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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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. [Read more…]

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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. [Read more…]

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Corruption In Samoa – Introduction

I am asked by many of my visiting ‘Palagi’ guests whether Samoa is a corrupt country.

The answer is indeed, “Yes!” however there is much more to it than this simple acknowledgement.

Outsiders should consider two important factors before passing judgement.

1. Human nature is the same across the planet. There is no core difference between the underlying pride, racism, greed or selfishness in Samoa, New Zealand (the country of my birth), Nigeria or South Africa. People are people.

2. There are huge cultural differences between Samoa and the rest of the Western world and virtually everyone I know underestimates and fails to understand the significance of these differences. [Read more…]

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Corruption In Samoa – Preface

I first visited Samoa in early October 2009, immediately following the 29th September 2009 Tsunami.

My country of birth is New Zealand and my cultural norms are middle-class Caucasian with half-Maori children. I had a solid experience in business being self-employed most of my working life, moving through technical sales roles in the office equipment, computer hardware, software, and Internet. I was essentially a self-made and successful businessman.

Third-world living conditions such as I have experienced in Samoa were not totally foreign to me having spent much time living outdoors, however the cultural shock engaging with the [to the Western mind anyway] ‘corrupt’ ways of Samoa was very serious. [Read more…]

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Corruption in Samoa – Contents

Corruption in Samoa – Tuila’epa

Publication of my book Corruption in Samoa commences 1st June 2017, by daily installments running through the next 15 days. The Prime Minister of Samoa is and has been the only person who has read it up until very recently. I have held it back from publication deliberately. I did this for several reasons, but now is the time to get it ‘out there’. This post speaks directly to the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuila’epa by way of an Open Letter; preparing him for publication and explaining to others interested, the context in which it was written and is now being published.
[Read more…]

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