Watchdog calls for ousted Solomons MPs to face charges

Transparency Solomon Islands is asking whether two former MPs who lost their seats for bribing voters should also face criminal charges.

Election petitions brought against education minister Moffat Fugui and backbencher Jamie Vokia in civil proceedings in the High Court were upheld on Friday.

Both men were found guilty of bribing voters before last April’s election.

Transparency chief executive Ruth Liloqula said the pair should also face criminal charges for their offences but it was not clear which authority was responsible for taking up their cases.

“We really need to re-look at our electoral act and we really need to work at getting some things that would address the criminality of the acts that they have been found guilty of, or not guilty of, and who is the responsible authority to take up these cases on behalf of the state,” Liloqula said.

The head of the Solomon Islands’ Electoral Commission, Mose Saitala, said the country’s new Independent Commission Against Corruption, which was still being established would be the obvious authority to take up these matters but in its absence he said it was up to the police to prosecute.

Saitala also said he understood that tensions between supporters of the unseated former MPs and their petitioners were high but he has appealed to those in the affected communities to keep the peace.

“We sincerely beg the people to respect the law. That is the law enacted by Parliament. We also hope that when we conduct the by-elections in the next few months it will be peaceful and that everybody participates,” Saitala said.

Moffat Fugui was found guilty of giving about US$60 each to two voters on the eve of last April’s national election.

The petition was filed by Alfred Efona, who lost to Fugui by over 1000 votes in the Central Honiara constituency.

Efona’s lawyer, David Lidimani, said the ruling had restored the public’s faith in the judiciary which he said had eroded after earlier election petitions were dismissed by the courts.

“A big turnaround in terms of public perception of the judiciary and of course our legal system. For our client of course it is a big victory not [just] for himself but of course for people in the country, that is the way he puts it,” said Lidimani.

The other ousted MP, Jamie Vokia, was found guilty of three counts of bribery, which includes offences committed by members of his campaign team.

His victory over the incumbent MP for North West Guadalcanal, former prime minister Derek Sikua, was one of the big upsets of last year’s election.

Mose Saitala said as well as losing their seats the two former government MPs were banned from voting or standing in any election in Solomon Islands for the next five years.

Of the 18 electoral petitions still before the High Court,Saitala said six of them had been to trial and were awaiting judgement.

He said under the new Electoral Act all election petitions had to be processed by May.


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