Corruption In Samoa – Nature

Samoa has been a target of accusations of corruption forever. There is good reason for that but it’s not easy to define corruption here as cross-cultural misunderstandings abound when Palagi look at Paradise and impose their values.

While serious corruption events can be quite clear, identifying all corruption is not always a black and white matter, especially in Samoa, which as I have already explained has a very different culture from the West.

In Samoa, slipping a little gift to someone who has or will help you is widely seen as the right thing to do. It is unnatural NOT to help others with a gift of food (or more recently money). At what point though does such gift-giving slide from a culturally acceptable practice into corruption? It’s not an easy question to answer.

If one is employing for example, at what point does employment of people from your own village or family become nepotism? In a country where trust runs at an ultra-low level should an employer (privately or in government) be forced to employ those whom he does not trust or have some leverage over? And what about the cultural expectation that a leader SHOULD be looking after his own people? That after all is a key role of a Samoan leader – to provide opportunity for his own people!

In Samoa as with most criticism of corruption, the word ‘Corruption’ is mainly used in relation to elected politicians and government leaders feathering their own nest.

Transparency International1 defines corruption as, “… the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”

While the definition of corruption can be this simple, corruption as a concept can also apply more deeply than to just central political power.

Whenever we deviate from God’s ideals, corruption occurs, and that ultimately is the moral basis for judgement. It is this wider view of corruption that I address in this book.

One of the key factors in assessing corrupt practices is that of transparency with conduct visible, the reverse of course being deceit.

As a rule, Samoa and its leaders fail miserably in this regard. A defensive, “It’s none of your business!” is the default setting from officials from the top down. While this is often a protection mechanism by insecure people out of their depth, or unwilling to be exposed, it is also a direct factor in covering up corrupt conduct that they simply do not want known.

Corruption implies conduct less than an ideal but from where do these ideals come from? Defining this ideal is not simple for the underlying culture and values has a large influence on measuring right from wrong or good from bad. In a society like Samoa where the giving of gifts is a natural event it is easy to view that gift giving to be a form of corruption.

The biblical worldview paints the ideal as a Garden of Eden which was destroyed by the arrival of evil through mankind’s choice. Corruption occurred essentially because mankind wanted something that was not his to take. Pride was the root cause of the fall.

So too with all manifestations of corruption thereafter, including Samoa in 2015.

Resistance to Reporting
Transparency International undertook a large worldwide survey analysing public opinion on corruption. In 2013, they interviewed 114,000 people in 107 countries. They found widespread outrage at corruption and a distinct lack of accountability, transparency and integrity in the conduct of the politicians, public officials and business leaders.

I guess this was and is no surprise, but there was a significant discrepancy between the perception that individuals can make a difference by reporting corruption and actual reporting practices. In Europe for example, three quarters of those who experienced corruption did not report it. This rate will be MUCH higher in Samoa.

The oppressed can’t or won’t speak up because . . .

1. Trust in the institutions appointed to deal with corruption is low. In Samoa there is good reason for this distrust as I report in the chapter about the Ombudsman;
2. Not everybody knows how to report corruption or what their rights are;
3. Protection for whistleblowers in a small country where everybody knows everyone else and there are no secrets, is unrealistic. Those in power can and do ‘get back’ at those who rock the boat so fears of retribution are realistic and based on historical precedent;
4. Proving it can be difficult when lies to protect family (or political) honour are socially acceptable; and
5. The desire not to betray anyone, especially if it has the potential to bring Samoa into bad light, is strong. This is especially the case when it is a foreigner (Palagi) involved.

Apathy abounds also because there is a widespread sentiment that those responsible will not be punished, protected by their leader(s), again a perception that has validity.

One of the strongest reasons for failure to report (or deal with) corruption though is that when greed and self-interest is rampant, i.e. the social norm, it is rare to find a person who can make a complaint without potentially exposing their own misconduct in the process. When virtually everybody does bribe, or use their contacts to achieve personal benefit, it’s just not the ‘done thing’ to dob others in for doing what all are doing . . . thus systemic corruption continues and the ones at the top of the pack continue to win.

Such is the nature of endemic corruption.

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