Corruption and how to address it was on the agenda for Members of Parliament who attended an integrity workshop at Taumeasina Island Resort yesterday.
Organised by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (U.N.D.O.C) and the UN Development Programme (U.N.D.P) under the ‘UN Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption’ (U.N.P.R.A.C) Project, the workshop for Members of Parliament was to introduce the UN Convention against Corruption (U.N.C.A.C), which Samoa has yet to ratify.
More than twenty Members of Parliaments including Associate Ministers were in attendance. Part of the workshop was led by Chair of Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (G.O.P.A.C) Oceania, John Hyde, focusing on ways to strengthen the integrity of Parliament and its members.
The discussion was stimulating
But it was the suggestion that Samoa become a member of G.O.P.A.C which is “free of charge” as opposed to the Inter Parliament Union (I.P.U) and Commonwealth Parliament Association (C.P.A) that led to some concerns from the M.Ps.
One of them was former Finance Minister and Member of Parliament for Palauli ile Falefa, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga. He pointed out that being a member of I.P.U and C.P.A requires Samoa to pay fees. Faumuina questioned Mr. Hyde if he was trying to lure “us to join free of charge.
“That is a conflict of interest, it’s corruption,” said Faumuina.
A former Member for Perth West Australian Parliament, Mr Hyde disagreed.
He told Faumuina that another way of looking at it is the I.P.U is using Samoan money that perhaps it doesn’t need.
“With G.O.P.AC there are no real costs involved,” insisted Mr. Hyde.
“So the cost of this meeting is being funded through investment by the United Nations. Other parliaments may have to pay for meetings when they are able to.”
But Faumuina was not satisfied. He pointed out that U.N. money is also taxpayers money from other countries.
“You mention something that you’d be touching on benefits for us to become members of G.O.P.A.C so it’s a conflict of interest,” he said.
But Mr. Hyde clarified that “you are not going to get money for being a G.O.P.A.C member.
“The benefits are your improvement in terms of knowledge base as a Member of Parliament. All these workshops you do whether it’s on population development on health, on finance it’s about increasing your knowledge.”
The G.O.P.A.C Oceania Chair explained that they are not trying to tell the M.Ps how to vote for anything.
“I’m not telling you what is right and wrong,” he said. “But it’s trying to increase your knowledge on integrity policy within government right to information, freedom of information, anti money laundering. There is no personal benefit.”
Faumuina also emphasised that in a small island like Samoa everyone is related and the context of corruption differs. He said whatever is discussed in Parliament it is for the benefit of all.
“Because Samoa is a family we cannot separate them from us,” said Faumuina.
“In that context of corruption – meaning we are not allowed to make laws in Parliament because we are all related. I understand Niue is even smaller with less than 20,000 people. How can you define corruption in the context of counter tradition and belief of Christianity?”
Again Mr. Hyde explained that although everyone is related but the issue isn’t that you are related to people that will benefit from a hospital for an example.
“The issue is transparency. If your brother in law is going to be the best road builder in Samoa so on merit he gets the contract to build a new airport. It’s about transparency.”
The M.P. for Urban West, Faumuina Wayne Fong suggested that what is defined as corruption should be categorised on different levels from low to extreme.
He said a different basket for different levels of corruption should be done instead of labeling everyone as being part of such corruption.
The M.P. for Vaisigano No. 1, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, wanted to know what the terms are for Samoa to join U.N.C.A.C.
Lopao’o questioned the consistency of methods presented with big economies.
“Look at the American election two days ago. Some $25million was donated by big companies to the campaign,” he said.
“They buy their own safety and I find it very insulting. It’s not healthy that big economies and countries are trying to sell this to us and yet they openly practice it.
“What’s going on here is not consistent with the methods you are trying to tell us to change our Constitution that will counter some of the elements that contradicts with our methods and agreements.”
Lopao’o said some of the biggest democratic countries in the world are openly practicing corruption. He did not name any of the countries.
In response, Mr. Hyde said it’s not about U.N.C.A.C trying to change the Constitution.
“It’s the good things that Samoa is doing already that are best practice within the UN Convention,” he said.
“The UN Convention doesn’t try to change the Constitution - it encourages you to look at what are the gaps in your country.
“What can we do better if we could oversee businesses taking money out of Samoa and hiding it overseas. The Convention makes it easier for you to get with the U.S government to get your Samoan money back.
“It’s not about changing and it’s not about ranking one country is less corrupt as the other, it’s looking at what are your values.
“Again this is first meeting with parliamentary on Integrity and you are going to have to decide because you make the laws.”
The workshop aimed to inform Parliamentarians on the requirements and good practices of anti-corruption implementation including the adoption of U.N.C.A.C, stimulate further strengthening of integrity in Samoa, consistent with U.N.C.A.C, explore the establishment of a G.O.P.A.C Chapter in Samoa and raise awareness of the assistance available to Samoa in implementing under the U.N.P.R.A.C project.