CIS – Individuals

Chapter 11.

In the five years I have lived in Samoa, I’ve had extensive interaction with many individuals from across both islands, and from government to businesses, village leaders to the untitled.

Corruption is the norm in day-to-day living as well as in politics and power. [Read more…]

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CIS – Fourth Estate – Samoa Observer

Chapter 10.

The Samoa Observer is the primary daily Samoan newspaper. Established some 40 years ago and run by a Samoan businessman (Savea Sano Malifa1) it claims a long track-record in taking on the Government of the day and standing up for the little guy.

This claim is true to some extent and it can be rightly viewed as a mix between a newspaper, a tabloid and a Fourth Estate watchdog in many respects. Their tendency to rush to press with one-sided stories and shallow investigative work is balanced with long-term tenacity on some important matters of exposing corruption.

In the last decade or so, as the owner has aged, and personalities have clashed between him and the current Prime Minister, quality of thought has mainly come from other editors who can have some good points at times but are rarely able to drill down into the real root cause of Samoa’s ills. While a challenge to speak words of wisdom daily as an editor of a newspaper, their response to corruption tends towards bleating and tut-tutting.

The owner of Samoa Observer is widely viewed as a crook2 as multiple people I have spoken to have recounted not getting a fair deal or simply not getting paid from him. I’ve detailed his foolishness in previous commentary and blogging but he’s a proud businessman driven by money, making it and protecting it. His number one concern is clearly to make money and to not get sued in the process.

His staff fear him and submit, for obvious reasons.

The paper does take up the stories of the small guy hard done-by on occasion but these stories are quite often shallow, one-sided and are countered in due course by official denials and cover-ups.

The Samoan government led by Prime Minister Tuila’epa appear to tolerate the paper and their stories but certainly do not respect them. I’ve noticed some good strikes from the paper in the five years that I have been here but the many more losses than successes indicate a gross inefficiency in terms of dealing with Corruption in Samoa meaningfully. They are a voice, but little more than that.

I would counsel people on the end of Corruption to seek Samoa Observer’s support in leveraging their exposure but wouldn’t hold my breath on any meaningful change.

Savea Sano Malifa – Fooled by Gossip3

The background

I came to Samoa from New Zealand in September 2009 and immigrated in February 2010.

I’ve blogged extensively about the Samoan culture, particularly in the context of the Christian world-view. This is my interest and I guess you could say it is a passion of mine.

My third book, A little Slice of Paradise is currently pending publication and talks a lot about the Samoan culture alongside the factual events of my first few years in Paradise.

I approached Savea on the 5th October 2012 (more than three years after I first came to Samoa), introduced myself, chatted a while with him in his office and told him that I would be interested in writing a column “Palagi Perspectives”, and shared a little of the planned subjects.

We agreed to a deal – I would write 300-600 words weekly (as long as it “made people think and didn’t get him sued”) and he’d run one daily classified advertisement for me, which was a roughly agreed equivalent value. I summarised this conversation and our agreement by email to Savea that same afternoon. He instructed his staff accordingly.
I blogged about the new challenge at the time4.

I delivered, on time as promised and Samoa Observer published the columns for several months.

Samoa Observer though didn’t deliver the advertisements as agreed. Despite several calls over those months, and follow-up visits, Samoa Observer dropped the ball badly. They didn’t or wouldn’t reconcile my account, although the Editor did recognise that they “should honour any deal they agreed to”.

Savea got news from his Editor that I had suggested that to rectify historical matters, he should just pay me for the missing adverts and start the adverts running properly, then he fired me off an email that contained a little bit of flowery language, basically telling me to F*** off!

Great eh?

Corruption, greed, foolishness and arrogance from the Fourth Estate!

You can read the entire sorry details of this saga online, if you’re interested, with the actual communications and my commentary. It’s quite sad to see the ugly pride of an old Samoan man, one who could be resting on his laurels with a lifetime of service to his country and the industry he worked in for decades, yet just shown up for being another greedy racist Samoan lacking in integrity the same as many others.

But that’s corruption in Samoa outworked yet again, for you!

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Chapter 9.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Tsunami, a plague of Non-Governmental Organisations descended upon Samoa. While much good was done, I observed the ‘business of NGO’s’ first-hand, and I became aware of patterns of corruption. [Read more…]

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CIS – Religion

Chapter 8.

The Church in Samoa has been the target of sustained complaints and criticisms going back centuries. Political leaders are quick to repeat the marketing meme that Samoa is Founded Upon God. This is a piece of corporate arrogance if ever there was and a technical impossibility at the same time, for Christianity is always a personal matter, a relationship between an individual and his Creator through Jesus. Corporate Christianity is an impossibility and a [deliberate] deception. [Read more…]

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CIS – Local Government (Matai System)

Chapter 7.

The Matai system of Samoan local government is a traditional one sitting uncomfortably underneath the new Western-style government with three branches, the Judiciary (the judges), the Executive (Head of State,Prime Minister & Co) and the Legislative Assembly (Parliament). [Read more…]

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CIS – The Prime Minister

Chapter 6.

e) The Prime Minister

Many from outside of Samoa want to know about the Samoan Prime Minister Tuila’epa and how corrupt he is or if indeed he is. Post-tsunami reporting by New Zealand TV Journalist John Campbell questioned the missing millions of donations and this raised the awareness of the topic in New Zealand particularly.

Many believe that substantial money was misappropriated. Regardless of the facts for or against misappropriation, Tuila’epa’s handling of the whole matter was a total PR disaster for Samoa. Tuila’epa’s unusual responses to the threat by a high profile overseas reporter, while logical and natural in his Samoan political scene, simply fuelled the fires of doubt offshore and it is now widely believed that the PM is ‘as crooked as the rest’. [Read more…]

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CIS – Ombudsman of Samoa

Chapter 6.

d) Ombudsman of Samoa

I now come to the saddest and most poignant examples of Corruption in this book – the conduct of the Ombudsman of Samoa.

Following my attempted arrest on false charges, which I was fortunately able to deal with constructively after receiving some assistance from a senior politician who could see what was really happening, I laid a complaint with the Police Standards Unit.

My complaint to the PSU was buried as was my complaint to the Ombudsman. Two years and almost fifty phone calls, emails and meetings later with the Ombudsman’s Office, I approached the Attorney General and raised my concerns. His advice was to meet with the Ombudsman personally and just sit down and discuss the matters.

Pigs will fly!

The Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma1, actively sought to avoid meeting me then palmed the entire matter off to the very person I was complaining about with an incredible letter of contempt, essentially saying, “Too bad! Get over it!”

In this letter the Ombudsman of Samoa admits that his office did not conduct an investigation into my complaint, instead arranged a meeting with the Police (whom again was the very people I was complaining about!) and then refused to meet with me when his own office dropped the ball.

His Office “[took] a step which is not our standard practice”. Not only was an investigation not even started, two years after the event it is then twisted around presented as something good, constructive and helpful – too bad for dozens of attempts to get the Ombudsman’s office to actually DO an investigation.

It’s all so incredible!

It is my opinion that a Palagi in Samoa can never expect a level playing field, and that the Ombudsman is no different to the majority of Samoans – resistant to criticism from ‘outsiders’.

This form of Corruption, which is at its core is simply racism, runs rampant in Samoa. We may joke about the “Palagi price” where a local price will accidentally double when a white man arrives but when it runs through to the top of the very organisation entrusted with ensuring due process, there is a very serious problem.

The Ombudsman’s office ran a competition to develop a new logo. I entered a design and they acknowledged receipt of the entry. Then nothing. No notice or further communications. No thanks, just, “Palagi go home!” You get used to it here – just racism again!

An Australian Human Rights lawyer spent a couple of years on a voluntary programme establishing the Human Rights programme under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s office. She was an intelligent experienced lawyer and I chatted to her in her first month or two of working here. I saw a person passionate believer in her cause. I predicted serious difficulties for her establishing anything that resembled her ideals. She completed her time up here and while I didn’t confirm this, I’m certain that she would have gone away highly disillusioned with the whole process. The reason is that the Ombudsman and his office, as with all Samoan bureaucrats, are primarily interested in keeping the status quo, ticking the boxes on United Nations conditionalities but their heart is in a totally different place from that presented to the public.

While I am fully aware that the Ombudsman is well respected in the Samoan community, there is another side to the man, something Samoans as a rule resist accepting. It is that when an outsider dares to complain, or find fault that would bring shame on the country, there is an ungodly corruption that occurs in defence and so-called good people, ‘sprout horns’.

It’s a repeating story – one that a Palagi knows all too well, but one that is ignored, defended and deliberately hidden. Racism, as exemplified by the man charged with enforcing human rights2 within Samoa is the ‘elephant in the room’, and is very much alive and well in Paradise.

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CIS – Samoa Police

c) Samoan Police

My first experiences with the Samoan Police were not entirely enjoyable. Three officers lied to me and tricked me into believing that they would do something different from their stated intentions. I hated them for their deceit and myself also for getting sucked into their deception.

I know that they drove away thinking that they were smart to have conned a Palagi. They certainly did and they got away with it too because in those days I trusted and didn’t record names and take photos.

I do now. [Read more…]

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CIS – Samoa Land Corporation

Chapter 6.

b) Samoa Land Corporation

Another government department that I am very familiar with is the Samoa Land Corporation. [Read more…]

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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 . . .

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