Corruption In Samoa – Prologue

In August 2009 Taito Philip Field (a Samoan Member of Parliament in New Zealand) was imprisoned following the first-ever conviction of bribery and corruption of an MP in New Zealand. It was his corrupt conduct though that was indicative of conduct within Samoa. Back home, his corrupt activities (found illegal in NZ) simply wouldn’t have caused more than a murmur in a few of his detractors’ villages.

The difference between Samoa and many others is that Samoan corruption is blatant, the norm and unsophisticated, whereas in other countries it tends to be a lot more sophisticated. People in the West generally use legal and other systems to achieve personal benefit. Such efforts (that require serious thought and solid planning) are not the norm in the simple little South Pacific Island nation of Samoa.

Samoa is the cradle of the Polynesian Pacific and the culture is highly resistant to change. I quip by way of explanation that anyone who has any ‘get up and go’ has ‘got up and gone’! This has applied for centuries as can be seen by the more elegant, intricate, detailed and developed arts, crafts, foods, construction techniques, and even values in the other Polynesian cultures that have originally come from Samoa.

The plethora of talented, capable artists, sportspeople, businessmen and women, and many top Samoan achievers is not matched in the home islands. Many here are the ‘black sheep’ of the family who have been sent back by their family to guard and protect family land. Some are repatriated for criminal activity.

There is also a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in Samoa. This ‘rich getting richer’ trend is likely to continue. The elite have it pretty good here and are not likely to alter that reality!

The Samoan Matai system has been at the centre of the Samoan culture as long as can be known. A Chief will rule his family and a council of chiefs will rule a village.

This style of local government has ramifications in many areas but the concept of using power for the benefit of a family or a village was always seen as ‘good’. Military power and political power determined who had the most/best lands and this was just the way it had always been. This physical power was replaced with political/monetary power as the Westerners increased their influence from the mid 1800s and it was cemented in 1962 with Western Samoa’s independence.

Adopting primarily New Zealand laws, modern Samoa launched into the Westminster system of government with three branches, the judiciary, the legislative and executive. Underneath this sat (and still sits) a cesspit of Samoan cultural intrigue that is largely threatened by and resistant to this superimposed system.

A perfect example of this tension that exists between the historical cultural ways and the Western-style values is the bribery and corruption at election times. The village Mayors are paid by the government which causes tension in itself as they have an important role in the voting process. The politicians are obliged to ‘buy’ votes under cultural gift-giving and favour systems. The Western-style politics is much more suited to the sophistication of lawyers, businessmen, bankers and politicians than Samoans who by-and-large simply want to be told what to do and what to think (therefore who to vote for) by their Matai who then expects a financial reward for doing so.

The same challenges arise in the religious sphere as well. As far as I have been able to tell, prior to the arrival of the Missionaries, Samoans had a simple, easy-go-lucky pragmatic approach to life, living and death. Things just happened and they lived, and died accepting their lot from day-to-day. When Samoa’s leaders accepted Christianity, the entire nation accepted the new religion as simply as they accepted the fact that their leader had won or lost a war. It just happened.

Churches sprung up all over the country, girls started covering up, the ‘Sunday whites’ became a focus, attendance at church weekly (and more) became the norm and the new ‘business of God’ blossomed.

From what I can determine the Western-style of worship met favour, and the people enjoyed being able to call themselves, “Samoans, a country founded upon God”.

It is too simplistic to say that either the entire nation converted ‘for real’ or that the people all simply adopted the outward manifestations of faith and nothing changed. Most likely there were many genuine conversions but almost two centuries later though, it’s very hard to identify meaningful personal Christian faith in Samoa. Oh sure, everybody prays to Jesus and believes in the Lord God, but any investigation or digging stops right there with a resounding thud! Patterned responses and meaningless dialogue often results when engaging in meaningful Christian dialogue.

Corruption – of politics and religion is the norm, so much so that Samoa is widely viewed as a society of ‘Sunday Christians’ by those in the know.

In the first Chapter here, I discuss the nature of corruption per se, explaining where it comes from, what it is and how it manifests.

I then move through the book into specific areas of society, detailing examples and descriptions.

I conclude with warnings and advice. Yes it is possible to remove corruption!

Enjoy . . .






Dennis A. Smith
1 June 2015

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