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Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has cautioned Pacific leaders about the perils of leaving corruption unaddressed, consequently enabling it to "wreck great havoc" on island nations.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa made the point when he spoke at the opening of the Pacific Regional Conference on Anti-Corruption in Kiribati on Tuesday.
“Like natural disasters and health epidemics, corruption, if allowed to flourish would wreak great havoc and misery,” Tuilaepa said.
The PM added that as universally acknowledged, corruption is present in all countries, irrespective of the level of wealth or location on the world map.
“In our Blue Pacific region, we know and understand the threat that corruption poses to the development of small island economies and the cohesiveness and stability of our communities.
“Our shared deep regional concern with the damaging effects of corruption has prompted most of our Pacific countries to become members of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).”
He also shared experiences early in his career as a public servant.
“I served in our then Treasury Department (now the Ministry of Finance) as Deputy Financial Secretary.
“One time when I was acting Financial Secretary, the department’s administration officer in charge of personnel provided me with a report on a couple of Officers (one of them a senior staff) who signed in for overtime work when they were actually partying at a nightclub nearby.
“It was something that these officers had been doing on different occasions but were now finally caught with sufficient evidence for the report to be put together.”
Tuilaepa added that after discussions with the Public Service Commission as required by process, he called in the charged officers.
“They tried to evade the evidence but when faced with immediate dismissal, they pleaded for leniency. They were still sacked. Not doing so would send out the wrong message.
“The other part of this story was that another Treasury Officer came and saw me to ask for the decision to be reversed; the reason being that the Administration Officer who put together the report was an ‘overseas newcomer’ to the Department - an expatriate.
“I was seen as taking the side of an ‘outsider’ against officers who were local and part of the ‘Treasury family’.”
He added that the officer was immediately told to return to her desk while she still had a job.
“This real life story from the 1970s demonstrated the often-insidious nature of official corruption and its high costs if we are not careful.
“The cost in this case of fraudulent overtime claims, if not stopped, would eventually amount to large amounts of money lost that would otherwise be available to provide needed public works and services.
“The penalty was appropriate for fraudulent actions, and more importantly, sent a clear message of the consequences to any officer contemplating fraud to resist temptation, or for an officer not yet caught, to stop.”
He also added that as examples, in Samoa’s Public Service today, preventative measures include regular reminders to public officials not to accept money from the public, as well as awareness messages on television and radio to the public not to give officials money for the delivery of government work and services, or to enable a person to ‘jump the queue’ to obtain priority consideration in a government program.
“Transgressions would be investigated as breaches of the official code of conduct and extending to criminal charges as warranted.
“A transparent and vigorously enforced tender process is in place to award contracts for medium and large-scale government projects.
“However, as we are finding out, methods of corruption are becoming increasingly complex, subtle and difficult to unravel.”
He added that there is an increasing number of corruption cases coming to light as a result of greater dissemination of information and awareness programmes on how to recognise and report corruption, as well as better official confidentiality protective measures of so called ‘whistleblowers’.
“In the context of good governance standards, the indispensable role of Parliament in fighting corruption has also led to Parliamentary sessions in Samoa are now broadcast live on television in addition to the traditional radio broadcasts to make use of technology available.
“The media plays an important part in fighting corruption and I hold weekly interviews, sometimes two or three times a week, with media representatives to inform on government decisions and programs and reply to their questions.
“The media write and report as ‘they see it’ and I try and correct inaccuracies the next time. They often don’t take any notice but neither do I tire in my reminders for them to report fairly.”
Tuilaepa added that in Samoa the extent and reach of family connections, because of small communities, are magnified.
“The second element is cultural expectations and practice. In our small traditional island societies, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish and draw the line between where the ‘practices of culture’ ends and corruption begins.
“We have all heard of the well-known ‘amusing test for corruption’ often said in jest, but not always, 'that if it looks, feels, moves and jumps like corruption, then it is just so'.
“Seriously, however, the line in my view is drawn when what is presented as cultural practice misdirects decision making, fraudulently use resources and miscarry justice.
“There must be good and strong leadership supporting every process level from prevention, investigation, prosecution and right through to adjudication and enforcement of penalties.”
He added that at the top of all these levels is Political Leadership that must observe the standards of integrity, transparency and accountability required of good governance.
“Without this political will at the highest level, anti-corruption efforts would always struggle to succeed.”
The President of Kiribati, Taneti Maamau, urged Pacific leaders for local action which will lead to regional impact.
“As Leaders and representatives of our Blue Pacific nations we know how powerful our local actions can be as they lead to greater regional impact,” he said.
Maamau added that the regional conference will explore best local practices in preventing and combating corruption.
“Our ocean, our fish and our weather do not worry about national boundaries on a map; nor do transnational criminals and corruption.
“We need to see how these successful procedures can be shared to achieve greater regional benefits.
“Every country in our Blue Pacific region is unique, hence each is addressing corruption and its prevention in different ways.
He also said that the conference gives an opportunity to listen to each other, to “maroro” or dialogue and take note of successes within the suite of Pacific corruption interventions.
“But most importantly digest how, by joint Pacific action, we can all benefit.
“We do have to be wary of anyone telling us there is one magic solution to corruption, applicable to our Blue Pacific family.
“We are also benefiting from the technical assistance in governance from our traditional loyal development partners Australia and New Zealand, where our countries identify gaps in our governance and partners listen.”
Maamau said the Blue Pacific has long-standing commitments to good governance and combating corruption as embedded in the Forum Eight Principles of Accountability, the Biketawa Declaration, 2014 Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the Boe Declaration on Regional Security.
“In spite of these, we as a region have yet to identify focus areas and interventions for regional anti corruption cooperation.
“All our police, anti-corruption institutions, audit and oversight architectures are different and we are all at different stages of recognising and addressing threats and opportunities.
“One of the key priorities in my Government’s manifesto was to eradicate corruption in the public sector.”
He also added that it led to the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Anti-Corruption in 2016.
“The role of the Committee sent a clear and powerful message to the people that Government is seriously combating corruption.
“In the same year, Parliament passed the Leaders Code of Conduct Act and established the Leadership Commission which overtook the aforesaid Committee.
“I look forward to the positive outcomes of this conference that will form the basis of a Pacific Vision Statement or Declaration that our Leaders will consider and issue tomorrow.”
Maamau added that these outcomes will benefit, not only the Pacific region but their individual countries, governments and peoples that they were there to represent.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all our Pacific friends, and we particularly want to mention the people of Samoa, who have dealt with a health emergency which has cost lives and left many Samoans grieving losses to their families.
“Our thoughts and prayers to the people of New Zealand who have faced a volcanic eruption which cost lives and impacted many families, especially local communities.
“And not forgetting the people of Australia who have been subject to devastating bushfires which have again cost too many lives, destroyed too many homes and left too many families grieving.
He also expressed grief at the impact of the coronavirus on the People’s Republic of China, especially those from Wuhan, who were exposed to the virus.
SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS
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