Baby steps but a start nonetheless

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

When it comes to the ongoing battle against corruption and wrongdoing, there is reason to be optimist today. 

Baby steps some might say but the story on the front page of the newspaper you are reading is a good start nonetheless. 

It’s about 40 youth and civil society representatives who are meeting in Apia this week to discuss ways to alleviate corruption from within our society.

The “Integrity Workshop” for Samoan Youth and the “Anti-Corruption Workshop” for Civil Society Organizations started yesterday.

According to a press release, they are being undertaken as a joint initiative of two United Nations agencies in partnership with the Samoan National Youth Council (S.N.Y.C) and the Samoan Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisations (S.U.N.G.O). They are to provide participants with an opportunity to see how anti-corruption can be addressed in Samoa, consistent with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (U.N.C.A.C). 

What we find exciting is the involvement of young people in such an important discussion. As future leaders of this country, this is a vital step towards building them up for what is ahead.

 Now when it comes to corruption and its impact on people, we believe it stifles development and breeds poverty. 

Are we seeing these things in Samoa today? Do you think it’s happening in paradise?

Our answer is yes. On 19 August 2015, we penned our thoughts about the issue under an editorial titled “Of human rights, Samoa and corruption.” The piece talked about the connection between human rights, the abuse of power and the growing number of children begging on the streets of Samoa.

We congratulate the organisers of the two workshops being held in Apia this week for the initiative. And we are sharing this piece with you as food for thought. 

 

“Of human rights, 

Samoa and corruption”

“Maiava Iulai Toma, and his team at the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Institution (N.H.R.I) ought to be congratulated.

Maiava and his team accomplished a first for Samoa when the inaugural State of Human Rights Report for Samoa was officially launched during a gathering at the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A) grounds.

Without a doubt, it’s an awesome accomplishment, especially given that the information is vital to our people. 

The report was launched by Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who not only congratulated Maiava and his team, he also called for the formation of a Parliamentary Committee to follow up on the report’s recommendations. 

Now that’s a great start, isn’t it? What’s the point of having another comprehensive report sitting there gathering dust when it could be used to make a real tangible difference in the lives of our people? 

According to Ombudsman Maiava, it is absolutely essential that our human rights are protected. Said he: “Human rights are not merely foreign ideals as many wish to see them, but they have roots within Samoan culture also.

“A take home point from this Report is that the weaving together of Fa’asamoa and human rights principles will make a stronger and more harmonious society. In that way, this Report truly is “for Samoa, by Samoa.”

Well we couldn’t agree more. Human rights after all protect individuals, communities and entire countries. In the famous words of Kofi Annan, human rights are rights that any person has as a human being. Indeed, we are all human beings and we are all deserving of human rights. 

After a quick glance through the report, it must be said that the scope of the investigation is impressive. From dealing with vulnerable members of the population such as women, children, people with disabilities, prisoners to delving into issues such as community health, sanitation, climate change, religion, mental health, freedom of speech and more, it is a comprehensive study of human rights issues in Samoa. It is a report that must be made readily available for anyone and everyone. 

It must be read by everyone, the Head of State, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of the Judiciary, Church leaders, Pulenuu, the matai leadership of the different villages, the women leadership of different villages, fathers, mothers and the children of Samoa.

 The report is that important that it cannot be ignored. Over the next couple of weeks, the Samoa Observer will certainly make an effort to ensure that the report is published on the pages of your newspaper and made available as widely as possible.

In the meantime, a quick glance through the report reveals that the bulk of it focuses on the human rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and prisoners. 

“It was clear from the research and outreach the NHRI conducted that these groups are most likely to need increased protections regarding their basic human rights,” Maiava said. “Women, an issue close to all our hearts was also at the heart of our report. 

“Women and girls represent almost half of Samoa’s population.  They are often responsible for the care of our children, of the sick, and of elderly relatives.  In every family and community women facilitate practicality, peace and harmony. 

“As such, it is incredible to regard them as anything less than equal and deserving of support, respect and protection.”

Another alarming issue is the high levels of violence against women.

“The Samoa Family Health and Safety Study found almost half the women surveyed have experienced physical, emotional and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner,” Maiava said. “The lack of information and statistical data regarding the high prevalence of violence against women should be addressed to help understand and prevent domestic violence. Further, the culture of indifference to violence towards women that prevails in Samoan communities must be dismantled to maintain the pedestal Fa’asamoa places women upon.”

The issue was certainly not lost on Prime Minister Tuilaepa when he launched the report. Said Tuilaepa: “In a society which holds such strong community and family values, it is not acceptable that we continue to see women and children physically and sexually abused, often at the hands of their loved ones; that children, Samoa’s future and the guardians of family legacies, continue to labour in the streets; and that persons with disabilities are still denied equal participation in many areas of society.”

The Prime Minister is correct. After all, women and children are the future of Samoa.

“In Samoa, nearly half of the population is aged 19 and under, meaning children and youth represent a significant interest group in our society. 

“Children deserve to be nurtured, educated and protected—this is the collective responsibility of families and communities but unfortunately, this is not always the case.”  

Which brings us to the question of street vendors, which is also addressed in the report. Referring to it as a very sad issue, Maiava makes the point of calling on the government to take the lead in addressing it.

“When children are unable to participate in schooling because they are forced to sell goods they are unable to improve their future prospects and the cycle of poverty continues,” Maiava said. 

“Further, this places a significant emotional and mental burden upon children. Unless we deal with the broader issue of poverty and families are empowered to choose education over exploitative labour, this issue will continue. 

“Government, as in most things, must take the lead here. The citizenry, however, must also assume reasonable responsibility in the search for solutions to our problems.”

So what are some of the possible solutions?

“Samoa needs to exploit special advantages it is blessed with. One such blessing is the fact that there is no such thing or burden as “the landless masses” in Samoa. 

“Every Samoan can claim land somewhere in Samoa on which he can erect a home and cultivate for personal support. It just so happens that for most of us, such land is not in the town area where some of us choose to live in crammed conditions in the full knowledge that we will never get a job there to support our families. We need to seriously question the choices we make in this regard.”

Again, well said Maiava. 

We could not agree more.

Perhaps if there was one wish we have that the report writers could have delved into is the impact of corruption and collusion in the part of public servants on the lives of our people.

For example, how are people’s rights trampled upon by the failure of our leaders to stamp out and take action against individuals found to have colluded to defraud members of the public of their hard-earned taxpayers money?

Is there not a connection between undealt with corruption and poverty that the report has identified? Do people have a right to know what is being done about officials who abuse power and taxpayers money? 

Do people have a right to justice when it comes to corruption at the highest level? 

And does the government have a right or a license to continue to abuse and get away with it? These are important questions. Someone, somewhere has got to answer them. 

But then don’t hold you breath.”  

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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