Early this week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, made what sounded like a pretty charming pledge he obviously knew everyone would want to hear.
It was in connection with that evil called government-spawned-and-nurtured corruption that everyone has been protesting loudly about, over the years.
And now that it’s got to the point where he’s just sick to death of hearing it everywhere he goes, this time he’s made up his mind he’d put an end to this madness once and for all.
Besides, now that he’s obviously made his mark indelibly clear in his country having been its Prime Minister for sixteen years, wouldn’t this be the right time also for lousy corruption to be eliminated completely from Samoa’s public service?
And then the United Nations Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption (U.N.-P.R.A.C.) Project turned up last week with the idea of helping to achieve just that, and today Tuilaepa is delighted.
Tasked with the job of organizing an Integrity Workshop for Senior Government Officials from around the Pacific, they were directed to:
“(Improve) the understanding of participants about the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, overviewing the existing integrity mechanisms and also stimulating the adoption of measures aimed at delivering public services more efficiently.”
The story is that Samoa’s Public Service Commission and “more than 30 senior government officials” from the Samoa government, took part in the workshop.
And then the time for Tuilaepa to speak came, and like it’s always been at a time like this one, he was in his element. He spoke in Samoan and his prepared statement was in English. The English version was delivered to this newspaper.
In the English version, he wrote: “Each and every Samoan has every right to expect their elected leaders and public servants to remain ethical and honest, in return for paying their taxes.
“They place their trust on you as the public sector to make the right decisions that will not in any way harm their livelihoods.”
He went on to urge public servants to place emphasis on their responsibility to achieve an “honest, ethical and trustworthy public sector,” adding that “there is nothing more valuable than the principles of honesty and integrity.”
Tuilaepa also reminded that “the price of dishonest and unethical behavior is paid (for) by the average citizen. Because every cent you misuse and misappropriate contributes to a bigger problem, which ultimately affects the life of the ordinary person.”
He added: “Less money trickles down to the village school that is in need of more books or teachers; or to our public hospital that needs more doctors and resources; or to improve the quality of our roads, particularly for the rural communities.”
He’s absolutely right. But then why didn’t he insist to the public servants over the last sixteen years that they were duty-bound to do all these things?
Indeed, why was it that such caring and compassionate advice had not been properly acted upon when all that time many out there in the villages were groveling in abysmal poverty and hardship, as a result of government abrasive corruption?
What’s so sad about all this though is that it now looks as if the past is repeating itself.
Around that time when Tuilaepa spoke before a gathering of visiting regional ministers right here in Apia, he gave a startling performance so that everyone in the audience was visibly impressed.
In his address, he made it quite clear that whatever administration he would be involved in would be guided by “accountability, transparency and good governance.”
And with that pledge he won everyone’s support; in fact, he had in a jiff become his guests’ idol and their champion.
Along the way though, with Tuilaepa now holding the position of prime minister, something apparently went wrong somewhere, and Tuilaepa reneged on his promise.
As a result, realizing that there was really nothing he could do, he decided right there to just abandon “accountability, transparency and good governance”, once and for all.
Anyway everyone knew what went wrong, but then by that time corruption had become so alluringly widespread, it was impossible for even Tuilaepa to keep it under control.
It other words, it was allowed to run wild and as it turned out, only the most resourceful in the government then – there were just a handful of them at the time and everyone knew who they were anyway - actually benefitted handsomely from corruption.
That reminds about the former Tautua Samoa Party’s Shadow Minister of Finance, Afualo Dr. Wood Salele who at that point, recommended that perhaps the government should set up an Anti-Corruption Tribunal.
He said this tribunal would look into instances of alleged corruption once they were identified, such as the ones that had been reported by the Controller and Auditor General at the time, and backed up by the Officers of Parliament Committee.
Incidentally, the “instances of alleged corruption” discussed here, were attributed to certain senior government public servants.
Said Afualo: “No one is above the law including the Prime Minister and all of us. If we break the law we will have to make sure that justice will be served.
“But that cannot be fulfilled unless we have the Anti Corruption Tribunal.”
He also said: “I know Tuilaepa has been saying that we have the Ombudsman and of course we know that.
“But we have seen a lot of cases now where people are not satisfied with the mandate of the office, so we really need to make sure that what they do will be fulfilled.”
He added: “But what we are really after is to make sure that there is justice, and that would be the responsibility of this Tribunal.
“They will refer everything to the National Prosecution Office.”
Afualo said the way he saw it, “the government has been unable to address issues of corruption and abuse of power over the years.
“We all know that there is so much corruption in the government,” he said, and he then spelt out that the solution would be “the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Tribunal.”
Obviously his advice was frowned upon, shunned, and then dismissed on the spot, and now that Afualo is no longer in Parliament, his dissenting voice is sorely missed.
Still, if he had even just a tiny influence on Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s decision to now focus on reviving “accountability, transparency and good governance” in his government, with the idea of ridding the public service of corruption once and for all, then that is enough.
But then on the other hand, who cares anymore. Because the way we see it, by the time Tuilaepa will have got everything under control, including rearranging this country’s Constitution with the idea of renaming it Christian Samoa, it will still be too late.
In other words, any radical change of this nature is not going to make a speck of a difference with the way home-grown corruption, is planning to turn this country into the ISIS of the South Pacific.
ISIS of the South Pacific?
Now that would be a wonderful name for a small country such as ours, and we have no doubt Tuilaepa would readily agree; he may even love it to tatters for all we know.
Sure, he would even love the idea that there would be no need to worry any more about such things as “accountability, transparency and good governance”, or even lousy corruption for crying out loud.
Since by that time, all those things that had been keeping Christian Samoa a happy and free country would have been thrown away, after it had been christened as ISIS of the South Pacific.
Now Tuilaepa should love that too. Since all that he has to do now is tell the United Nations to forget about funding such things as Conventions Against Corruption, but instead teach us how to fight wars since we are now heading towards becoming the ISIS of the South Pacific.
We wonder how he’d take that one though? It would be wonderful really to know.
Anyway, in the wake of all these wonderfully controversial issues that have been bombarding us relentlessly over recent weeks, we received a letter to the editor, signed by “Ola Fia”.
Slightly edited and published in the Samoa Observer on 5 May 2016, it said:
Now is Stui talking about a new legislation that will reflect our Christian living, cultural practices, and modern day disciplinary measures?
Have our Christian values and our Churches becoming a corrupted business machine?
Are the pastors and the churches caring only about their pocket books, about keeping themselves wealthy while the members of the churches are croaking in poverty?
Do you think this is the time for the churches to step in and help?
When the leader changes the system, what do you expect from everyone else? Modern day disciplinary measures are meant to follow the laws, are you following the law Stui and your Cabinet?
When you break the law, we have a justice system to follow. Unfortunately, for us in Samoa, there are separate laws for Stui and his cronies, and different ones for us the public.
For example, a worker went to prison for stealing $50 tala, but a Cabinet Minister did not go to prison for corruption, that cost millions of tala.
The problem we’re facing here is more than school fighting; it’s a part of the social problems that Stui and his govt. have been doing nothing to address.
When students don’t have hope for a future, no employment for younger generations, hardship, cost of living, a lot more, they fight.
Now do we eat all those fancy multi-story buildings in town? Don’t think so.
My suggestion is to stop corruption and stop wasting our public money, but improve our social and economic way of life, and I can tell you a better country and its citizens, is the result.
Good luck to Stui and his govt. Now solve those problems.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.