Puna, the party leader, took the stand before Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams at the High Court yesterday, to give evidence on the allegation leveled against him in the Rakahanga election petition case.
Democratic Party leader Tina Browne, who lost the Rakahanga seat in the June 14 election to CIP’s Toka Hagai, alleged that during a meeting with the voters on June 12, Puna had declared that June 14 and 15 would be public holidays on Rakahanga.
The significant purpose for the declaration of a public holiday by the caretaker PM was political, namely to procure the election of Hagai, Browne alleged.
During cross-examination, Browne’s NZ-based lawyer Isaac Hikaka asked Puna if he would accept that people could have taken that there was a holiday on Friday, June 15, from what he said during the gathering.
To which the PM replied, “I guess if they wanted to take it, yes, they might have.”
Puna told the court the meeting on June 12 was to consolidate support. He said he was not sure who organised the meeting, adding he was being taken from campaign to campaign in the lead up to the election.
He also said the gathering was legal under the law, adding they could have held such a gathering right up until the election morning before the electorates went to the polling booth to cast their votes.
Puna said during the June 12 meeting, he told the people present that election day was a day off, “in the sense that employers are required to give their workers time off to go to the polling booth to cast their vote”.
Hikaka told the court that Puna had also said it was up to the mayor and the island government to give island residents the time off on Friday.
“In fact, I laughed at the question because it was actually the mayor’s wife that asked the question and I said…’you ask your husband; he is the boss whether people get time off on Friday’.”
Hikaka also asked Puna if he was aware that the mayor and the island government had no power to declare a public holiday, to which the PM replied that at times, the island council had been known to grant days off to its employees on special occasions.
Puna also told the court that the totality of the comments he made on the evening of June 12 had been in a jovial manner because it was such a happy gathering.
Hikaka and his counterpart Brian Mason also presented their final submissions yesterday to wrap up the Rakahanga petition case.
The High Court will today hear the petition filed by the Demos’ Teina Rongo, who made an application against CIP’s Albert Nicholas for the Avatiu-Ruatonga-Palmerston seat.
The hearing of the Ngatangiia petition from CIP’s Kaka Ama against Tamaiva Tuavera of the Democratic Party will take place tomorrow, followed by the Murienua petition filed by James Beer of Demos against CIP’s Patrick Arioka, on August 20.
The Mauke electoral petition filed by OCI’s Tungane Williams against CIP’s Tai Tura will be heard August 20.