Archives for 2 June, 2017

CIS – Political Central Government

6. Political – Central Government

a) Samoa Tourism Authority

My first encounter with the unique intricacies of Samoan ways was with Sonja Hunter, CEO of the Samoa Tourism Authority. I met with her on my arrival in Samoa in 2009 through an introduction from the STA representative in Auckland.

Sonja is a career bureaucrat of long standing and has undertaken the role of CEO STA in two separate periods, more recently for multiple terms.

Charming and eloquent on the surface, there is another side behind the silky words that is not quite so savoury and is only ever spoken of in hushed voices here, and in private. She has enormous power within the tourism industry and is feared – certainly not liked – by the majority in the industry. Her continued appointments clearly have more to do with her close personal relationship with the Prime Minister and her ability to ‘play the game’ than to do anything creative or constructive for the industry.

Except for one incredibly foolish piece of legislation1 that she fronted, embarrassing the country on the international stage, she is clearly viewed by the Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism Tuila’epa as a safe pair of hands. She’s a ‘status quo and spin expert’ with a large and increasing budget.

I have previously detailed my take of the Samoan Tourism industry and her role in it in my eBook “Connecting the DOTS – Analysing the Samoan Tourism CRISIS2”. Summarised, my opinion is that she represents corruption at its worst, is duplicitous and a master of self-interest. Many are those that have reported her seeking benefit from their ideas or work.

I will share two stories here that indicate the nature of Corruption in Samoa as outworked by the STA. Obviously Samoa is not unique in this regards for politicians and bureaucrats are and have been the same for ever and across the globe, but that doesn’t change that reality here in Samoa!

An International Samoa Day – not!
In 2010 along with my wife, I established a Samoan-registered Charitable Trust, the SWAP Foundation3. We operated as a think-tank developing ideas for cross-cultural experiences/education and assisting Samoan businesses in joint-ventures, particularly working with their online presence. Our business model was to Joint Venture and use volunteers. We have pioneered Voluntourism in Samoa.

One of our proposals was to take an idea that the late Bev Barlow from Aggie Greys had been trying to push for years, an international Samoa Day.

We fleshed it out into a working concept, and took the proposal to the Prime Minister, calling it a “Go! Go! Go! Samoa!” promotion used to launch the Samoa Day as a rolling 24 hour series of activities across the globe. He liked it, agreed to it in writing, informed us that it would have Cabinet approval as a formality and instructed us in writing to proceed with a close working relationship with the STA.

For a full six months we attempted to liase with the STA reporting back monthly in person to the PM who seemed to struggle with the reason why Sonja simply would not work with us. He recounted no less than four different reasons why it never happened and in the end, in an unforgettable incident essentially gave up. That exercise cost us badly.

That the CEO of a government department could or would let her naked hatred for us overrule the written instruction and clear wishes of her Minister, AND the Prime Minister at that, was an incredible thing to watch!

Once I worked out who really ruled the roost and found out the real score on their intimate relationship from the obliging Samoan gossip machine, we pulled our horns in and ceased helping any third party tourism activities.

Such corruption can never be dealt with constructively while the perpetrators are in power4.

Instructed not to deal with you
The second event of Corruption from the STA occurred as a result of training that SWAP conducted in Savaii in the same year. We had arranged a marketing training event in Satoalepai in which seven tourist operators attended, five of which indicated a wish to work with us. The essence of the programme was that we would bring foreign investment capital in to the small (struggling) businesses and develop their facilities, work to improve their services in return for a profit-share.

On follow-up we found that all five of these operators had inexplicably changed their minds since our first presentations. We eventually identified the cause of the trouble – behind our backs, the STA had instructed them all not to deal with us, and had spoken foul of our activities and intent. Substantial losses resulted from that sad and unnecessary underhand episode.

I consider STA to be a devious, powerful and corrupt organisation, greedy to be seen as the only player in town. This is not only conduct towards me personally or the SWAP Foundation (although we certainly have had multiple instances of corrupt activities against us) but it is a power game used on all and sundry.

The Savaii Tourism Association had years of fighting to get established before STA begrudgingly assisted them. A splinter group from the Samoa Hotels Association has also received difficult treatment from STA and previous people employed directly and within partnerships have all reported similar difficulties attempting to deal with the STA.

Gross Incompetence
I spent a little time discussing marketing activities with various STA people. It was a waste of time. Not only was STA not willing to engage with us (clearly we were a threat), their level of competence was frighteningly low.

Marketing for the Teuila Festival for example consisted of speaking to the tourists who were already in Samoa and telling them about it! OMG!!

Value-adding concepts were a foreign language and vision limited to that which they had done before – regardless of how successful that was or not.

The failing was systemic and chronic.

The Prime Minister once graciously explained the ways of bureaucracy to me to help out with my frustration. In essence the multiple page letter basically said, “Dennis, forget it. Government is not about results – it’s about playing the game and avoiding risk!”

Ex employees from the Fiji Tourism Bureau have reported their shock and horror at STA’s amateurism. Corruption in such situations revolves around protecting jobs and reputations, distorting figures, making unrealistic expectations or promises and contracting work to those who can be controlled and play the game, rather than those who talk more common sense and can likely deliver the real goods.

Take Homes
Through our engagements with Sonja and the STA during this time I learned some important things:

I observed an unnatural relationship between Sonja and Tuila’epa. Sonja had the capacity to override the Prime Ministers’ written instructions. While the Prime Minister claims that he doesn’t have the final say, Samoans mostly know what is going on but don’t or won’t speak of it in public. This situation is downright wrong.

Serious financial losses can easily occur as a result of bureaucrats and politicians activities. This is the direct result of corruption where innocent people pay. Again, this is wrong.

The primary role of bureaucracy is one of self-preservation – to protect the status quo. Expecting the STA to be effective and build Samoan Tourism is unrealistic, as realistic as expecting pigs to fly.

While not applicable to everyone, honesty and integrity do not naturally reside within the halls of power. In time the truth will always out, certainly for those who ask the questions and think!

To me, Sonja Hunter and STA represent an insidious form of corruption, the brazen art of producing reports; speaking the politically correct words; playing the game of politics and seemingly looking good yet corrupt to the core. Not all that they do is unworthy of course, however their lack of vision, inefficiency and lack of integrity are hidden with much smoke, mirrors and fancy words.

The people here know it all too well. Their words are along the lines that, “They’re only in it for themselves” and “They never care about the little people” but they can never voice this, for the repercussions will be too high for their family and/or business.

I have done this though right here, and now, and in my book explaining the Samoan Tourism Crisis that I referenced previously.

Corruption comes in many forms. Underhand dealings, dishonesty, self-centeredness and selfishness are endemic in Samoa. STA represents this side of the country perfectly.

Corruption rules in the dark and is empowered by fear. I speak the truth though and have no fear.

STA is simply one government department that I am very familiar with, but there are more . . .