Politics

Drama Precedes SODELPA Court Hearing At Civil High Court In Suva

Legal teams make submissions on General Assembly in Savusavu. Justice Vishwa Datt Sharma will deliver his ruling on notice
31 Jan 2020 11:01
Drama Precedes SODELPA Court Hearing At Civil High Court In Suva
Mere Samisoni leads the way out of the court followed by Watisoni Nata on January 30, 2020. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga

A drama preceded the hearing of the SODELPA court case in Suva yesterday.

It indicated the tense atmosphere in the courtroom.

Before  Judge Justice Vishwa Datt Sharma entered to take his seat, party member Savenaca Kamikamica, sitting at the back, went up to greet Mere Samisoni at the front row. She is one of the plaintiffs taking  SODELPA and its officials to court over alleged governance issues. Mr Kamikamica was there to support the defendants (SODELPA and officials). He shook Ms Samisoni’s hands and tried to kiss her on the cheek but she said: “No I don’t want to.” He then quietly retreated to his seat. Next, one of the defendants, Adi Litia Qionibaravi, entered and sat beside Ms Samisoni who stood up and went to sit at a back row.

Among those present included Opposition leader Sitiveni Rabuka (supporting the defendants).

Also present were Sainiana Radrodro (supporting the plaintiffs), Emele Duituturaga (plaintiff), Watisoni Nata (plaintiff), Peter Waqavonovono (party member).

Both sides made submissions on the party’s General Assembly in Yaroi, Savusavu in June last year.

The plaintiffs headed by Suva Constituency president Watisoni Nata, through their lawyers Ashnil Kumar Narayan and Victor Sharma of AK Lawyers, said the party breached the party constitution, the Political Parties Act and the Constitution.

Mr Narayan said the comedy of errors committed by the party’s management board started from its failure to invite motions from constituencies for consideration at the party’s General Assembly.

Mr Narayan said the snowball effect started when the former party general secretary, Adi Litia, failed to comply with clause 12.5(a) and (b) of SODELPA’s Constitution.

The clause requires the general secretary to formally communicate to all constituencies four months prior to the General Assembly and call for motions to be discussed.

When this was not done the President of the Suva Constituency, Watisoni Nata, delivered a motion to the Chairperson Anare Jale on June 6, 2019 calling to amend the party’s constitution.

The motion was approved by Mr Jale the next day via email in compliance with clause 12.5(d) of the party constitution which states that motions can still be tabled at the general assembly at the sole discretion and approval of the Chairperson.

Subsequent to the approval, Mr Nata was directed to speak on the motion at the next board meeting which took place a day before the General Assembly.

However, he was later informed by Mr Jale and Adi Litia that his motion could not be included in the General Assembly agenda. Adi Litia, president Ro Filipe Tuisawau, vice-president Anare Jale, Usaia Waqaitairewa and SODELPA are named as defendants.

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SODELPA’s lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo argued that there was a prerequisite within clause 12.5.

He said Adi Litia had no discretion to do it all on her own and could only formally communicate to the constituencies after she was directed by the board.

Mr Vosarogo said what the plaintiffs did not allege was whether there was a directive from the board that Adi Litia had failed to communicate accordingly.

“She has no power on her own to call for motions. Clause 12.5 is clear there can’t be any issues about it,” he said, adding that the emailed response from Mr Jale to Mr Nata could not amount to an acceptance because the motion required a special resolution.

An amendment to the party constitution can only be done if all requirements of a special resolution is complied with, Mr Vosarogo said.

This involves the issuance of a public notice by Adi Litia within 21 days before the General Assembly, however, since the motion and supporting documents were delivered to her on June 10, 2019, she did not have time to give notice.

Consequently, he said the motion could not have simply been a part of the General Assembly agenda.

During the General Assembly the nomination and election of the party President and Vice President was conducted.

The plaintiffs allege that the anonymity of the voters was compromised because the ballot papers were endorsed with receipt numbers of financial members printed behind it clearly linking the voter to the ballot paper.

Despite raising the issue of the ballot papers to Mr Jale and Adi Litia, elections continued and Ro Filipe Tuisawau was nominated and elected as the President.

Adi Litia was also nominated and elected as the Vice President after Viliame Gavoka withdrew his nomination.

Mr Narayan submitted that the defendants did not deny that the ballot papers were endorsed rather they explained that the receipt numbers were printed to ensure that only SODELPA financial members would vote.

“The anonymity of a secret ballot was breached. Anyone can see the ballot paper and receipt book and see who that person voted for,” Mr Narayan said.

“There is a plethora of options and checks they could have done instead.”

He further submitted that as a paid employee of SODELPA and in her position as the general secretary, Adi Litia was not eligible to stand for election because she was not a party member.

Mr Narayan said clause 13.8.1(a) of the party constitution stated that no person shall be qualified as a member if he or she is employed by the party and party parliamentary office.

“As a general secretary prior to the AGM she was in a paid position. She wasn’t a member. She was disqualified as a member. There’s no flexibility. Once you’re in Management Board you can’t be a member.”

On the issue of the secret ballot Mr Vosarogo stated that there is no assertion to prove that a person’s choice was compromised because of the receipt numbers printed at the back of the ballot papers.

“We want only financial members to vote. There’s nothing sinister about that exercise, it will protect the integrity of the person’s vote and the election system.”

“What’s important is that a person’s vote is theirs alone and they are free to choose whoever they want.”

He added that Adi Litia could not be disqualified from party membership unless it was a disciplinary issue.

Justice Sharma will deliver his ruling on notice.

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