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Saulala loses Tongatapu 7 as Supreme Court finds  bribery proven, voids election results

Sione Sangster Saulala, who won the Tongatapu 7 seat in the last election, has joined former Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’I’onetoa  in having his election annulled by the Supreme Court.

Minister of Internal Affairs Sangstar Saulala. Photo/Supplied

Lord Chief Justice Whitten found Salala guilty of bribery following a complaint by Paula Piukala, who stood unsuccessfully in the election.

Saulala was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs by the incoming government.

Mr Piukala alleged that:

On September 28 2021 Saulala gave Hengihengi Kolo, of Tofoa, $100.

On November 16 last year Saulala gave $20 and a box of chicken to ‘Ahio  Tauelangi of Pea and others.

On November 10 indirectly gave, via his wife,  a bag of groceries to ‘Ahio Tauelangi.

Some time before November 8, Saulala asked the then Prime Minister for help with his campaign by bringing forward Government planned roadworks in the area between Pea and Tokomololo, which works were undertaken in the first half of November 2021.

Piukala said that in each instance, Saulala did so in order to induce the recipients of the money or gifts to vote for him.

Lord Chief Justice Whitten found the first and second claims proved and as a result, Saulala was found guilty of bribery at the election.

Accordingly, Saulala’s election on November 18 was declared void.

The court awarded costs against Saulala.

In the first claim, Hengihengi Kolo said in a deposition that on September 28 last year Saulala gave him TP$100 in two TP$50 notes at tyre repair shop in Tofoai. After discussing the elections  Hengihengi and Saulala shook hands. Hengihengi said he felt something placed in his hand. He looked and saw that Saulala had put money in his hand. Hengihengi asked him what it was for. Saulala told him that the money may be of assistance to his family and reminded Hengihengi to remember him during the election. Hengihengi told Saulala to take his money, but Mr Saulala laughed and walked over to his vehicle, insisting that Hengihengi keep it.

The judge ruled that the first claim had been proven

With regards to the second claim, ‘Ahio Tauelangi said that on November 16, 2021, while he was speaking with some other people, Saulala’s vehicle stopped, and he joined the conversation. He told them that he went to drop off a box of chicken to the community police at Tokomololo. Saulala then offloaded a box of chicken for ‘Ahio and the others to distribute amongst themselves. Just before he left Saulala gave ‘Ahio a TP$20 note. When ‘Ahio tried to return it, Saulala insisted that he keep it for ‘anything he wanted to buy’ and then drove off.

‘Asaloni Tamale, who was present during the incident,  told the court ’Ahio did not want the chicken. ‘Asaloni interpreted ‘Ahio’s remark as him not wanting the chicken because it was “meant only to buy his vote.”

The court found the second claim had been proven,

In regard to the third claim, Piukala claimed that Saulala’s wife gave valuable gifts in the form of bags of groceries and shopping to people in Pea, including ‘Ahio Tauelangi’s family, within three months of the election. Tauelangi said that on November 10 his grandchildren told him that Saulala’s wife Kilistina was visiting with plastic bags of groceries.

Saulala denied that the groceries his wife gave to ‘Ahio were from him or on his behalf. He deposed that his wife was one of the distributors of the groceries on the date in question on behalf of a local organisation and that the groceries fall into the same category as the assistance he and his wife had been giving ‘Ahio over the years.

The third claim was found not proven.

In terms of the fourth claim Tevita Faletau gave evidence about roadworks performed in the first half of November 2021 at the area of Pea up to the border with Tokomololo. He said that Mema Latu, whom he described as Saulala’s “campaign agent in Tokomololo” told him that the road work was done by the Government “to render support” for Saulala’s election campaign. Tevita said that he supported Saulala in the elections because of what Mema had told him.

Latu said the roadworks were already on the repair program of the Ministry of Infrastructure although the timing of the repairs was uncertain. Saulala had asked the Prime Minister to bring the work forward which the Government agreed to do. Latu said he asked Saulala to ask the Prime Minister to bring the roadworks forward because he knew the works had been scheduled, but had been delayed. He considered that, as Deputy Chairman of the Tokomololo Community Council, it was his responsibility to make the request. Mema denied that the works were done to support Mr Saulala’s campaign.

Saulala denied making the request in order to ”court the favour of the voters” in that area. He said that he did not receive a response to his request and that the works “were just done.” He suggested that his request may have been granted because he “was respected as a previous Minister.”

The fourth claim was rejected.

As a result of the first and second claims having been proved, Saulala was found guilty of bribery at the election.

“Accordingly, it is hereby declared that the election of Sione Sangster Saulala as the representative of the Tongatapu 7 constituency, is void,” Lord Chief Justice Whitten said.