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Nicholas, Tuavera in the clear

Thursday August 16, 2018 Written by Published in Politics

Cook Islands Party’s Albert Nicholas and Tamaiva Tuavera of Democratic Party have retained their Avatiu-Ruatonga and Ngatangiia seats respectively, after the High Court yesterday dismissed the petitions filed for those seats.

 

Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams said in both petitions, which were based on allegations of bribery, the petitioners were unable to prove the offer of money or “valuable consideration” was to induce the electorates to vote for Nicholas and Tuavera.

In the Avatiu-Ruatonga petition, the bribery was said to involve the payment by the government of $5349.24 to meet an overdue power account for a household in the constituency. This petition was filed by Democratic Party’s Teina Rongo.

In the Ngatangiia petition, the allegation of bribery was related to an overnight loan of a generator to a household in the electorate, two or three days before the June 14 election. CIP’s Kaka Ama filed the Ngatangiia petition.

Justice Williams noted both households in connection to the petitions were in “impecunious” (having little money) and difficult circumstances.

In the Avatiu-Ruatonga petition, the court heard that a family in the constituency had accumulated a large electricity account. The family included children and a severely disabled older woman.

The family approached Nicholas’ staff on March 19 and they unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with Te Aponga Uira (TAU) a postponement of threatened disconnection of the power supply. The power was cut off on March 21.

On March 27, the family again approached Nicholas’ office and managed to have a meeting with the MP but no resolution was reached as negotiations with TAU were unsuccessful.

The court heard the family visited the staff again on the following day. Their queries were referred to Nicholas, who on the same day, visited the Prime Minister Henry Puna, to discuss the issue. After the discussion with Puna, the PM told Nicholas “leave it to me” with no indication as to how he would deal with this issue.

“It is now known the PM staff identified the community capital development fund as a source from which the unpaid power bill owed well over $5000 might be met,” said Justice Williams.

Justice Williams said the actions leading to the payment could not be proved to be in connection with the election.

He said all of the actions took place before the election date was announced on April 12. The actions, he said, were directed towards alleviating families in straitened circumstances.

“The way in which Mr Nicholas’ action can be construed (is that) he was simply doing what he as a local Member of Parliament thought was necessary to discharge his obligation to his constituency,” Justice Williams said.

“On that ground therefore that there was no sufficient proof that the matter was proved to be in connection to the election, the petition fails.”

In the Ngatangiia petition, the court heard that a couple living in that constituency in a derelict house under dire circumstances, initially asked for a generator from the petitioner Kaka Ama. However, nothing eventuated.

The couple then asked Tuavera if they could use his generator, which he had bought on May 25 for the purpose of his business, Captain Tama’s Cruizes.

In June, just two or three days before the election, Tuavera lent them his generator.

In passing his judgment, Justice Williams highlighted Tuavera’s charitable work both in his corporate and personal life.

He said Tuavera was a generous man, adding he was a frequent sponsor and donor to persons and organisations in his electorate and throughout the Cook Islands.

Justice Williams said what Tuavera did in lending the generator to this couple was consistent with his longstanding and broadly-based charitable work.

“It is not proved sufficiently that lending the generator to a disadvantaged couple for two or three nights was in connection with the general election or was intended to induce the electors to vote for him.

“In those circumstances, the finding is the grounds of petition are not made up and (the petition) is dismissed.”

Still to come are decisions on four other petitions, three of which will be heard next week before Justice Judith Potter.