It’s our country, we all have a role to play

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The writer was invited by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) and the U.N. Pacific Regional Anti Corruption (U.N.P.R.A.C.) to address a two-day meeting about Corruption at Hotel Millenia yesterday. He was asked to talk about “The role of the media in raising awareness to prevent corruption.”  This is what he said:

Talofa lava and good morning! I want to say thank you very much to the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Tuu’u Dr. Ieti Taulealo, U.N.P.R.A.C. and the U.N.D.P. for inviting me to speak today. I am deeply honoured.

Today I’ve been asked to say a few words about the “Role of the media in raising awareness to prevent corruption” and to “promote integrity” among the participants of today’s workshop, whom are senior government officials.

At the start, I want to say that when it comes to corruption and its impact on people, we believe it stifles development and breeds hardship and poverty.

There is no doubt about that. 

At the Samoa Observer, we believe there is an undeniable link between acts of wrongdoing in the public and private sector that go unpunished and the growing number of poor people in Samoa – or any other country for that matter. 

That’s because every time public funds are misused and unaccounted for, the chance for a boy or girl getting an education, a mother or a grandmother to receive better health care, is flatly denied. 

There is widely available evidence cautioning us that corruption grows if it is not contained.

That’s to say that once a pattern of wrongdoing becomes institutionalised and legitimised; there is nothing to stop corrupt officials from inflicting more harm – pinching more money from you and me, the silent submissive taxpayers. This is the curse of corruption as we know. 

Corruption though is not new. And it is not confined to public servants.

It was around before we were born and it has been with us since. To be truthful with you, I am unsure whether it can be prevented at all given mankind’s yearning to keep abreast with the changing world that involves material wealth, positions, power and money – lots of it.

In the media, our job is to provide a forum for public debate, which function is to inform, educate, and entertain. But our most important function – and one that I feel is particularly relevant to this gathering today – is our role as a watchdog of the government. 

In circles of democracy, we are referred to as the Fourth estate.

We exist as ears and eyes of members of the public to report objectively and accurately, ask the hard questions and not be intimidated in an effort to determine whether our leaders keep to their promises to be transparent, accountable and govern in accordance to the principles of good governance.

Indeed, the media plays a critical role in promoting good governance and controlling corruption. Well-researched media stories, commentaries and analysis not only raise public awareness about corruption; it puts corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched.

In some cases, such coverage have led to key decisions – including Court cases, resignations and changes to legislations – for the better.

But the impact of the media’s role goes further.

Reporting, for example, may prompt public bodies to launch formal investigations into allegations of corruption - in the private and public sector. 

Furthermore, news accounts that disseminate the findings of public anti-corruption bodies – such as the Controller and Chief Auditor’s Office, the Officers of Parliament Committee, Ombudsman and others - thus reinforcing the legitimacy of these bodies and reducing the ease with which interested parties who hold power can meddle in their work.

Conversely, when journalism exposes flaws and even corruption within the various bodies of the state (the courts, police and anti-corruption task forces) corruption is put on check. 

The resulting public pressure leads to a reform of those bodies, the long-term effectiveness and potential of the media to act as a counterweight against corruption is strengthened.

The problem with some leaders, we’ve found is that sometime after they have been in office – especially if they have been in office for too long - they tend to forget the promises they had made. 

So that even though the private media has been religiously directing the spotlight on those issues over the years, they are still being virtually ignored.

We’ve said this before and we will say it again, the Samoa Observer is now nearly 40 years old, and in all that time, we thought we had played quite an aggressive role in putting the spotlight on corruption, with the idea of eliminating it once and for all. 

And yet today, despite everything, corruption is still here, still staring us in the face. It simply refuses to go away. Sometimes in our efforts to highlight corruption, it feels like we are banging our heads against the wall.

It’s a lonely path. What scares us is that when we find ourselves at the crossroads, when our minds doubt us, we wonder whether that silence can be interpreted to mean that perhaps our people have succumbed to the thought that this is a corrupt world and there is no other way. 

That truly sends shivers down the spine. 

So what do we do? 

Where do we go from here?

Is there hope?

Of course there is hope. 

And it begins with you who are sitting in this room today. The idea that the government of Samoa is taking a proactive role to prevent corruption and promote integrity in the performance of its officers at all levels can only be encouraging. It might be baby steps but they are positive steps nonetheless. 

At this point, I wish to draw your attention to the words of our Prime Minister Tuilaepa when he opened this meeting yesterday.

“Integrity takes courage,” he said. “It’s commitment to doing what is right, no matter how difficult and challenging.

“Our principles of good governance depend on our integrity and being transparent and accountable is an important part of our public service.”

Wonderful words but they are not enough. 

They will remain just words if we do not make a commitment to see it in action. Courage is an action word. It requires you to be proactive and raise the alarm when you see and smell wrongdoing.

This morning, I want to encourage all of you to stand up and make a habitual contribution to the effort to prevent corruption and promote the principles, values and integrity in this country. 

We all have a role to play. Speaking of roles, it must be said that the effectiveness of the media depends upon access to quality and accurate information upon which we can base our work. 

When we talk about dealing with corruption, sources are our lifeline. Without sources and informers, journalists and the media will struggle.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you see wrongdoing and corruption wherever you are, don’t be afraid. Speak up and do your part. We are only an email, a phone call or maybe a coffee away. Soifua.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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