the election was invalid because Tei had contravened Section 21 of the Electoral Act. She claimed that  he committed bribery indirectly by another person by giving valuable gifts of 20 plastic water tanks to electors in the village of Houma to influence them to vote for him.

She also alleged that he committed bribery indirectly by another person by giving valuable gifts of another 20 plastic water tanks to other electors in Houma to influence them to vote for him.

Fituafe said he had committed bribery indirectly by another person by giving valuable gifts of cartons of chicken and groceries to the village police in the village of Houma to influence them to vote for him.

Finally, she alleged that he had overspent on his election campaign by expending more than TOP$20,000 contrary to Section 24 of the Act.

In his defence, Tei said the water tanks had come from China and that distribution of them had been planned before the election. He said that advice had been sought from the Attorney General’s office about whether to continue with the distribution of the tanks and it had  been agreed to go ahead.

“There were water tanks distributed to the villages in Tonga within the three months before the election on 18 November 2021,” the former Minister said.

“Those water tanks were funded by China. There were two agreements entered into. The first agreement came into effect in August 2021 for 480 water tanks to be distributed by the last day of September 2021. The second agreement for 500 water tanks came into effect in October 2021 and to be distributed by 20 November 2021.”

He said the government had decided to give free plastic water tanks to the people who could not afford them. It applied its own funds as well as funds donated by other governments such as China, for the manufacture of large 5000 litre tanks here in Tonga, to distribute to those families.

He denied that anybody had acted on his behalf or that he had known of any such activities.

“I deny the allegations that Saia Penitani was my campaign agent in Houma,” Tei said.

“I did not have any campaign team in Houma.

“I did not purchase any chicken meat and/or groceries to be distributed to the community police posts in Houma on 5 November 2021. I did not know, and certainly did not consent to Saia Penitani purchasing any chicken meat and/or groceries to be distributed to the community police posts in Houma on 5 November 2021 or at any other time or date on my behalf.”

In his summing up Judge Niu said that if Tei had disapproved of Penitani’s action he should have publicly dismissed him as a supporter of his and disassociated himself from any action he had allegedly taken on his behalf. Because he did not do that, he allowed Penitani to continue to make representations on his behalf.

He found Tei guilty of the charges relating to the water tanks and the purchase and distribution of  chicken. He acquitted him on the charge of overspending.

The Supreme Court declared Tei’s election void.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here