OUSTED Member of Parliament (MP) for Temotu, VATUD Constituency Freda Tuki Soriacomua has bribed and treated voters by providing food during the campaigning and voting period in 2014.
Thats according to High Court Judge Justice Rex Faukona in his judgment on Monday which resulted in Ms Soriacomua losing her seat.
In his ruling Judge Faukona said buying of votes and treating of voters by providing food to supporters are forbidden by the Act.
Mr Faukona said he found more than one incidence of corrupt or illegal practice provided in this election petition case.
The first incident occurred on 16 November 2014, where Ms Soriacomua after completing her campaigning at Tanabili village gave $1,000 each to Robert Lavalu and his daughter Mrs Doreen Tevio.
According to Soriacomua in her sworn statement, Mr Lavalu’s reason for requesting the money was to assist with fuel to transport his daughter Mrs Tevio and her sick child to Lata by out-board motor (OBM) to seek medical treatment.
Justice Faukona said there is no evidence available that that Mrs Tevio’s sick child was an urgent case and there is no evidence of how the money was used.
He said the $2,000 given to a family in a rural area is a huge amount of money.
“Conceivably that can be viewed as inducement to lure Mr Lavalu and his family to change their minds.
“The question whether Mr Lavalu and his family did voted for the Respondent (Ms Soriacomua) is not a matter to be considered.
“The importance is, if the Court is satisfied on the pre-requisite standard that the gift, under the circumstances, carries an element of inducement then the allegation is proved,” he said.
Justice Faukona said on the issue of bribery or treating where the recipient asked for it does not amount to bribery or treating, is likened of opening a flood gate.
He said before or during elections there are many people that requested from prospectus candidate’s monies and other assistance.
“And all too often what was asked for was given.
“If by that action is not bribery then we are encouraging prospect candidate to give money, a practice under cover in this country.
“Is that not vote buying?”
Mr Faukona said if law allows that as not bribery, fair and good practice, then this country will be in a worst political crises.
“Vote buying will become an order of the day and those with a lot of money will give out lot of money on requests, as an acceptable prevailing practice,” he said.
He then said he found that on this allegation, the gift was one which falls within the principle of killing two birds with one stone.
“Even if it appears as in the best interest of public policy, the amount given is extra-ordinary and was imbalance to the people living in rural communities.
“There is no evidence as to how the money was used,” he added.
In another incident, on an undisclosed date, just before the National General Election on 19 November 2014, Soriacomua gave $2,000 each to three Anglican Churches at Utupua Island in Temotu Province.
Ms Soriacomua and her witness said the monies were given because of the requests made by the three Churches.
Justice Faukona said the giving by Ms Soriacomua to the Churches was vote buying or corrupt act which was forbidden by the Act.
Again on an unknown date prior to election date of 19 November 2014, Ms Soriacomua gave $3,000 to Noelyn Maraetoto.
Ms Soriacomua admitted giving the $3,000 to Noelyn and her family when they were admitted at Lata Hospital.
She also stated that she supported the family whilst they were residing at Lata Hospital and that she also provided food and money to support them on past occasions as well.
Justice Faukona however said there was no evidence that she gave the money because Noelyn requested it and there was no evidence of any previous assistance made by her.
“In one perception it could be viewed as a charitable gift financing a mother and her sick child returning to Tikopia from Lata after medical treatment,” he said.
He added that the amount is beyond any figure given to ordinary rural dwellers which is no wonder why Mrs Noelyn was so excited about receiving the money and openly preached that the Ms Soriacomua was her candidate.
“Already her outward action and words said implicated she was induced to make her choice,” he said.
He said it is a gift motivated by an intention to induce an elector which is a corrupt act which was forbidden by the Act.
Mr Faukona also found Ms Soriacomua guilty of treating, where she provided food and water to voters before and after casting their ballot papers.
He said the provision of supplying goods by the agent of Ms Soriacomua on Election Day falls within the meaning of treating.
“The impact of such provision by one candidate and his/her agent and supporters may influence voters in manner.
“Tikopia island is a small island with rugged mountains.
“The two main villages on the island are not far located from each other hence traveling is not a problem.
“Early bird voters can cast their votes and then return to have their breakfast at their houses,” he said.
Justice Faukona further added that the influential part of giving such is that a voter arriving at a polling station knowing a candidate has provided food, may change his mind in the eleventh hour, because he/she after casting a ballot paper will have something to eat and drink before going home.
“That candidate may not be the one he/she had been thinking of to elect, but changed due to availability of food that is already and at hand for disposable,” he said.
Following Justice Faukona’s judgment, Ms Soriacomua is disqualified to contest in any by-election.
Ms Soriacomua won the election in 2014 with 681 votes leaving the petitioner Mr Forau who polled 659 a runner-up candidate.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) is yet to decide whether there will be a by-election or not given the limited time period before the next national general election early next year.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN