The elections in Samoa

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Dear Editor,

 

With an election coming up, it’s quite proper to ask whether the government is doing a good job. The answer is “the public don’t really know”. 

There’s anecdotal evidence of course, ranging from flash new buildings to child vendors in the streets but no complete set of audited accounts, from which an accurate picture of how well the government is managing public affairs, have been released for years. 

It stands to reason therefore that we won’t know how well the country is being managed today until well into the next term. Then if any irregularities are exposed the government just says ‘oh that was years ago let’s focus on the future instead of that old stuff.’

Samoa may be short of many natural and human resources but talented accountants are not one of them. I’m sure the information is being prepared but for some reason it’s not being released in a timely manner. 

In fact other than those organisations with international reporting requirements it’s very hard to find any current financial information on how the Samoan government is performing. 

For a democracy this level of financial secrecy is unprecedented to the extent that the ‘Pacific Guardians’ website reports ‘Samoa: Ranked No 1 as the world’s most secretive tax haven’ and it goes on to say that the only reason it hasn’t come under more international scrutiny is because of S.I.F.A’s relatively small volume of transactions.

The government has an excellent website www.palemene.ws which lists the Annual Reports of government Ministries and Commissions. Some Ministries are conspicuously missing (Agriculture and Fisheries) some have broken links (Justice and Courts Administration) and some contain no financial information (Office of the Ombudsman). 

These reports can perhaps be found elsewhere but in a transparent government it’s not the public’s job to search for needles in a haystack. 

Of the 40 Ministries and Commissions listed that contained working links and financial information, only 5 (12.5%) have published Annual Reports for the prior financial year (2014-15).  

Of the rest, there are 23 (57.5%) that have nothing more recent than 2013-14 while 12 (30%) have released nothing since 2012-13. Of the financial reports listed, most do not contain an Audit Letter nor do they comply with International Financial Reporting Standards (I.F.R.S) or even the less onerous Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (G.A.A.P). 

There are exceptions of course, the Ports Authority for example have provided an excellent set of financials but this is offset by organisations like the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture which in 2013-14 had income of $6m and expenditure of $49m but provides scant insight as to where the extra cash came from. 

Using such old information to judge whether the government is doing a good job and should be elected for another term is like driving down the road while looking only in the rear vision mirror. 

It’s like placing a bet on your rugby team for the next game when there’s been no score kept of previous games. Over the past five years there have been a few outstanding plays from the likes of left winger Papali’i Niko Lee Hang but in general the team looks tired and in need of new legs. 

The captain, once a rock, full of drive and enthusiasm is running out of ideas and now just plays the man instead of the ball. There’s probably enough weight and momentum in the team for it to cross the line this time but if there’s a huge shift away from the HRPP it will be because of their inaction in dealing with corruption.

It would be understandable for the matter of ‘corrupt practices’ to be ignored if it were still talked about in hushed tones where rumour and fact are inseparable. But that’s not the case anymore. It’s been served up on a silver platter by the Chief Auditor, found to contain substance by a Parliamentary Review Committee and shouted from the rooftops by the Observer! The only certainty with corruption is that the longer it burns the more it spreads. But this wildfire can only burn if it gets oxygen from above so it will only stop if those at the top want it to stop.

When discussing the upcoming election at home my kids say ‘Samoans just like to complain and do nothing about it’. They may have a point because it seems that we haven’t really embraced democracy and the power of the individual and unless this happens people will indeed ‘get the government they deserve.’ 

But with age comes wisdom and I believe that the spirit of the Mau is still alive but over generations the people have been subtly manipulated by the government and church and have become so disempowered that they don’t appreciate the power of ‘one man one vote’. 

What happens in the privacy of the polling booth is between no one but the voter and their own conscience and for that one moment they have the same power as the Prime Minister in determining their family’s future. 

No matter who they were told to vote for it’s only God that knows whether they voted with their hearts or for 30 pieces of silver. 

In time I believe that the people of Samoa will understand this in which case hope comes from a quote by Margaret Mead who said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ 

 

Pika T

 

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