Corruption hurts the poor and the most vulnerable members of society.
For Samoa though, defining corruption and finding ways to alleviate it is the subject of two workshops being held in Apia this week.
They were officially opened at Hotel Millennia yesterday.
The “Integrity Workshop” for Samoan Youth and the “Anti-Corruption Workshop” for Civil Society Organizations 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).
The workshops 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).
Annika Wythes, an Anti-Corruption Advisor-Pacific for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (U.N.D.O.C) said informing the public about what corruption is and its impact is a good way to start addressing the issue.
“Corruption is not just a global issue,” she said. “Every country is facing the same issue, and different countries have their own definition of corruption.”
One of the challenges is finding a description of corruption that fits.
“People have described it as the abuse of power and authority for personal benefits and gains,” she said. “But the definition varies from country to country. Even the UN Convention does not have a specific definition for corruption. Corruption is subjective and it is evolving.”
Corruption is a global phenomenon and it links to poverty.
“This is because it has huge effects on any country’s development,” she said. “There is clear evidence that shows how corruption undermines development and sustains poverty. It inhibits economic growth, drives political instability and impacts the delivery of services and undermines good governance and the rule of law.”
Moreover, the exploitation of natural resources is another act of corruption.
But corruption is not just confined to government and big organisations.
“It can be from petty corruption. For instance, you can be stopped by a policeman and then you perform an act of bribery to avoid going to Court or it could be serious deep-rooted corruption.
“Corruption can be found in the private sector, it can be in the public sector. It can be in community, churches, and N.G.O’s.”
Corruption though is not a new issue, she added.
“I think it has existed in the past and it exists in our societies now,” she said. “But I think we have gotten to the stage where the topic of corruption is no longer a taboo. We can talk about it and we can start going after it.”
She believes that ‘Raising Awareness’ is the key to finding and ending corruption.
“There are many different institutions that are responsible in preventing and also finding action of corruption,” she said. “But we if start from our communities, we can eventually work our way up to the high level organisations in our countries.
She added on saying that the civil society plays a huge role in addressing an Anti-corruption tribunal.
The Office of the Ombudsman also plays a vital role for they are the ones who investigate, prevent and some times prosecute corruption.
Roina Vavatau, the President of S.U.N.G.O, said the workshops are extremely important. She believes that it is important to inform the public about what corruption is and where they can go to if they see action on corruption.
“Now that they are aware of what corruption is, I think the next thing we need to do is to ask ourselves the question, Are we corrupt free? I don’t want to answer that for anyone, we have our own answers to that question.”
Mrs. Vavatau added that the workshops have opened the eyes of the participants to the issue.
“Then we have to ask ourselves the question of ‘How’. How can we end corruption?”
She agreed with Ms. Wythes that raising awareness is the main key to ending corruption.
“This is a good start,” she said. “Because we have all forms of corruption around us without even knowing, but being well-aware of the issues and impacts enables us to find better solutions.”
As the President of a civil society organisation, Mrs. Vavatau said she wants to see a country free from corruption.
“Civil Society plays a huge role in addressing the issue of anti-corruption. This is because they are also the recipients of the impacts and effects of corruption. Because corruption always includes two parties. The corrupter and the corrupted, or the giver and the taker.”
She supported the plan by the Tautua Samoa Party to set up an Anti Corruption Tribunal.
For now though, she believes it is better to start from the bottom.
“And that is the role of the civil society and the media.”
Samoa is yet to sign the UN Convention Anti-Corruption which is currently the only legally binding anti-corruption in existence.
There are 178 countries on board with 11 countries being Pacific Island Countries.
“Corruption prevention is a cross cutting issue across all the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals and our UN agencies working in Samoa in a more harmonized way, as One UN, want to partner with the Government, youth and civil society to implement effective corruption prevention,” said Lizbeth Cullity, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Samoa, Niue, Cook Islands and Tokelau, in a statement.
Both workshops are seeking to enhance participants’ understanding and awareness of Samoa’s implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, advocate for Samoa’s accession to the Convention and ongoing anti-corruption activities.
Secondly, they will provide participants with a platform to discuss, share knowledge and information on possible ways to address corruption in a local context.
The workshop will also raise awareness of the assistance available to Pacific countries in implementing the Convention under UN-PRAC Project and the link to the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Australian Government is supporting the UN-PRAC Project, a four-year USD$4.3m project in the 15 Pacific nations being implemented by UNODC-UNDP.