THE 2019 National General Election (NGE) candidate for Baegu/Asifola in Malaita Province has been fined $5,000 for breaching the Electoral Act 2018.
George Taloga Suri had pleaded guilty to the charge of Election Expenses and Donation, a count under sections 125 (2) and 69 (1) (a) and (b) of the Electoral Act 2018.
Principal Magistrate Leonard Chite in his sentencing remarks said the offence was created to ensure that answerability and transparency is presented for the funds incurred by the candidate during the election campaign, and such, leaders who wished to run for election must acknowledge the responsibilities that the status of being a “candidate” entails, which would to some degree demonstrate the character and personality of a leader, if he were to be voted into Parliament.
“Notwithstanding whether one is successful or not, a leader must always be accountable to the laws, principles, duties of his office, or any position or status that he or she assumes, including upholding the general ‘integrity’, he said.
“I am sure that the defendant has learned from his mistake and will take constructive steps to improve himself, to avoid repeating this type of behaviour in the future,” Mr Chite added.
He, however, failed to file and submit his statement of accounts to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) specifying his expenses and the source he used to meet the expense for his campaign.
Section 69 of the Electoral Act requires all successful and unsuccessful candidates who contested the 2019 NGE to file with the Chief Electoral Officer their statement of accounts relating to expenses and source of funds for those expenses, within 90 days after the publication of the NGE election result.
Mr Chite told Suri that the objective of sections 69 and 125, are among other things, to ensure transparency and accountability by candidates during the campaigning process, with the overarching goal to combat unexplained wealth, corruption, unethical and improper conducts, and dishonourable dealings
“It is a responsibility attached to any campaigning candidate, and the defendant was vested with that obligation but refused to comply, which led to the offending.
“Accountability, taking ownership of duties, and transparency are some of the key components in any democratic nation, and the purpose for which cannot be overemphasized.”
Mr Chite said although being informed through the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), social media pages, and other platforms, including his personal knowledge of the requirement as a campaigning candidate during the election process, he deliberately failed to disclose his election expenses to the relevant office.
The maximum penalty for this offence is $20,000 fine or two years imprisonment or both and $100 for each day the offence continues.
Mr Chite imposed a starting point of $6,000 but then reduced it to $3,000 to reflect the mitigating factors.
In relation to the $100 for each day the offence continues, Mr Chite said the offence was committed in July 2019, but Suri was not charged until 2022.
He said this is some considerable amount of delay which has nothing to do with Suri.
“Therefore, if he is to pay the amount of $100 from July 2019 to October 2022, would total to an approximate amount of $123,300 which in my view, is excessive.
He said while he does agree that as a potential Parliamentarian, or leader, the defendant should know better and take proper steps to comply with the laws and procedural requirements, including rectifying this issue when it was brought to his attention,
He further added that to punish him with a fine of that amount is beyond the scope of deterrence as far as the seriousness of offending is concerned, and the crushing effects would be enormous.
Mr Chite said it is only fair and just to remove the amount of $121,300 except $2,000 from the total of $123,300.
Suri was therefore left with the fine of $5,000.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
Solomon Star, Honiara